When United States ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr claimed that 40% of male foreign tourists to the Philippines visited only for sex, the off-the-cuff comment became a diplomatic incident.
Hwever, the Philippine flesh trade catering
to foreigners is growing in size and sophistication and by some estimates is starting to rival Thailand as a global sex tourism hub.
Males make up over 65% of all tourist arrivals. A leaked US diplomatic cable identified a number of Philippine sex
tourism hubs, including Sabang Beach in Puerto Galera, Mindoro province.
Former labor under secretary Rene Ofreneo recently claimed that the number of Filipinos engaged in the sex trade was likely about the same size as the country's manufacturing
workforce of around 850,000 workers. A recent Deutsche Welle special report claimed that the Philippine sex industry was the fourth-largest contributor to gross national product (GNP).
Economists say that entrenched poverty, where nearly 40% of
the population lives on less than US$2 per day according to Asian Development Bank statistics, is a major push factor into the trade. Policy think-tank Ibon Foundation recently recommended that the government focus on sustainable poverty reduction and
additional investments in public education, health, housing and infrastructure to curb the burgeoning sex trade.
Many young Filipino girls end up in so-called KTV bars, nightclubs, restaurants and massage parlors, a number of which are fronts for
prostitution dens where customers can have sex for a fee ranging from US$20 to $50. Cash-strapped students are also turning to prostitution to pay their tuition bills or earn extra money to cover their weekly expenses, according to Asia Times Online
interviews. Internet-based sexual services are also extending the trade into once remote rural areas.
Activists against the trade, meanwhile, are fighting a losing battle. The most difficult part is bringing people out of it or deterring others
from joining it, said Ostrander. He said one of the most challenging issues of combating sex tourism is providing those in the industry with real options for other work. Can we offer them jobs?, he asked rhetorically. Unfortunately, the
answer is no.
The Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has endorsed a bill that is pending in committee in the House of Representatives which would decriminalize prostitution but punish those who control and profit from the flesh trade.
The Anti-Prostitution Bill pending in the House committee on justice seeks to repeal the clauses under Articles 202 and 341 of the Revised Penal Code which punish women who, for money, engage in sexual intercourse, or lascivious conduct.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Dinky Soliman said the bill was one of the agency's priority pieces of legislation. The DSWD, however, clarified that it did not support the legalization of prostitution in the country.
Soliman said the bill
would provide social protection to the victims and ensure the prosecution of persons who control and profit from the trade by exploiting the victims' poverty. The bill would also offer programs and services that would promote their economic well-being.
We all know that most, if not all, prostituted persons are forced to engage in this activity because of compelling reasons such as poverty if they are not victims of human trafficking. The government will continue to
provide programs and services to uplift their economic well-being.