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Stardust Bar Managers Convicted, Sign of Sweeping Change in Philippines

Three traffickers who ran a large bar that was once viewed as untouchable were convicted yesterday in the Philippines. Stardust Showbar is at the heart of one of Metro Manila’s busiest districts, flanked by high-rise skyscrapers and high-end hotels. By day the area is bustling with businessmen and women, by night the neon lights turn on to reveal a red-light area.

Eight months ago, IJM helped the National Bureau of Investigation to rescue 13 young women, including two minors, who had been trafficked to this bar. In February of this year, authorities boarded up the bar’s entrance and nailed a giant sign over the door that declares Stardust Bar had been ordered closed for exploiting minors.

A trial against three of the main suspects ended with convictions on July 19, 2016. They were fined and sentenced to life imprisonment under the qualified anti-trafficking act, with additional charges under a child labor law.

“I never imagined Stardust Showbar could be closed down, let alone that I might see the managers convicted. I feel like I saw history unfold before my own eyes today,” said Sam Inocencio, IJM National Director in the Philippines.

The presentation of evidence ended in just three months. Historically, human trafficking cases in the Philippines have taken four to seven years to come to completion. The trial was part of a pilot program being tested out in Manila, wherein courts are required to schedule hearings close together.

“The speed of the decision is significant for the freedom that it brings to the survivors, giving them the closure they need and justice they deserve to heal quickly,” said IJM attorney Alexandrino Mallillin, who supported the two public prosecutors who actively prosecuted the case against the Stardust Bar floor managers. He commended Judge Cristina F. Javalera-Sulit for strictly adhering to the special rules on holding continuous trials in child trafficking cases.

This case is emblematic of a bigger change sweeping across the Philippines. In June, the U.S. State Department ranked the Philippines as a “Tier 1” country for the first time in the annual Trafficking in Persons report that grades governments on their efforts to combat trafficking. The message is clear: Philippine authorities will not tolerate businesses that exploit children, and traffickers will face consequences.

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