Guam – After more than five years since forced prostituion was uncovered at the now closed Blue house lounge, opening arguments in the trial of police officers David Manila and Anthony Quenga, for their involvement in the case, were finally made to a jury of 12.
The prosecution began by pointing out that the police offers failed in their duty to protect. The defense, however argued that while the alleged victims may not have liked their roles as prostitutes, they were, defense attorneys claim, willing participants who knew exactly what they were getting into.
“To protect and serve, that’s what these police officers swore to do,” begins Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Quan. “Well ladies and gentlemen, the evidence will show in the case, that didn’t happen. The evidence will show that these two defendants, police officers, victimized and exploited some of the weakest members in our society.”
Both officers were slapped with prostituion and criminal sexual conduct charges last November, nearly five years after the case broke. Quan described how each police officer helped bar owner, Song Ja Cha, terrorize the girls in order to maintain the illicit activity.
“When [the officers] would show up, Cha, the evidence would show, in their presence, while they’re standing there, would say to the girls, ‘These are my friends.’ Cha will then say, while they’re there standing next to her, ‘If you don’t do as you’re told, you will be arrested,'” explains Quan.
Quan also talked about the victims. Most were recruited from Chuuk, and could barely speak any English, seeking better lives in Guam. Only when they got here, Quan says, Cha immediately forced them into prostitution, taking away their passports. Manila and Quenga, Quan notes, were among the many men who took advantage of the girls and forced them to engage in sexual acts and sometimes even in uniform. First he describes Quenga.
“You will hear testimony that defendant Quenga took Areen Tipingeni into the VIP room. She didn’t wanna go,” says Quan. “The evidence will show, she’ll testify, that he tried to get her to perform oral sex on him.”
Manila, Quan reiterates, went as far as verbally threatening his alleged victims.
“He was a police officer, she did’t wanna have sex with him. Defendant Manila told her, ‘If you do not make me happy, I’m gnona tell mamasan.’ He forced her clothes off, he held down her legs, he held her hands down, she was cussing at him, cussing at him while he was penetrating her,” he describes. “After he’s done, the evience will show, he puts on his clothes, makes sure his unifrom’s straight and then as he’s walking out, he says to her, ‘Don’t tell anyone we had sex.'”
Meanwhile, both defense attorneys acknowledged some form of guilt, even corroborating some of Quan’s statements about how the girls were recruited and physically abused. But defense attorneys Terry Timblin and Sylvia Stake emphasized that the girls were willing participants in the prostitution scheme who were not held against their will.
They even describe how some of the girls were taken out for recreational activities and had many opportunities to flee, some, they claim, were even allowed to leave, but eventually returned on their own accord.
Timblin, Manila’s counsel, states that his client’s involvement was “not much.” And that the police officers were used as “stage props” to intimidate Cha’s victims.
“He is on trial today primarily because–and Mr. Quenga–were used as stage props for Cha. She kept telling these ladies that you know these guys are my friends, those police officers are my friends and if you don’t do what I tell you, they’re gonna come and arrest you. The evidence will show that most of the time when she said this they weren’t around,” Timblin points out.
Timblin also points out that while the officers are accused of raping their victims, the fundamental issue in the criminal sexual conduct charges is consent. He notes that the alleged victims were already prostitutes long before Manila and Quenga even visited the bar.
“As I already pointed out, they had nothing to do with causing them to begin engaging in prostitution,” he notes.
Defense attorney Stake, who represents Quenga, focused her attention on the mastermind, Song Ja Cha, who is already serving a life sentence in federal prison. She, too, did not deny that her client engaged in sex with the Blue House employees. Instead, she emphasized that Cha bred the prostitution ring all along and called her a “clever natural psychologist.” Through Cha’s torture and abuse, the girls, Stake argues, were almost “indoctrinated” into the sexual lifestyle.
“When you’re looking at their willingness, they might not have liked the job, but the evidence will show that some of them came up with this conclusion that it’s a job,” she argues.
She also points out that while the cops are facing conspiracy to compel prostitution charges, she argues that these officers had nothing to gain other than sex. They were to receive no financial benefit. But even sex as a profit, she notes, is questionable, saying sex and girls are disposable.
“Most of all you will not see any evidence that they benefited in any financial way. Now some might make the assumption that sex was the compensation, but let me say this, sex and girls are fungible. And I mean that in a sense that fungible, in the business world, that any human is equivalent to any other like-human,” she says.
The first witness was also called to the stand. Marissa Manibusan testified that she was present when police officers first discovered the prositution ring at the Blue House lounge in January 2008, saying it was her husband, Officer Thomas Manibusan, who was among the police officers present at the time. She also stated that she was first approached by one of the victims who asked her to help them get the other girls out of the bar because they were “being held against their will.”
Trial resumes Thursday in Judge Anita Sukola’s courtroom.