Privilege speech on prostitution

26 September 2011

Are we going to allow our women and children to continue to be victims of the “flesh trade”? Mr. President, let us ponder on this question.

As Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Youth, Women and Family Relations, I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege to bring into fore the issue of prostitution that should not be brushed aside but which we have chosen to sweep under the rugs.

Mr. President, there are one too many women lured to the life of prostitution. In a 2009 study[i] there are around 800,000 prostitutes working in the Philippines, with up to half of them underage.[ii] This amounts to an almost fifty percent increase from the 500,000 estimate in a 1998 study by the International Labor Organization (ILO). Of this number, an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 are prostituted children, according to UNICEF and non-governmental organizations.[iii] In fact, the Philippines ranks fourth among countries with the most number of prostituted children. A study by the Psychological Trauma Program of the University of the Philippines notes that prostitution may now be the country’s fourth largest source of GNP.[iv]

In a forum before some members of the Judiciary last Thursday, US Ambassador Harry Thomas, Jr. was quoted by the Inquirer to have stated that while the Philippines is a model for other countries in combating human trafficking, a lot still remains to be done because up to “40 percent” of foreign male tourists visiting the country come here primarily for sex.[v]

This statement caused an avalanche of denials from Malacanang. In a Philippine Star[vi] news report last Saturday, Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte was reported to have stated that the issue was already brought to the attention of Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, who clarified that the statistics cited by the ambassador were inaccurate. Quoting Jimenez, Valte said the DOT’s figure shows that “shopping and sightseeing” are the dominant activities for both male and female tourists in the Philippines.

Mr. President, how exactly can Malacanang determine the exact purpose of every tourist visit? Is there a form that tourists fill up that state what they intend to do in the Philippines? And does that form provide a box where a tourist can indicate that they come to the Philippines to shop for women or to procure illegal sex?

I call your attention to the screen which is a replica of the exact application form for a Philippine visa and the customs declaration. So that Malacanang won’t question the numbers, do we just include it in the application form for a Philippine visa, as well as in the customs declaration that anyone coming in to the Philippines fills up, that they are going to the Philippines to procure illegal sex?

In the website of the Department of Tourism, a “foreign tourist” is defined as a person without distinction as to race, gender, language or religion, who is proceeding to the Philippines for a legitimate, nonimmigrant purpose such as sightseeing, sports, health, family reasons, training or study (excluding enrollment in schools for the purpose of obtaining a title or degree), religious pilgrimage, business, cultural and scientific purposes. Naturally, coming to the Philippines for sex is not expected to be one of the options that will be included in the form that foreigners wishing to enter the Philippines will have to fill up. So, how could Malacanang claim that the facts of US Ambassador Thomas is inaccurate?

The news article quoted Secretary Jimenez as saying these are isolated cases. Where exactly are these isolated cases where the sex trade exists or perhaps thrives? How many women are part of this illegal trade? What programs are there to address these problems?The news article further quoted Department of Tourism Secretary Jimenez to have stated that “our message to all tourists is simple: you are welcome to the Philippines anytime for good, clean fun and excitement. If you are coming for darker reasons, we don’t want your business.”

That’s a good statement Mr. President. But, where is that government declaration that if you come to the Philippines for darker reasons, we don’t want your business? Are there posters in key areas like airports and other areas frequented by tourists announcing that these are crimes? Have there been prosecutions against tourists who solicit sex?
Knowing the professional background of the newly-appointed Secretary of Tourism, I throw him a challenge fair and simple — to translate his statement into a storyboard and send the clear message “go away”.
Mr. President, in Cambodia, they have signs like the one being flashed on the screen which are posted in areas such as a men’s toilet with telephone numbers you can ring. Paedophilia is a crime in Cambodia and the authorities do imprison offenders. The sign, according to the website, says that if you feel someone is acting suspiciously you can ring such number. You can also ask your hotel or hostel to summon the police. You can also report a foreign national to their embassy in Phnom Penh and/or report it via email.[vii]

Do we have signs like this in the Philippines, Mr. President? When I discuss the issue of trafficking and drug mules with some of our government officials involved with the issue, I have recommended to put artistic, eye-catching signs in ports of exit with last-minute reminders and questions for our OFWs as to the validity and legality of their trips/activities abroad to ensure that they are not victims of trafficking and are not prone to becoming drug mules. One of such pictures are flashed on the screen.

Malacanang has acknowledged that sex tourism is happening. In the same article, Deputy spokesperson Valte said that it cannot be denied that sexual tourism is happening, including human trafficking of women and children, but the government had been exerting efforts to curb the problem. Mr. President. I humbly submit that we are not doing enough. Yes, we have been removed from the Tier 2 watchlist by the United States. But we are still in Tier 2. What are these tiers and their significance? For the information of the Body, the different tiers are set up by the US government in the Trafficking Victims Act to link their humanitarian aid with the issue on trafficking.

