Published 16 December 2022, The Daily Tribune
Sometime in 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when a significant number of Filipinos lost their jobs, a black market that sells infants thrived.
This menace to society persists to this day. With poverty as one of the top reasons, parents opt to sell their newborns in exchange for an amount ranging from P10,000 to P50,000. Worse, some parents deliberately and gratuitously give away their offspring as they can no longer afford to add another mouth to feed. The majority of the clients are childless foreigners whom the biological parents prefer in the hopes of giving their child a brighter future.
Though the commercial trade of babies has been existing for almost two decades, transactions were then done face to face. In today’s digital age, parents or their agents negotiate with their potential clients only via social media, making it difficult for law enforcers to apprehend the perpetrators. Despite the challenge, entrapment operations have been conducted left and right, rescuing the infants and punishing the offenders.
The recent case of Lenida T. Maestrado v. People of the Philippines, (G.R. 253629, 28 September 2022) shows the seriousness of the government’s law enforcement units in combatting human trafficking.
In this case, petitioners, Jenylin Alvarez, Stephanie Jean Locker, and Rubelyn Stone conspired to simulate the birth, solicit and acquire the custody of a seven-month-old baby from her low-income family to sell such child victim.
Alvarez, Locker, and Stone went to the Local Civil Registrar where they lied about substantial information in filling up the “Impormasyon Para sa Birth Certificate” where the foreigners indicated that Gerald Vincent Locker, Jr. and Stephanie Jean Gaskin Locker are the parents of the baby, while Alvarez claimed that she, as a midwife, was the one who assisted in the baby’s birth.
Six months after the registration of the baby’s birth, the Philippine National Police’s 13th Regional Crime Investigation and Detection Unit received information from the United States Navy and Criminal Investigation Services indicating that the baby’s birth certificate appeared to be spurious since the birth mother and father indicated in the child’s birth certificate were both Caucasian while the child appears to be of Filipino descent.
This led to an investigation which discovered that Alvarez, Locker, and Stone lied about the information they supplied on the birth certificate of the baby. Alvarez also confessed that the baby is in the custody of the petitioner Maestrado, the stepmother of Stone, who in turn was Locker’s friend. Upon rescue of the baby, the same was turned over to the Municipal Social Welfare and Development.
Despite their denial, the Court found Maestrado and Alvarez guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the Crime of Attempted Trafficking in Persons, sentencing them to suffer the penalty of 15 years of imprisonment and to pay a fine of P500,000 each.
The case of Maestrado affirmed the Supreme Court’s commitment to upholding the policy of the State to promote human dignity, protect the people from any threat of violence and exploitation, and eliminate trafficking in persons. (G.R. 253629, 28 September 2022)
Moreso, when it involves children, the Court is bound to exercise its constitutional mandate to defend and afford them special protection from any neglect, abuse, cruelty, exploitation, and other conditions prejudicial to their development.