MANILA - In one case, the victim was as young as 3 months old.
Online sexual exploitation remains prevalent in the Philippines, with victims, mostly minors, being lured into the trade by their own relatives, case files from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) showed.
Filipino victims have fallen prey to sexual predators from around the world, with the cybersex trade becoming a livelihood for poor families as fees range from $20 to $50 (about P1,000 to P2,600) per session or per week.
Some 80 percent of victims are minors, and half of this chunk are 12 years or younger, data from the International Justice Mission- Philippines showed.
Chief Insp. Michael Virtudazo, team leader of the PNP Women and Children Protection Center's Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Unit, said the PNP, in cooperation with non-government organizations, has recorded 80 cases with 287 trafficked victims.
Some 113 individuals have, meanwhile, been arrested.
And his unit continues to receive tips about child exploitation online, with the trade known to be going on in different parts of the country.
“OSEC (online sexual exploitation of children) is prevalent in the Philippines because of the accessibility of the internet. Family members act as facilitators, there is fluency in English... and access to remittance centers,” Virtudazo said in a forum organized by NGO Philippines Against Child Trafficking.
Among "hotspots" of the trade is Taguig City, while Iligan City, Cebu, Pampanga and Tarlac are areas with the most recorded cases.
The victims, he said, were made to believe by their own parents or guardians that their sexual acts shown online were harmless as there is no physical contact.
Special Agent Michael Van Aelstyn of the FBI Violent Crimes Against Children Unit said online sexual exploitation in the Philippines mostly happen in cybersex dens.
FBI surveillance had led to the bust of such operations in Pampanga in April 2016, where Philippine police rescued victims that included minors aged 4 to 8.
The Pampanga den, per FBI monitoring on the internet, offered children posing naked and performing online sex.
The FBI lists Southeast Asia, South America and Africa as "hotspots" of child sex tourism, based on data from 2014 to 2016.
The sex offenders are mostly from Europe, the US and Australia, and usually begin communicating with Filipino adults posing as missionaries or NGO workers who could help finance children's schooling, said Aelstyn.
“There js no specific demographic... what we usually see are white males, typically middle age,” he said.
Once trust is earned, they encourage the Filipinos to show children via webcam, and the sexual exploitation begins.
He said the trade has flourished as offenders perceive cybersex as "safer," services are "relatively cheap," payment is easy via remittance centers, and there is "control over what you purchase," Aelstyn said.
Over the last two months, authorities busted cybersex operations in Taguig, Butuan, Iligan and Cebu, where several suspects were arrested and minors rescued.
- report from Sherrie Ann Torres