CEBU-WIDE MEA­SURE

Prov­ince mulls or­di­nance com­pelling money re­mit­tance cen­ters to re­port trans­fers sus­pected to come from cy­ber­porn

Cebu Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - by Morex­ette Marie B. Er­ram

While cases of cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy have been see­ing a rise in Cebu, ex­pect lo­cal of­fi­cials to ap­ply the full force of the law on vi­o­la­tors in­clud­ing go­ing into their oth­er­wise pri­vate money trans­fer trans­ac­tions and re­mit­tances.

The ex­ist­ing lo­cal or­di­nances of Cor­dova town and Man­daue City man­dat­ing money trans­fer out­lets to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on sus­pected in­di­vid­u­als en­gaged in cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy and on­line traf­fick­ing ac­tiv­i­ties may soon be a provincewide mea­sure cour­tesy of Vice Gov­er­nor Agnes Mag­pale, head of the Pro­vin­cial Com­mis­sion on Women and Chil­dren (PCWC).

Mag­pale said the PCWC met with mem­bers of the Women and Chil­dren’s Pro­tec­tion Cen­ter in Cen­tral Visayas (WCPC-7) af­ter Thurs­day’s res­cue in Barangay Can­ju­lao, Lapu-Lapu City, of a two-year-old tod­dler and a 21-year-old woman who were be­ing pros­ti­tuted on­line, iron­i­cally, by the child’s own mother. The mother re­mains at large.

Mag­pale met with law en­force­ment agen­cies to dis­cuss a pro­posal to com­pel money re­mit­tance agen­cies to fur­nish in­ves­ti­ga­tors in­for­ma­tion per­tain­ing to clients who are sus­pected to be in the busi­ness of cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy.

“De­ter­min­ing pos­si­ble trans­ac­tions of cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy through money trans­fer out­lets is dif­fi­cult; we know that. But (what we’re try­ing to achieve here) is to let the own­ers of these es­tab­lish­ments un­der­stand that they are do­ing a le­git­i­mate busi­ness. We have to let them un­der­stand that their co­op­er­a­tion is needed,” Mag­pale ex­plained.

Mag­pale said they came up with this

sug­ges­tion af­ter gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties com­bat­ing on­line traf­fick­ing and cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy found that sus­pects re­ceive pay­ments from their for­eign cus­tomers through re­mit­tance out­lets.

Pre­vi­ous news re­ports, how­ever, in­di­cated that as early as 2013, the Cebu pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment was al­ready in­tend­ing to en­act a money trans­fer or­di­nance to ad­dress the use of re­mit­tance cen­ters to trans­act cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy fees.

The dis­cus­sion at the pro­vin­cial level was ac­tu­ally the ba­sis for the or­di­nance adopted by the mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment of Cor­dova, then town mayor Adelino Si­toy was quoted as say­ing dur­ing a women’s con­gress held in the prov­ince in March 2014, which was also at­tended by Mag­pale and then So­cial Wel­fare sec­re­tary Dinky Soli­man, among others.

Mag­pale, in Au­gust 2013, was also quoted as say­ing that since money trans­fer agents were “le­git­i­mate busi­nesses,” the prov­ince could not di­rectly reg­u­late them. In­stead, she said, they could help re­lay in­for­ma­tion to of­fi­cials on sus­pected cy­ber­sex cases.

This time, if a mea­sure is ap­proved at the pro­vin­cial level, this will be the third lo­cal gov­ern­ment or­di­nance man­dat­ing money trans­fer out­lets to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on sus­pected in­di­vid­u­als en­gaged in cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy and on­line traf­fick­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

The first was in Cor­dova town in 2014 fol­low­ing a string of cases in­volv­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing.

Last June, the City Coun­cil of Man­daue also ap­proved an or­di­nance re­quir­ing busi­nesses en­gaged in money re­mit­tances to sub­mit a monthly re­port on cus­tomers and sus­pi­cious trans­ac­tions which may be re­lated to cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy.

Or­di­nance au­thors Vice Mayor Carlo For­tuna and Coun­cilor Cyn­thia Reme­dio be­lieved that money trans­fer firms “may be used as con­duit for il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties, such as fraud and ex­tor­tion, hu­man traf­fick­ing and sex­ual ex­ploita­tion, among others.”

The or­di­nance also cre­ated Man­daue City’s Money Trans­fer Over­sight Com­mit­tee with the task to in­form own­ers of money trans­fer out­lets to put up posters rais­ing aware­ness against cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy and hu­man traf­fick­ing within their es­tab­lish­ments, vis­i­ble to cus­tomers, and man­date them to ar­chive their cus­tomer ref­er­ences up to five years.

