MANILA, Philippines - In this Lucena orphanage, two boys were reportedly raped, while young girls complained of being forced to kiss an official on the lips.
Last Monday, acting on a tip from the US Homeland Security, agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) raided the Sankey Samaritan Missions Inc. Orphanage and arrested its American owner and two Filipino officials.
They are among the few alleged child sex abusers arrested in this country.
Lack of resources is hampering the government’s drive against human trafficking rings including those engaged in child sex abuse, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said yesterday.
De Lima’s admission came on the heels of reports that British police are working with their counterparts in the US and Australia to break a pedophile ring that has been streaming live scenes of child abuse on the Internet.
“There’s always scarcity in resources in terms of law enforcement,” the DOJ chief, who also chairs the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), lamented.
She said the budget of IACAT, while increasing, is spread out to different operations like those against human trafficking in general as well as labor trafficking.
But she clarified the campaign against cybersex has had continuous logistic support from the office for cybercrime in the DOJ and from the cybercrime division of the NBI.
De Lima also said a Supreme Court temporary restraining order on the implementation of Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act is hindering the tasks of the DOJ’s anti-cybercrime office.
She said the high court has yet to decide on a plea seeking to strike down the controversial law, which would give additional authority to the DOJ in tracking down online criminal activities.
While hailed for penalizing illegal acts done via the Internet, the law has been criticized for its provision criminalizing libel.
“But with or without the ruling on the Cybercrime Act, the office has already been working on these offenders,” the DOJ chief told reporters yesterday.
She also stressed the IACAT and other relevant agencies had been vigorously fighting cybersex syndicates long before foreign authorities stepped in.
“This is not something we address only now, just because the effort of foreign authorities got media attention. We have been doing this all along but their intensified effort would be a big help,” she said.
Malacañang also said it was not caught off guard by reports on the global investigation into the operations of a pedophile ring in the Philippines.
“This is a matter of high priority for our government that is not prompted by recent media reports,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. pointed out.
Arrested in the Lucena raid were orphanage owner Thomas Randall, executive director Perfecto Luchavez and board member Mark Jayrold Luchavez. The abuse reportedly began in 2005.
Melvin Garcia, a former dorm parent and suspected sex abuser, remains at large.
Randall was charged with obstruction of justice, and the Luchavezes for violating the anti-human trafficking law. Garcia and Mark Luchavez were charged for rape.
Thirty-one orphans, eight of them minors, were also rescued and turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Randall was reportedly informed of his men’s misdeeds but did nothing about them.
The victims did not report the abuse, reportedly for fear of getting kicked out of the shelter.
“This dependency is what makes the kids vulnerable to abuses,” an NBI report said.
Britain’s stepped up campaign against child sex abuse netted 17 British nationals, five of them convicted, after an inquiry by Britain’s National Crime Agency into the cybersex incidents.
The agency reported 15 minors aged between six and 15 were rescued in a raid in Angeles City in Pampanga. Several parents were also arrested.
In December, a UK court sentenced a 67-year-old pedophile to 14-year imprisonment for directing filmed rapes of young children live on the Internet.
Michael Eller, a grandfather, set up a Skype link from his Hertfordshire home to instruct adults in the Philippines to rape and abuse young girls.
Others paid to watch the broadcasts, St. Albans Crown Court heard.
In a BBC News report, Judge John Plumstead said victims “will spend their whole lives knowing that, for the pleasure of grubby pedophiles, they have undergone abuse.”
He said “the cold-hearted cruelty of it is beyond comprehension.”
The grandfather also admitted possessing indecent photographs of a child and breaching a sexual offenses prevention order.
Akbayan Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez said the NBI and the Department of Foreign Affairs should take immediate action on the findings of Britain’s NCA.
“It is extremely disturbing, in fact terrifying, that our children can be subject to this type of exploitation even from thousands of miles away,” he said.
“The recent report of the National Crime Agency of United Kingdom presents a significant opportunity for our own government to crack down on the growing number of online sex abuse and child exploitation in the country,” he said.
“The government, through the NBI, must immediately respond to this discovery and be at the forefront in ensuring that this operation is carried out smoothly and successfully,” Gutierrez said.
“This is our country, and the victims are our children who need intervention and protection. We must take the lead in ensuring they are kept safe. Even as organizations in other countries work hard to combat the problem, we must ensure that our own efforts do not lag behind,” he added.
Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan of the Gabriela Women’s Party said based on data gathered by local and international non-government organizations, hundreds of thousands of children have suffered sexual abuse.
She said the Philippine National Police Women and Children Protection Center earlier said rape and attempted rape cases involving 3,861 children and minors were reported in 2012.
“Foreign and local pedophiles and syndicates are just around, ready to pounce like very hungry wolves, especially in poor communities hit by disasters where families want to return to normal lives,” she said.
Sen. Loren Legarda, for her part, emphasized the need for Congress to approve her proposed anti-cyber pornography bill.
Legarda, who filed the measure as Senate Bill 532 or the proposed anti-computer pornography act, said that this would complement the existing Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act that the government could use to go after these syndicates.
UK-based Plan International children’s charity, for its part, said it will expand an anti-human trafficking project in the Philippines, as fears grow that young survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda are becoming easy prey.
“Advancements in the Internet and other technological media allowing communication to cross geographic and national borders in a matter of seconds, everything has now become reachable with the click of a button,” Legarda said.
Meanwhile, PNP’s Anti-Cybercrime Group head chief Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa reiterated his proposal to require the registration of SIM cards as means of tracing individuals involved in sex crimes and other offenses.
“There is no subscriber on record because prepaid subscribers are not required to register their personal information,” Sosa told reporters in a briefing yesterday afternoon. With Edu Punay, Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero, Marvin Sy