MANILA - An Australian World Health Organization doctor has been arrested in the Philippines on charges of child trafficking, officials said Tuesday.
Officers acting on a tip found the half-naked 47-year-old WHO doctor, Marcus Hodge, with a 12-year-old Filipino boy in a parked car in Manila's Makati financial district on Friday, a police statement said.
Hodge, an Australian, is a medical doctor and program development and operations officer at the WHO in Manila, and has been based here for seven years.
Police said a Filipino who allegedly pimped the boy was also detained by the women and children's protection division of the national police along with the Australian.
The WHO Western Pacific office here confirmed that the Australian suspect was its employee. It said in a statement that the matter "involves the private life" of its staff but that it would cooperate with the police.
It said the Australian "should be presumed innocent unless proven guilty". But it added: "Without pre-judging the case, WHO would like to put on record that it condemns in the strongest terms the sexual exploitation of children and will assist the authorities with their investigations."
Police have asked state prosecutors to file criminal charges against the two suspects, the police statement said.
Cotabato Rep. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza warned foreign pedophiles that they would not find any safe haven in the Philippines.
Taliño-Mendoza warned foreign visitors as well as expatriates here that the Philippines has powerful laws against the prostitution, sexual exploitation and abuse of children."In fact, under Philippine law, any person can be held criminally liable for attempted child prostitution if caught alone with an underage boy or girl, who is not related, in a room or in a motor vehicle," she said.
Taliño-Mendoza cited Section 6 of Republic Act 7610, which says: "There is an attempt to commit child prostitution… when any person who, not being a relative of a child, is found alone with the said child inside the room or cubicle of a house, an inn, hotel, motel, pension house, apartelle or other similar establishments, vessel, vehicle or any other hidden or secluded area, under circumstances which would lead a reasonable person to believe the child is about to be exploited in prostitution and other sexual abuse."
Under the law, she said there is also an attempt to commit child prostitution, "when any person is receiving services from a child in a sauna parlor or bath, massage clinic, health club and other similar establishments."
The penalty for "attempt to commit child prostitution" is lower by two degrees than that prescribed for the consummated felony, which is 14 years, eight months and one day to life in prison.
In recent years, at least 18 foreigners have been found guilty, either by Philippine or foreign courts, of sexually assaulting Filipino children during visits to Manila, according to End Child Prostitution Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) International, a network with special consultative status with the United Nations. With a report from Agence France-Presse