CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY - A regional trial court (RTC) in Iligan City has sentenced a male offender and his female accomplice from four to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty for online sex trafficking of children.

In a statement Tuesday, the International Justice Mission (IJM) in the Philippines, said the verdict was meted on February 9 by RTC Branch 2.

The male trafficker was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment after pleading guilty to attempted trafficking under Republic Act 9208, as amended by Republic Act 10364, or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.

He was ordered to pay a fine of PHP500,000 and civil liabilities amounting to PHP50,000 per complainant.

He was also sentenced to serve additional imprisonment ranging from five to 11 years and ordered to pay combined civil liabilities of PHP50,000 per complainant for violations of the Anti-Child Abuse Law and the Anti-Child Pornography Act.

His female accomplice, on the other hand, was sentenced to serve four to eight years of imprisonment in combined penalties for violating the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and Anti-Child Abuse Law. She was ordered to pay civil liabilities of PHP50,000 per complainant for the trafficking offenses.

The victims were biological nieces of the main accused.

Col. Christine Tan, chief of the Police's Women and Children Protection Center's Mindanao Field Unit (WCPC-MFU), said the conviction of the two accused individuals gives great assurance that the police's efforts to go above and beyond the line of duty pays off in the end.

"Team WCPC under the leadership of Brig. Gen. Edgar Cacayan, the WCPC chief, rescued the three female minors from online sexual exploitation in the remotest parts of Mindanao. Knowing that both the suspects are now serving their time behind bars makes all our efforts in the WCPC- MFU worthwhile," she said.

She also said the three children can now leave the "dark chapter of their past" behind and focus on their healing, restoration, and future.

"Their childhood was lost when they were abused but thanks to this conviction, they can be children again," she said.

Northern Mindanao Regional Prosecutor Merlynn Barola-Uy, head of the Justice Regional Anti-Trafficking Task Force - Region 10 (DOJ-RATTF 10) said Iligan City has been a hotspot in Northern Mindanao for crimes involving the online sexual exploitation of children.

"With the first conviction for this year 2022, we have proven once again that collaboration and coordination among law enforcement, non-government organizations like the IJM, and the DOJ Regional Anti-Trafficking Task Force 10, led to the arrest of the perpetrators, rescue of the victims, and the successful prosecution of the cases in court resulting to the conviction of the accused of the crimes of attempted trafficking in person, child abuse, and violation of the Anti-Child Pornography Act," she said.

She also said the recent conviction is a clear manifestation of the multi-sectoral organization's firm resolve to fight the exploitation of children in any form and to send a strong message that we will never tolerate Online Sexual Exploitation of Children, especially in Northern Mindanao.

Lawyer Lucille Dejito, director of the IJM Cebu program office, said with the world observing Safer Internet Day on February 8, the timely convictions served as reminders that the government and partners are relentless in the fight to protect children from online sexual exploitation.

"We hope that through these arrests, rescues, and convictions, criminals perpetrating this abuse and exploitation of children realize that the long and relentless arm of the law is bound to catch them," she said. (PNA)