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