by Fr. Shay Cullen
When the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) raided the apartment in Olongapo that night of May 7, 2010, they found a den of iniquity – money, computers, a gun, video cameras, memory sticks and a pregnant young teenage girl in bed with a man more than twice her age. The man’s father was there also. They are American-Filipinos and had been holding two children, 15 and 16 year-old sisters, in their power and influence since they were ten years old. Medical evidence shows that the16 year-old was used as a sex slave and pregnant at the time of the arrest.
Her sister ran away from the sex den to find help and protection and tell the horrific story of years of abuse to the Preda social workers. Her statement contains allegations of sexual exploitation, the making of child pornography, sexualization and exploitation of the children in photographs and videos which were stored on hard disks and on a laptop found in the apartment.
These photographs were seen by an Assistant Secretary of Justice and showed the main suspect with the child on a bed in the apartment surrounded by what appeared to be hundreds of thousands of US dollars and Philippine pesos and stuffed into the child’s bikini together with a gun.
Mysteriously, the money disappeared soon after the arrest. When the suspects were brought to Manila and jailed, the computers and the laptop and forensic evidence were withheld by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for unknown reasons and were not submitted to the prosecutor at that time, they claim they did so months later.
Despite the efforts of the Preda Foundation legal department to convince the NBI and the Department of Justice to submit the forensic evidence – the photographs, the gun and the money to the prosecutor and pursue justice, nothing was done then. The evidence allegedly mysteriously disappeared.
This led to the dismissal of the charges of trafficking against the two accused. They were released from the NBI detention cells in Manila and immediately took a plane back to California. Allegedly, they claimed they never got back any of the money from the NBI arresting agents. The NBI agent in charge said some money was spent as expenses and claimed that there was no incriminating forensic evidence that showed any child abuse.
This failure to prosecute prompted the Preda paralegal team to file charges themselves against the accused for child sexual abuse under Republic Act 7610. Appeals to the NBI to submit the forensic evidence produced some results recently. The NBI said they submitted the forensic evidence to the docket section under the office of the city prosecutor Emilie Fe M.De Los Santos. But that evidence has not yet reached the desk of prosecutor Melani Fay Banarez who is assigned to the case.
Yet the one shining moment came last 19 May 2011, when prosecutor Melani Fay Banarez reviewed all the existing evidence and determined that the medical evidence of one sister showing her to be pregnant, the statements of the other younger victim and other strong evidence showing that they were sexually abused by the suspects since they were 13 and 14 years of age. This and other evidence was sufficient for Prosecutor Banarez to file the charges before the Olongapo city Regional Trial Court Branch 73. This is an important and positive step in the right direction.
The dark clouds of unknowing and inaction that allow the regular dismissal of child abuse complaints and charges that have traditionally hung-over the prosecution of sex offenders who molest and rape children, parted for one bright shining moment and a shaft of light has shone through. How long this spotlight will remain on the case has yet to be seen. But the human rights workers and child defenders are determined to see it through to the end and pursue justice.
Yet justice, the heart of a civilized and caring nation, cannot be done until the system is cleansed of corrupt practices and procedures, unfair tactics, bribery and skullduggery. It is in the implementation of the law justly, honestly and with compassion and discipline as determined by the circumstance of the case that a peaceful and equal society will prevail.
(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)
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