The or­di­nance was passed af­ter a mother was ear­lier caught traf­fick­ing her own daugh­ter in Barangay Opao, Man­daue City.

Hu­man traf­fick­ing

Last Thurs­day’s res­cue mis­sion was the sixth con­ducted in Lapu-Lapu City in 2017.

Just two weeks ear­lier, two 14-year-old girls were also saved from be­ing traf­ficked on­line by their neigh­bor, a 25 year-old woman, who was ar­rested in the act of record­ing the vic­tims do­ing lewd acts be­fore a video cam­era.

More than five peo­ple were also ar­rested for cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy and hu­man traf­fick­ing in dif­fer­ent parts of Cebu.

One of them was the in­fa­mous “sav­age girl” Liezyl Mar­gallo, the part­ner-in-crime of in­ter­na­tional pe­dophile Peter Scully.

Mar­gallo was ar­rested on Malas­pacua Is­land, more than 150 kilo­me­ters north of Cebu City. She had 16 pend­ing ar­rest war­rants in Ca­gayan de Oro City for lur­ing fe­male chil­dren into the cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy busi­ness. Au­thor­i­ties said Mar­gallo helped op­er­ate a grue­some in­ter­na­tional syn­di­cate for pe­dophiles.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports by the Po­lice Re­gional Of­fice in Cen­tral Visayas (PRO-7), cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy is one of the most preva­lent crimes com­mit­ted in Cebu prov­ince, next to il­le­gal drugs.

Mag­pale ex­pressed alarm that cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy and sex­ual ex­ploita­tion, which was ram­pant in the town of Cor­dova, has spread to nearby cities.

“We know there’s some­thing go­ing on in Lapu-Lapu City, and with the numer­ous ar­rests made on traf­fick­ers in the place, the re­ports were true. Now that they are ver­i­fied, we are co­or­di­nat­ing with DepEd (De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, City of Lapu-Lapu Di­vi­sion) to probe into this mat­ter,” the vice gov­er­nor said.

WCPC-7 re­gional di­rec­tor Se­nior Supt. Romeo Perigo at­trib­uted the quick spread of cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy from Cor­dova to nearby cities such as Lapu-Lapu and Man­daue to the con­ve­nience and “af­ford­able ac­cess” to the in­ter­net.

“In­ter­net has no bound­aries. They can be ac­cessed any­time, any­where as long as you have at least P5 load. And nowa­days you don’t need to go to an in­ter­net café to ac­cess. A sus­pect can be dis­creet in com­mit­ting these crimes be­cause they can use smart­phones al­ready. They can record these pro­hib­ited videos within their own house,” ex­plained Perigo.

Perigo urged the cit­i­zens to be vig­i­lant and re­port any sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­i­ties in their neigh­bor­hood.

Although he ad­mit­ted that spot­ting cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy and hu­man traf­fick­ing was dif­fi­cult, he urged peo­ple to in­form their of­fice of any child dis­play­ing lewd acts.

“It is pos­si­ble that these lewd acts they are do­ing are taught to them by their adult sus­pects. So we en­cour­age our con­stituents to be vig­i­lant and re­port to us of any pos­si­ble cases of cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy,” he said.

De­spite hav­ing no leads yet to the sus­pect who sold So­phie and Mia (not their real names) to cy­ber­pornog­ra­phy, Perigo stated that they will file cases against her be­fore the Lapu-Lapu City Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice on Mon­day.

In Thurs­day’s raid, the sus­pect, the two-year-old tod­dler’s mother, trans­acted with an un­der­cover agent who ar­ranged the pur­chase of a video of her daugh­ter tak­ing a bath naked with the girl be­ing in­structed to do lewd acts in front of the cam­era.

But when au­thor­i­ties swooped down on the area, the mother was nowhere to be found.

In the mean­time, Vice Gov­er­nor Mag­pale said they are now co­or­di­nat­ing with the In­ter­na­tional Jus­tice Mis­sion (IJM), who par­tic­i­pated in the res­cue op­er­a­tion, to de­ter­mine the kind of as­sis­tance the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment could of­fer to the vic­tims.

Two-year-old So­phie and 21-year-old Mia are now un­der the cus­tody of the De­part­ment of So­cial Wel­fare and De­vel­op­ment in Cen­tral Visayas.

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