Manuel Duterte and Elvis Barros arrested in Philippines for

(CNN) – U.S. prosecutors announced charges Tuesday against two of the highest-ranking officials of a pro-Duterte political group who are accused of helping to traffic children for sexual exploitation.

Paolo Duterte, a lead member of President Rodrigo Duterte’s longtime political party and city councilor in Davao City, is a nephew of Duterte and appeared in a 2013 interview with his uncle describing his work as a “provocateur” who took photos of children while they were being sexually abused.

Also charged with sex trafficking in the complaint unsealed Tuesday in federal court in San Francisco is Elvis Barros Jr., a former union official of the S.I.O.R.K. political group, which is affiliated with the Duterte political party. Prosecutors say Barros used his position to help transport people overseas for sex trafficking.

Prosecutors say the arrests are part of “Project Solace,” a multifaceted investigation into the international sex trafficking enterprise that is run by the mayor of Badaga, Singapore, but run by foreigners in use of internet platforms.

“The arrests are a watershed moment in our relentless fight against the sexual exploitation of children, particularly children who are at particularly high risk, and we will hold accountable those who exploit and exploit children,” Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan said in a statement.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Barros is accused of utilizing his position as director of the steamfitter union in the Philippines to pay ransoms to local residents for kidnapping, extortion and homicide. He would be released on a bond after paying the ransom to avoid further harm, the Justice Department said.

A call to the United Nations Children’s Fund in the Philippines for comment was not immediately returned Tuesday.

The case has drawn harsh criticism of Duterte’s authoritarianism.

“The widespread and unchecked slaughter of thousands of drug suspects by Philippine law enforcement leaders has stirred strong outcry,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released earlier this month.

According to the New York Times, the Philippines on Tuesday accused Human Rights Watch of malicious libel in part for “uncritically promoting the anti-drug campaign of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte,” and of knowing the targets of its research, which the report did not confirm.

Duterte has condemned rights groups that have criticized his war on drugs as “hypocrites” and has been quoted as calling them “rats.”

The Philippine congress last week introduced a defense law to crack down on rights groups and civil society groups that have criticized Duterte’s deadly war on drugs, which the president says has killed thousands of criminals.

The Philippines’ National Police investigated a human rights group and revoked its Philippine identity card last year for discussing its investigation into allegations that the police have committed human rights violations, in violation of a law that has been considered ineffective and toothless for years.

CNN Philippines was able to confirm the suspension of Perit Jussawat’s National Society for Human Rights issued an urgent statement Monday.

The group said: “We are deeply disturbed that the Philippine government has labeled a human rights organization as an ‘agent of foreign interests’ and proceeded to interfere with our independence and autonomy. In addition, the terms and conditions set by the central government have not been consistent with our office of management authority. While we still await official confirmation of this order, we believe that this denial of rights not only violates international standards but puts the security of our organization at risk.”

The president of the Philippines said he had no knowledge of the issue, but condemned human rights abuses in his country and overseas.

“I know for a fact that there are human rights abuses against drug-users and drug users (and traffickers),” Duterte said in his speech last year. “And who will guard against it? Human rights organizations.

“Whoever releases a report on human rights violations (does so) for ideological reasons. If there were no human rights violations, they would not do it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Manolo Duterte says he only appeared in the 2013 interview, giving “some humorous responses” and that, at the time, he had been “tired and troubled.”

In a Facebook post, he said, “I have never participated in child sexual abuse, violence or trafficking.”

The two were arrested earlier this month when they were flying to Tokyo, according to CNN Philippines. CNN Philippines was able to reach Barros through a translator, who confirmed his arrest.

The president of the Philippines, who referred to Manolo Duterte as his “sons” in an earlier statement, has said he believes authorities will release the men in Tokyo.

Manolo Duterte, who was arrested in Tokyo, said he and Barros will meet with them “to personally ask for forgiveness and express sorrow for bringing shame to the country.”

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