MANILA, Philippines – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents in Manila worked in close cooperation with the Philippine Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) to successfully bust a cybersex syndicate based in Cebu, Philippines; seven suspects were arrested and more than a dozen child victims rescued in four operations between May and September.
HSI Manila Deputy Attaché Eric McLoughlin said, "Close coordination and the sharing of information between HSI and the IACAT are crucial in the arrest of traffickers and the rescue of victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. HSI is dedicated to working with the IACAT to help the Provincial Capitol disrupt the operations of cyber pornography."
An appreciation letter to HSI from the Provincial Government of Cebu reads, "Recent researches and investigative undertakings revealed that the unscrupulous sectors of our society utilized the worldwide web to corrupt the minds and hearts of women and children by making them pose before a web camera for distribution to foreign consumers through the Internet for a fee." HSI and its foreign counterpart stopped such exploitation by conducting search and rescue. For this, the Provincial Government of Cebu expressed its gratitude and commended HSI for their "efforts in helping the Cebuano community in eradicating human trafficking, cyber pornography and other forms of sexually provocative activities in Barangay Ibabao, Cordova, Cebu."
On Sept. 4, HSI Manila assisted the Philippine National Police (PNP) in disrupting a cyber pornography operation in Cordova, Cebu, where Maricel Ayad, 31, and Dinesio Encallado Inoc, 37, were arrested under the Philippine Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003. Three female victims aged 2, 9 and 11 were rescued. Ayad and Inoc are alleged to have sexually exploited the minor victims by forcing them to perform lewd acts in front of a web camera for foreign child predators who paid a fee. The children were turned over to the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). HSI special agents in Portland, Maine, were the first to detect the transaction between those involved in this cyber pornography in Cordova.
Additionally, HSI Manila assisted the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and DSWD in rescuing 13 children Sept. 6 at a Lapu-Lapu City high school and a Cordova elementary school after tracing photos of the children aged 8 to 17 on social media websites. The photos were discovered on digital media that was seized last May in an enforcement operation in Cordova, which resulted in the arrest of Eileen Ontong, 35, and Wilfredo Ontong, 37. HSI Norfolk, Va., special agents assisted in this investigation.
On July 12, HSI Manila, the PNP and the International Justice Mission (IJM), IACAT’s non-governmental organization representing the children sector, executed a search warrant at a Barangay Malabanias, Angeles City, Pampanga residence being used to conduct cybersex with minors to customers around the world, including customers from the United States. Law enforcement arrested Maybel Oranga, Bryan Sagmit and Christian Chameco on human trafficking and production of child pornography related charges in violation of Philippines Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 and the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012. If convicted on the charges, they face up to life in prison and fines as high as $455,000.
Oranga and Sagmit resided at the location being used as a cybersex den and along with Chameco alleged to be in full control and custody of the six victims. The three minor victims aged 15, 16 and 17 were subjected to sexual exploitation by doing online lewd acts for paying website subscribers.
The enforcement operation also resulted in the seizure of items used for sexual exploitation and pornography through the Internet such as computer sets, webcams, cameras, sex toys, notebooks containing list of earnings and contributions and proof of payments through money transfers.
Upon the request of IACAT and IJM, HSI extended technical support in pinning down the online activities of the syndicate preying on women and children.
The operation was conducted by a composite team from the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group – Anti-Transnational Crime Division (PNP CIDG-ATCD), the Pampanga CIDG, the Angeles City Police and members of the IJM under the overall supervision of Police Senior Superintendent Alex Botes Sintin, Chief of ATCD.
The six female victims were brought to a DSWD facility for temporary shelter and guidance and counseling.
IACAT chairperson and DOJ Secretary Leila De Lima said, "Trafficking is a crime against humanity and all efforts and all cooperation is necessary to combat this scourge." She added, "The inter-government cooperation further reinforced the RP-U.S. alliance in combatting the menace of modern day slavery. The success of this operation serves as a testament of IACAT’s commitment to interagency collaboration and international cooperation especially in our efforts to rescue victims from abuse and haul human traffickers into court."
HSI Manila special agents continue to assist in conducting forensic analysis on the PC hard drives that were seized in these enforcement actions in an effort to trace U.S. connections of online pornography users. Leads were provided by HSI special agents in Norfolk and Portland.
To date, the IACAT has successfully prosecuted and convicted 129 human traffickers since its inception in 2005 with most of the convictions happening in the past three years.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.
HSI is a founding member and the U.S. representative of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.
HSI's Office of International Affairs (OIA) is responsible for enhancing national security by conducting and coordinating international investigations. With agents in 75 offices in 48 countries around the world, OIA represents ICE's broadest footprint beyond our borders. HSI attaché offices work with foreign counterparts to identify and combat transnational criminal organizations before they threaten the United States.