MANILA, Philippines – A 55-year-old priest from a parish in Taytay, Rizal, was arrested for allegedly "booking" a 13-year-old girl with the help of a 16-year-old pimp, the Marikina police said.
Monsignor Arnel Lagarejos was detained immediately after his arrest in Santo Niño, Marikina City, on Friday evening, July 28.
Because of this, Antipolo Bishop Francisco de Leon said in a message on Saturday evening, July 29, that Lagarejos has been relieved of all his designations in his diocese.
Lagarejos was president of Cainta Catholic College (CCC). He was also parish priest of Saint John the Baptist Parish in Poblacion, Taytay, Rizal.
Lagarejos holds a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome and a licentiate in theology from the Loyola School of Theology in Quezon City, according to his profile on the CCC website.
The priest, however, initially identified himself to the police as "self employed," Police Senior Inspector Jacqueline Ta-a told Rappler.
Police said Lagarejos was caught in an entrapment operation by the Marikina City Police Women and Children's Protection Desk, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Ta-a said it was the DSWD that first found out that the victim, an out-of-school youth from Marikina City, was being pimped.
This was after the victim opened up to the DSWD. At that time, the victim had been taken in DSWD custody for breaking the city curfew.
"Nagkuwento 'yung bata sa DSWD na parang involved siya together with her friends doon sa parang ibinu-booking sila ng kaibigan nilang bakla (The child told the DSWD that she is involved, together with her friends, in being "booked" by their gay friend)," Ta-a said in a phone interview Saturday evening.
When the DSWD learned about this, the social workers met with the victim's parents. At that time, Ta-a said, the girl's Facebook (FB) messenger account was also opened.
"Tamang tama, noong nabuksan ang FB, meron na namang nagpapa-booking (Coincidentally, when her FB account was opened, someone was having her booked again)," Ta-a said.
This was when they tried to trap the 16-year-old pimp.
'Transactions' in priest's iPhone
The entrapment happened when the pimp escorted the victim to Lagarejos' vehicle.
At first, the pimp and the victim boarded Lagarejos' vehicle together. The priest supposedly handed P500 to the pimp, after which the pimp got off.
The victim was left with Lagarejos inside the vehicle.
Shortly after, policemen approached the pimp and arrested him.
Lagarejos' vehicle sped off "on the way to an unknown motel," police said, then was blocked by the police.
Police said it recovered the following as evidence:
Ta-a said Lagarejos underwent inquest on Saturday for allegedly violating the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.
In a statement, the Diocese of Antipolo said it is looking into the arrest of Lagarejos "as allegedly identified as a suspect in an entrapment operation in Marikina City."
"Thus, we assure the public that we respect the necessary procedures as provided by law in order to further investigate the matter," the Diocese of Antipolo said.
The diocese also urged the public to "refrain from issuing unnecessary comments that might worsen the situation."
"Instead, we appeal for all the faithful to pray that the truth may come out," the Diocese of Antipolo said. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.