Special law to pin down foreigner for child abuse
The Frenchman taken into police custody for bringing in girls to his hotel room in downtown Cebu City will be facing a complaint for child abuse, police sources with direct involvement in the case said yesterday.
The Children’s Legal Bureau (CLB), the source said, will act as the complainant in the case to be filed against Alex Lefur, who is being held by the regional PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) at Camp Cabahug.
Lefur, 43, was arrested by policemen from the Anti-Cybercrime Group after he was seen bringing in two girls, aged 14 and 19, to his hotel room Saturday afternoon.
The Frenchman was under police surveillance since Thursday after hotel security tipped off authorities about his suspicious activities.
Police said Lefur was allegedly seen with at least 10 girls in a span of four days.
While Lefur was not caught in the act of molesting the girls or performing any indecent act when the police barged into his hotel room, a special Philippine law penalizes anyone caught in the company of a minor in a hotel room.
Under Republic Act 7610 or the law on the special protection of children against abuse, exploitation, and discrimination, it is illegal for “any person who shall keep or have in his company a minor, 12 years or younger or who is 10 years or more his junior in any public or private place, hotel, motel, beer joint, discotheque, cabaret, pension house, sauna or massage parlor, beach and/or other tourist resort or similar place” unless there are family ties or some other legal bond or obligation involved.
Those found guilty of violating the law faces a P50,000 fine and a jail term of prison mayor or six years and one day to 12 years .
A graver violation of human trafficking is involved if it is proven that the violator is recruiting women or children for prostitution or other forms of exploitation.
Senior Inspector Michael Virtudazo, chief of the Anti-Cybercrime Group of the Cebu Provincial Police Office, said they are subjecting Lefur’s laptop computer to a “cyber forensic investigation” to find out if the gadget was used in pornography.
“They are suspecting that there have been pornography involving the minors that is why we decided to undergo a forensic exam on his laptop,” he said.
The Frenchman’s arrest was borne out of the cooperation between the hospitality sector and law enforcement agencies in fighting prostitution.
Alice Queblatin, Tourism Congress vice president for travel and tours sector in the Visayas, said hoteliers and tour operations and the Provincial Women’s Commission (PWC) headed by Acting Gov. Agnes Magpale follow a protocol on observing hotel guests who have “suspicious actions.”
Magpale said the cooperation has resulted in apprehensions in the past.
“Daghan na mi ug mga madakpan tungod sa tips from hotel owners through HRAC (We have done a lot of arrests because of the tips from hotel owners through the Hotels, Restaurants and Resorts Association of Cebu),” Magpale told Cebu Daily News.
According to earlier reports, the hotel management had warned Lefur against the bringing of minors in his room. The hotel security also accosted some of the guests accompanying the Frenchman during his stay in the hotel.
The arrest highlights the kind of out-of-bounds tourism that Cebu is trying to discourage and a little-known aspect of the Philippine law on child abuse.
Quiblat said the Tourism Congress have already met with the provincial government to discuss the prostitution happening in hotel establishments.
“We already know what to do, we even have posters in hotels campaigning against bringing minors,” she said.
She said the National Association of Independent Travel Agencies (Naitas), Cebu Association of Tour Operators (Cato), HRAC and all the tour agencies have been vigilant against the illegal flesh trade.
A similar arrest also happened in 2009 in Sta. Fe town where 41-year-old American, Preston Jay Kunts, was arrested for bringing a child in a beach resort.
The resort management that time reported the presence of the foreigner and his young companion to social workers.
Quiblat also called on the media not to use of the term “sex tourism” because it connotes negativity to tourism in Cebu.
She said she has not heard reports of any tour operator engaged in bringing women and underaged children to foreign visitors.
“There is no movement organized by the Department of Tourism to bring them in and no one from the tourism congress so it cannot be attributed with the word, tourism,” she said.
“Sex tourism is used for a lack of a better word. That’s a misnomer,” added Quiblat.
She said the term is unfair for DOT that is working hard to organize conferences, business meeting and trade missions to bring people in the country.
Although the arrest was done in Cebu City and therefore out of PWC’s jurisdiction, Acting Gov. Magpale said she is happy with the arrest.
She said it only proves that a lot of people and agencies are joining in the fight against prostitution.
However, Magpale said the operations do not end with the surveillance and police arrest.
“We have to make sure that it undergoes prosecution and we are ready to provide lawyers. Aside from that, there is also aftercare for the victims,” she said. /Edison A. Delos Angeles and Peter L. Romanillos, Correspondents