Inside the court in Calbayog City where a mother was sentenced to 15 years in prison for sexually exploiting her own daughter online. (Photo courtesy of International Justice Mission)
TACLOBAN CITY – A mother from Sta. Margarita, Samar who sexually exploited her 10-year-old daughter was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Judge Reynaldo Clemens of Calbayog City Regional Trial Court Branch 31 on Friday sentenced a 33-year-old mother after she pleaded guilty of offering to stream live the abuse on her own daughter.
As part of a plea bargain, she was sentenced after confessing to the crime of attempted trafficking in persons before the judge.
After pleading guilty to her crimes, the accused faced her victims, including her niece, in a reconciliatory meeting facilitated by a social worker and a local church preacher.
The mother’s name was withheld to protect her daughter’s identity.
“I was hurt when you took pictures of me naked. I felt guilty because I got separated from you for what happened,” the child told her mother, in the local dialect.
She then shared to her mother a verse from the Bible about God forgiving those who ask for forgiveness from people they have wronged.
“Forgive me for what I’ve done to you,” she told her daughter and niece, also in the local dialect.
“I am ashamed of it. I hope you can forgive me, and we can be together again,” said the mother as she acknowledged the crime and expressed remorse.
Aside from the prison terms, the trafficker was also ordered to pay damages totaling PHP775,000.
The mother, who was arrested last year, was sentenced to an additional one month in prison after she pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography.
Regional Prosecutor Irwin Maraya, head of the Regional Anti-Trafficking Task Force in Eastern Visayas, said the plea-bargained conviction “is a product of the joint effort of government and private stakeholders.”
“This ‘one team’ approach is key to combating these depredations on the young and innocent,” he added.
Women and Children Protection Center –Visayas Field Unit chief Romeo Perigo hailed the successful plea bargaining.
“Today’s conviction is a win for the government in its campaign against online sexual exploitation. The reduced [prison] sentence gives [the perpetrator] an opportunity for reforms – to reintegrate to the community after serving her sentence and take care of her family once she's released from prison,” Perigo said.
The accused was originally charged with qualified trafficking in persons, which bears the penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of not less than PHP2 million but not more than PHP5 million if the accused is convicted after a full-blown trial that can last several years, said the International Justice Mission (IJM) in a statement.
The mother faced charges for offering to stream live sexually explicit acts involving her 10-year-old daughter in exchange for money from an online predator.
Police and social workers in Samar rescued the girl and the trafficker’s 13-year-old niece and eight-year-old nephew during an entrapment operation on July 28, 2018, at the trafficker’s residence in Sta. Margarita town.
Sta. Margarita Mayor Gemma Zosa also welcomed the conviction, saying “child trafficking is a crime that exploits girls and boys for numerous purposes including forced labor and sex.”
“As the local chief executive, it is our aim to protect children from being abused and to rehabilitate survivors, and help them in rebuilding their lives. On behalf of the people of Sta. Margarita, we would like to extend our gratitude to those authorities and non-governmental organizations who combat child trafficking and give justice for the children,” the mayor added.
IJM, who partners with local authorities to rescue victims of violence, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors, and strengthen justice systems, said “this conviction through plea bargaining affirms that in holding online sexual exploitation of children perpetrators accountable, child protection should always be prioritized.”
Lawyer John Tanagho, IJM Cebu field office director, said “the State, through Prosecutor Jennylyn Sumagang-Durmiendo, obtained swift justice for the victims”.
“(The State) also protected the children from the rigors of having to testify in court against their own mother and aunt,” Tanagho said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Tanagho said “plea bargaining decisions happen through a case-by-case analysis that prioritizes what is in the best interest of the victim, including the victim’s desires.”
“What has been observed is that convicting the accused through plea bargaining is actually a victim-centered approach to justice because it facilitates healing and prevents further trauma from court testimony. At the same time, 15 years in prison is a strong sentence that punishes the trafficker and also allows for rehabilitation,” he added.
The organization has supported Philippine law enforcement agencies in the arrest of 193 perpetrators and the rescue of 454 victims and children at-risk across the country.
Based on IJM-supported cases, 57 persons have been convicted in the Philippines for perpetrating online sexual exploitation of children since 2011. (PNA)