MANILA, Philippines - A 35-year-old man was arrested Wednesday afternoon in Manila after arranging to meet his “girlfriend,” a 12-year-old girl he met on Facebook.
Nathaniel Espia traveled on a ship from Cebu supposedly to pick up the seventh grader and elope with her, police said.
He was arrested by a team led by Chief Inspector Rizalino Ibay Jr. after he met the girl in a fastfood restaurant outside Pier 4 in Port Area at around 2:30 p.m.
The girl’s father earlier sought police assistance after learning that his daughter tried to board a ship to Cebu last month. Port authorities blocked her at the pier after she admitted she was travelling alone and failed to present a clearance from the Department of Social Welfare Development because she was a minor.
The girl told The STAR that she accepted a friend request on Facebook from Espia on Jan. 26 and they communicated regularly since then.
She said she told Espia she was 17 while he claimed to be 25. After weeks of chatting, they finally admitted their real age, the girl said, adding that the age gap did not matter because they were in love with each other.
“He promised to take care of me and my education if only I would live with him in Cebu. On Feb. 20, he sent me P1,300 for my ticket and instructed me to buy it only from 2Go. Last March 5 I tried to board the ship but I was not allowed,” the girl said.
Her father said she stopped going to school, upon Espia’s instructions, and was unable to explain where the money for her tuition went.
She told The STAR that she sent money to Espia at least twice.
The father said he confronted his daughter, took her SIM card and told Espia to stop talking to his daughter.
Instead of giving up, Espia continued communicating with the girl and sent her a text message Tuesday night that he was on his way to Manila.
Ibay said charges of human trafficking in relation to Republic Act 7610, the anti-child abuse law, were filed against Espia.
Police officers confiscated Espia’s mobile phone, which showed he had apparently been communicating with several females. They have yet to determine if they are minors.
The suspect refused to answer questions during the investigation.