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Cablegate: Philippines' First Trafficking in Persons

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E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY: On September 29, a regional trial court in
Manila convicted and sentenced two human traffickers --
including a police officer -- to life in prison and fined
them two million pesos (USD 42,500) for the trafficking of
minors in 2005. The convicted police officer owned and
operated a karaoke club where young women, including minors,
worked as prostitutes. Undercover intelligence officers of
the Philippine National Police (PNP), acting on evidence
provided by the U.S.-funded NGO International Justice
Mission, raided the club on May 31, 2005, freeing 11 women,
two of whom were minors. Reci's TIP conviction is the first
of a public official in the Philippines. This conviction
demonstrates that although the overwhelmed Philippine court
system can take years to deliver a verdict, the system is
still capable of dispensing justice, even in some of the most
challenging cases. END SUMMARY.

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The Background

2. A Manila regional trial court convicted police officer
Dennis Reci and floor manager Feliciano Manansala on
September 29, 2009, for human trafficking, sentencing them to
life imprisonment and fining them each two million pesos (USD
42,500). Under the 2003 anti-TIP law, cases involving
criminal syndicates of three or more people, three or more
victims, minors, or an offender who is a member of the
military or law enforcement agencies are considered
"qualified trafficking," and carry stiffer penalties -- such
as life imprisonment -- than ordinary trafficking. The third
defendant, a woman known as "Mommy Angel," escaped from the
club as the police were arresting Reci and Manansala. She
has an outstanding arrest warrant against her and could be
tried if apprehended.

3. The case against the defendants began in early 2005, when
U.S.-funded NGO International Justice Mission (IJM)
discovered that minors were working as prostitutes at the 8RC
KTV Club in Manila, which was owned by police officer Reci.
On May 25, 2005, IJM workers, posing as customers and wearing
a hidden video camera, visited the club to conduct
surveillance. They met Manansala, who showed them to a table
and brought them drinks. He told them that naked girls would
be dancing later in the evening and then showed them around
the club, including VIP rooms where he said they could have a
private dance show or engage in sex with the girls of their
choice for 1,500 pesos (USD 32). Manansala also explained
that they could pay a "bar fine" to take the girls out to a
hotel for 5,000 pesos (USD 106). They also met floor manager
Mommy Angel who told them that the girls working in the club
as guest relations officers (GRO) were actually dancers and
available for sex. At the request of the IJM workers,
Manansala introduced them to Reci who said that he was the
club's manager and that he had four underage girls working
for him that they could take out of the club for sex. Reci
told the IJM workers not to worry about any legal problems
because he was a police officer and could protect them. He
even offered to escort them to a hotel to ensure there would
be no problems.

The Sting

4. To obtain evidence against Reci and his floor managers,
one of the IJM workers paid Reci 1,500 pesos and took a girl
into a VIP room to speak to her in private. The girl said
her name was "Ice" and told the IJM worker that she had just
turned 16 years old. She also said that it was very common
for the girls to be paid for sex either in the VIP rooms or
at a hotel. The customers just had to speak to one of the
floor managers to make the arrangements. The worker went
back to Reci and told him that he and his friends would
return the next day and pay to take the four underage girls
to a hotel. Reci asked for and was given a USD 40 deposit to
make sure the girls would be available. After leaving the
club, the IJM workers took their evidence to PNP's Criminal
Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) who prepared a sting
operation to rescue the underage girls.

5. The initial sting attempt on May 26, 2005, failed because
a number of the alleged minors were not available; so IJM
delayed until a new attempt could be made on May 31. On that
night, four CIDG undercover agents entered the 8RC Club to
pose as customers until the IJM workers arrived. A CIDG

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officer also gave the IJM workers 20,000 pesos in 500 peso
notes that they had photocopied and dusted with fluorescent
fingerprint powder beforehand. As soon as the IJM workers
entered the club, Reci approached them with two girls, one of
whom he claimed was a minor, and told the IJM workers that
they were available for sex. Agreeing, the IJM workers
handed the 20,000 pesos to Reci. As soon as Reci took the
notes and placed them in his wallet, the CIDG agents moved in
to make the arrests. While Reci and Manansala were being
arrested, Mommy Angel escaped out a rear door in the
confusion. The CIDG agents also confiscated the club's
business license from the cashier and took the club's 11
female GROs back to their office for interviewing. During
the interviews and examinations, they determined that two of
the 11 were minors, including the girl who called herself
Ice. Ice filed a statement of complaint against Reci and his
floor managers, but the other minor declined to make a

The Trial

6. At the trial, the prosecution sought to prove that Reci
and his floor managers, Manansala and Mommy Angel, hired
GROs, including minors, to work as prostitutes. The defense
attorney tried to establish that neither the IJM workers nor
the CIDG officers actually witnessed any of the girls either
dancing naked or engaging in prostitution. The defense also
pointed out that one minor refused to file a statement and
that Ice had retracted her original statement of complaint.
He argued that the case should be dismissed because the only
remaining complainants, CIDG and IJM, had no direct knowledge
of prostitution at 8RC KTV Club.

