MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES – Two traffickers have finally been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for trafficking underage girls to a bar and selling them for sex. "Justice was served today for our society," IJM Pampanga Deputy Director Rey Bicol said on January 18, 2013, as the judge announced the decision. Rey is the IJM lawyer who has been working on this case since 2009, when the four girls were rescued.
The convictions are the first of 2013 for IJM Manila, and they mark the end of a long battle for justice. Rey explained that the convictions are a "closure in a painful chapter" for the sex trafficking survivors, who were just 16 and 17 years old when they were rescued. In the abusive bar, the girls were displayed in an aquarium-like room. Customers would choose a girl, then take her to a "VIP room" in the bar for about $35. If a customer paid $135, he could take any girl out of the bar, to any place he wanted.
On the night these young women were rescued, the two managers were arrested. Both claimed they had not known the girls they were selling in the bar were minors. They applied for bail, and the court granted it – letting them out of prison because of the fact they claimed not to have known the girls' ages. Over the course of the trial, Rey and the IJM team argued that the Philippine's anti-trafficking law mandates that traffickers must be held accountable for their crimes against children – and that it was the bar's responsibility to ensure that they were not exploiting children.
When the judge issued the convictions on January 18, 2013, the court's position had dramatically shifted from the earlier decision to let the traffickers out on bail. The judge plainly ruled that when a child has been trafficked, the trafficker shall be held accountable – it is not a child's responsibility to protect herself from being trafficked.
IJM's Rey Bicol was in the courtroom on the day the conviction was issued. He lauded the court's efforts to explore and execute the law's fullest meaning, and said that the ruling is "most important for the four precious girls whose lives were shattered by the schemes of their traffickers."