“We were angry that this could happen just near the day care,” she said. “I was also afraid, we didn’t know what could happen to our children if they went to school because there were many here who were doing that.”
Authorities say they do not know exactly when the trade arrived in Ibabao.
According to local social workers, a Philippine woman from outside the community believed to belong to an organized crime group relocated to the village several years ago and introduced locals to the get-rich-quick scheme.
That woman taught residents how to scout for clients in pornographic chat rooms and receive payments through international money transfers, according to the social workers, who did not want to be named for security reasons.
Some operators lured friends of their children into their homes and abused them, threatening to harm their parents if they told anyone, the social workers said.
One parent told reporters a neighbor who had tried to recruit her said clients paid as much as US$100 a session, a fortune in a region where the minimum daily wage is the equivalent of about US$7.
She said the neighbor justified the trade by saying that no actual physical contact took place.
“I was angry. We were always taught to protect and love our children,” the woman said.
“We are not rich, but we are also not poor and desperate. It was an evil thing to do,” she added.
Nevertheless, she said that staying silent and steering clear of those involved in the trade was the best thing to do, to avoid any trouble.
In announcing the dismantling of the pedophile network, Britain’s National Crime Agency said in the middle of this month that 11 people had been arrested in the Philippines and 18 elsewhere around the world. Another 733 suspects were being investigated, the agency added.
Andrey Sawchenko, Philippine head of the Washington-based International Justice Mission who helped in the arrests, said 39 children had been rescued in Ibabao and elsewhere in the Philippines.
Yet this is widely believed to be just the tip of the iceberg, with the British crime agency describing online child sex abuse as a “significant and emerging threat.”
“Extreme poverty, the increasing availability of high speed Internet and the existence of a vast and comparatively wealthy overseas customer base has led to organized crime groups exploiting children for financial gain,” it said.
Dutch advocate group Terre des Hommes estimates that “tens of thousands” of children are being abused through the cybersex industry in the Philippines alone.
Last year, the group created a virtual 10-year-old Filipina girl that was deployed in Internet chat rooms to lure pedophiles.
Over 10 weeks, 20,000 people from 71 countries approached the fake girl asking for sexual performances, according to Terre des Hommes, which passed the details of the people who made the requests onto Philippine police.