MANILA, PHILIPPINES – A Manila court continued its commitment to justice Wednesday by convicting six traffickers and sentencing each to life in prison. These traffickers were found guilty of holding 17 women and girls – some as young as 13 – in a high-end bar where they were exploited for sex, until IJM and local authorities rescued them in August 2012.
Local officials worked diligently throughout the trial, which reached judgment just ten months after the rescue – an astoundingly fast case in the Philippines, were trials often take as many as seven years to reach convictions. IJM Attorney Nelisa Guevara-Garcia, who represented the case with public prosecutors in court, says joyfully, "This victory is proof that our criminal justice system can work for victims of trafficking."
Bold Signs and Brave Survivors
Late one night in August 2012, agents from the National Bureau of Investigations (NBI) worked undercover with IJM to investigate the exploitation at the bar. Girls and young women were forced to dance for customers, who then paid the bar owners to abuse them.
Local law enforcement helped to immediately rescue the women and girls, and IJM social workers stood by to comfort the freed survivors and help them get the aftercare they needed.
One month later, local media and other bystanders watched as government agents officially shut the bar down. A large sign announced the bar was permanently closed for exploiting minors – a strong warning to other traffickers in Manila.
IJM attorneys worked with public prosecutors over the next ten months to present strong evidence against the six traffickers. With care and counseling from IJM's social workers, many of the rescued women and girls testified in court. Their brave and honest words helped convince the judge of the traffickers' guilt – and now hundreds of other young women and girls will never be exploited.
"This victory is proof that our criminal justice system can work for victims of trafficking."- IJM Attorney Nelisa Guevara-Garcia
A Milestone for Justice
Trafficking cases often take years to complete, but these convictions came much more quickly – largely thanks to the hard work of Judge Roslyn Rabara-Tria, former Department of Justice prosecutor Mederlyn Mangalindan and prosecutor Jovyanne Escano. Efficiency like this highlights the government's increasing commitment to prioritizing and fast-tracking cases of trafficking in the Philippines.
"The continued partnership among government and law enforcement agencies is essential," says Guevara-Garcia, "not only in the prosecution of these cases, but also in closing illegal establishments and rehabilitating survivors. It's truly inspiring to witness how the pillars of justice harmoniously contributed to the overall success of this case."