Australian, taxi driver arrested in Compostela beach resort
One of the boys was a 14-year-old who was used as a recruiter of other youths.
Hilton Munro, 45, was renting a room in Stakili Resort when a joint police task force arrived at 10:30 p.m. following several days of surveillance.
He will be charged with violation of the Atni-Human Trafficking in Persons Act or Republic Act 9208 on Monday along with Gilbert Andrada, 41, of Mabolo, Cebu City, who served as his driver.
Four of the rescued boys, age 10 to 13, were from Mandaue city. They were turned over to social workers of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Police said Munro used the 14-year-old boy to recruit other minors, whom he photographed in the nude and sexually abused.
Interviewed in his jail cell in Casuntinagn, Mandaue city, Munro denied the allegations, saying “The kids were my friends who were contacted by another friend here in Cebu.”
He said he was a professor in Australia and that his wife works in a school in Hongkong. He later stopped answering questions and lay down on the floor, covering his face with his T-shirt.
Three mobile phones owned by the suspects were confiscated. The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) will examine the phones to extract messages, photos or videos.
The boys were paid P500 to P1,000 per visit by the Australian, according to Insp. Sheryl Bautista, deputy chief of the Regional Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force.
“According to the rescued minors, the suspect would take nude photos of them ug gamiton sila (and have sexual relations with them),” Bautista said.
She said the two arrested adults would also be charged with child abuse or violation of Republic Act 7610.
The rescued boys were a “new batch” from Mandaue city, she said but it wasn’t immediately known where his previous contacts of boys was made.
The Australian has been traveling around Cebu province, reaching towns of Bantayan and Borbon in the far north, based on police surveillance.
Munro would transfer from one resort to another, according to Bautista.
Police said the 14-year-old boy was used to recruit other minors, and would communicate with Munro while Andrada, the driver, would fetch the children and bring them to the resorts.
Police surveillance started when Mandaue city’s DSWD sought Bautista’s help after learning about the Australian’s activities from another minor they had rescued, said Senior Insp. Ma. Theresa Macatangay, chief of the anti-human trafficking taskforce. Macatangay said it was an unusual case because a minor was involved as a cohort to commit the crime. The boy claimed he was 14 years old. Because of the boy’s age, though, no charges could be filed against him.
Under the Juvenile Justice Law, there is no criminal liability for youth offenders aged 15 years or below. “It’s difficult on our part because of limitations of the law. It’s unusual for a case because a minor suspect is involved,” she said.
Macatangay said if it’s proven the boy is still 14, he would be considered one of the victims.
The birth certificates and dental work of the five boys will be checked by the DSWD to determine their actual age. The DSWD will also locate their parents.
During the Friday night arrest, Munro was in the room with the 14-year-old recruiter, the driver Andrada and the four boys from Mandaue City.
Munro had no passport or identification card with him. He had an iPhone. In his wallet was a privilege card of a five-star hotel.
Andrada, a taxi driver, said he got to know the Australian who happened to ride in his cab. Munro later asked for his phone number and promised to call him the next time he visted Cebu. On July 5, the driver said he fetched the Australian and his wife from the airport upon their arrival in Cebu and brough them to Radisson Blu in Cebu City where they stayed for two days.
According to the driver, they hired a private vehicle and went to El Salvador beach resort in Danao City for a day and then spent another day in Alegre Beach Resort in Sogod town. The couple also reportedly traveled to Carmen town and Bantayan Island.
The wife reportedly a stopover in Coco Palm Beach in Danao City while Munro went on to Stakili resort in Compostela town where he was arrested Friday evening. Andrada said he asked the boys what took place with Munro in the room. He said the minors told him Munro would take photos of them naked and engaged them in sexual acts.
Friday’s arrest was made by the police taskforce in coordination with the DSWD and International Justice Mission. with Correspondent Norman Mendoza