7. To the dismay of the prosecution, CIDG, and IJM, Ice
succumbed to threats from Reci and testified in court that
she was "confused and carried away with the events" at the
time of the raid. Having had time to think about it, she
filed an affidavit on December 25, 2005, withdrawing her
complaint against the accused. She said that she made her
original statement because she was inebriated, tired, and
wanted to go home. She stated that she lied to Reci about
her age when she applied for the GRO job at 8RC Club, and
denied that she had ever been forced to have sex with
customers. She said that she and the other GROs were free to
come and go from the club as they pleased and concluded by
saying that she did not know the motive of IJM and the police
(CIDG) in filing a complaint against the accused.

8. Reci claimed that his parents owned the 8RC Club, his
mother operated it, and he only helped out occasionally when
he was off-duty. The prosecution countered with the business
license they confiscated from the cashier, showing that Reci
was the registered owner of 8RC Club. They also presented a
certification from the city treasurer's office that proved
Reci paid the business permit fee and taxes for the club.
Reci denied knowing Ice was underage when his floor manager
hired her and said he had taken Ice's word that she was 19
years old when she applied for the job. He admitted
receiving 20,000 pesos from the IJM worker but maintained
that it was merely a reservation fee for an exclusive show to
take place a the club the following night. Reci said he did
not know what kind of show would take place because that was
the floor manager's responsibility, but he was adamant that
there were no pornographic shows or acts of prostitution
taking place at the club because, as a police officer, he
knew "that would be against the law."

9. Manansala testified that he, Ice, and another woman
applied for jobs at 8RC Club at the same time, and that he
did not traffic anybody. He said he was hired by Mommy Angel
as an errand boy at the club and just followed whatever
instructions she gave him. He maintained that he earned only
100 pesos (USD 2.50) a night for doing errands. He claimed
to have no knowledge of what went on in the VIP rooms or of
customers taking out the GROs for sex. Manansala also
claimed there was no dancing at the club.

The Verdict

10. After a careful, year-long perusal of the evidence, the
judge found Reci and Manansala guilty beyond a reasonable
doubt of qualified trafficking and sentenced each of them to

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life in prison and a fine of two million pesos (USD 42,500).
The judge noted that Ice's recantation of her initial
complaint "does not necessarily cancel an earlier declaration
and is subject to the test of credibility based on the
relevant circumstances." Regarding the defendants' denials
of their involvement in trafficking and prostitution, the
judge ruled that "denials unsubstantiated by clear and
convincing evidence are negative and self-serving, which
merit no weight in law and cannot be given greater
evidentiary value over the testimony of credible witnesses."
Because floor manager Mommy Angel is still at large, the
judge issued a warrant of arrest against her.

11. As is often the case in trials involving public
officials in the Philippines, the judge had to consider
allegations of witness tampering and its possible effect on
the evidence. Police officer Reci allegedly used the power
of his position to extract a written retraction from Ice, and
-- according to IJM -- he tried repeatedly to intimidate the
IJM workers into dropping their accusations against him. The
judge placed more credence on the force of Ice's original
statement than on the legalities of her later retraction that
may have been made under duress, and the NGO workers refused
to be intimidated.


12. This conviction is an encouraging victory for local
civil society groups and dedicated prosecutors in their
long-running efforts to combat trafficking in persons in the
Philippines. It sends a clear message to other
office-holders that their positions do not guarantee
immunity, and that they may be held accountable and
prosecuted for trafficking in persons. In a recent meeting,
officials from the Philippines Department of Justice (DOJ)
told Poloffs that they realize more needs to be done, and
they are focused on catching and prosecuting the "big fish"
who are involved in human trafficking. They pointed to the
arrest last June of an immigration official at the Clark
Special Economic Zone on human trafficking charges as
evidence of this renewed focus. DOJ also highlighted to
Poloffs that two other human trafficking trials have
concluded and are awaiting the judges' decisions. Post will
continue to monitor the progress of these cases. As shown by
the successful, three-year case against Reci and Manansala
the court system may move slowly, but the system is capable
of providing justice.

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