PAMPANGA, PHILIPPINES – On Easter Sunday, girls who had been trafficked and routinely exploited woke up in freedom. Their rescue came about thanks to a committed police unit and a band of IJM staff members.
An IJM leader in Pampanga got a call at 11:00 AM on April 17, Holy Thursday—the first day of a four-day holiday that essentially shuts down all business in the Philippines. An officer was on the phone, asking if IJM could help out with a rescue operation they wanted to do that night. They had uncovered information about a relatively new bar that was selling minors to customers for sexual exploitation.
The officer is part of the Philippine Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, Anti-Transnational Crime Division—similar to the FBI—which has received training from and worked closely with IJM in the past. The unit is based in Manila but works around the country to combat trafficking.
IJM mobilized a team to help with the operation immediately. They made phone calls to various government partners to make sure there would be social workers and a shelter available for the survivors. IJM staff from Manila made the three-hour drive to Pampanga to assist.
The rescue team hit the bar just before midnight. Inside, the bar was full. Police worked quickly and identified suspects, placing nine in custody that same night. IJM staff helped explain what was happening to the young women, who were frightened and confused. Social workers explained that they were not in trouble, they were being rescued.
The survivors shared their stories with police and IJM attorneys at a police station. Social workers stayed close throughout the process, shielding the girls from news cameras that showed up and making sure they were as comfortable as possible as they waited. By Saturday, the girls went to a shelter for survivors of trafficking. They would wake up in freedom on Easter morning.
IJM will continue to support this case to ensure the traffickers are held accountable for their crimes against these young women and restrained from harming anyone else.