The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), chaired by Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima, hailed the conviction of a man charged with trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of minors. On March 19, 2013, Judge Roberto P. Quiroz of Manila Regional Trial Court, Branch 29, sentenced Sonny Francisco to life imprisonment for Qualified Trafficking, the most severe infringement of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (R.A. 9208).
The two minors, 12 and 15 years old at the time, were recruited from Samar in 2007 and taken to Manila by Francisco and two other traffickers. The sisters were deceived into thinking they would be meeting a friend in the city. Instead, they were brought to Francisco’s home and held against their will along with other young victims. Francisco and his wife then sold the minors for sex. On a regular basis, the victims were escorted to a nearby hotel and forced to have sex with customers while Francisco’s wife waited in the hotel lobby.
The victims’ rescue was facilitated with help and collaboration from the sisters’ mother, the Manila Police Department (MPD) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Samar and the National Capital Region (NCR). The sisters, along with the other minor girls, were immediately taken to a government shelter for trafficking victims.
Over the course of the five-year trial, both sisters took the witness stand to testify against Francisco. ACP Fredy Gomez and Atty. Lisa Guevara-Garcia of International Justice Mission prosecuted the case and represented the sisters in court. “It wasn’t easy for the girls to go to court and tell their story, but they did and I admire them for that,” Guevara-Garcia said. “They have shown courage and resilience, but most of all, hope.”
Recently, the IACAT facilitated the arrest of the two other alleged traffickers. They have been charged with Qualified Trafficking and their trial is currently on-going in a different court. “These convictions reflect not only our drive to hunt down human traffickers, but also the tenacity of the government and its partners in pursuing human trafficking cases up to the conviction of perpetrators with the hope that someday all forms of modern-day slavery will be eradicated,” Justice Undersecretary Jose Vicente Salazar, in-charge of IACAT, said.