TIER 3 refers to countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and are not making significant efforts to do so.

TIER 2 WATCH LIST refer to countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND:

a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing;

b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or

c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the 
next year.

TIER 2 refers to countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

TIER 1 refers to countries deemed to have a serious trafficking problem but fully complying with the Act’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

Thus, being removed from Tier 2 watchlist means we are no longer in immediate danger of the sanctions under US Public Law 106-386 or the ‘‘Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000,’’ where countries listed in Tier 3 are subject to sanctions, including termination of non-humanitarian, non-trade-related assistance and loss of U.S. support for assistance (except for humanitarian, trade-related, and certain development-related assistance) from international financial institutions, specifically the International Monetary Fund and multilateral development banks such as the World Bank.

But, Mr. President, regardless of whatever system is set up by the United States, fact is there exists a serious trafficking issue which needs to be addressed. For our country that means 60,000 to 100,000 Filipino children and 300,000 to 400,000 Filipinas are trafficked annually?

Mr. President, we cannot continue to remain blind, deaf, mute and insensitive to these realities — pictures and information that my staff just googled on the web showing how easy it was to find information regarding the red-light districts of the Philippines.

In fact, in a website of a certain foreigner, he wrote that “Manila has no more red light area but still you will find a booming nightlife !!! Today it’s about Malate and Ermita with clubs and disco’s, bar’s, music club’s and a lot more !!! BUT IF YOU WANT THE RED LIGHT YOU BETTER GO TO ANGELES CITY. Its north of Manila and you can easy find a bus to ANGELES CITY. Here you will find a lot of bars and girls (but dont tell your wife about this corny place ;)[viii]

My staff searched for the website of Angeles City in the internet. We found the official website which just shows messages from the local government officials. However, the search likewise produced another official-looking website Please note, Mr. President the tab that says “nightlife.” If you click on it, you will see that GO-GO or GIRLY BARS are being promoted. I wonder if the City Government of Angeles City is aware of this problem and is doing something about it.

And, if this is not enough, Mr. President, it was also easy for my staff to discover that information and massage “services” such as these are available on the internet.

In connection with this, I received a message from a British Jesuit priest who told me that he just arrived at the Ateneo and has been asked five times if he is looking for a wife.

Do we want this image of our women to continue, Mr. President?

What programs is the government implementing to protect the rights of our Filipino women, give them the respect that’s due them, provide a barrier of protection against the foreigners and for that matter, local men who prey upon them and want them as sexual objects? Do we have programs in place that provide our women with the right information to help them be aware of the dangers in this kind of illegal business?

Mr. President, this government must wake up to the reality that the increase in sex trade is a real issue in the promotion of tourism. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for the promotion of tourism, particularly environmental tourism and sports tourism, these areas are already are proving to be a great attraction in our country. It exists, Mr President, and it will spread like a forest fire. It will grow like a communicable disease if we do not put the necessary safeguards to prevent it and it will fester like an untreated infected wound. But the issue of sex trade must be dealt with. The entire Department of Tourism – from the national level to the local level, must be conscious of the existence of this monster and must work with the DSWD, the BOI and other government agencies to deal with it. No less than the United Nations has acknowledged that sex tourism exists as part of tourism and has raised concerns on its effects.

It would do well to link up with various non-government organizations (NGOs), who on their own, are involved in preventive programs such as going to the streets to provide counseling and education not just for the women who are prospective victims of prostitution, but also for the men to educate them not to be potential buyers; in the actual rescue of victims; and likewise in providing rehabilitation services for them.

We need action from the executive department, Mr. President.

I also take this opportunity, Mr. President, to call on my colleagues for the prioritization of the repeal of the existing provisions on prostitution in the Revised Penal Code and the passage of the Anti-Prostitution Act. As a result of our hearings and consultations with the different government agencies and NGOs in the 14th Congress, I filed Senate Bill No. 2341 this Congress which seeks to address the root of the problem of prostitution. The bill seeks to change the public perception and treatment of persons exploited in prostitution as victims of the system and not as criminals. It shifts the accountability of prostitution from the prostituted person to the exploiters. The bill also provides for other mechanisms to ensure that the human rights of persons exploited in prostitution are upheld and that the victims, aside from being extracted out of the system, can go back and reinstate themselves into the society through certain rehabilitation programs.

Mr. President, there are a lot of things we can do for our Filipinos, for our women and our children. Let us start by accepting the reality that this problem exists, not in isolated parts of our country but all over. Let us then make an honest assessment of the programs we have in place to address this concern.

Whether it is 40% or 5%, a handful or 1 million tourists coming here to exploit our women, that already is too many vulnerable women and children exposed to a life of prostitution. And this we need to address. Wag naman tayo magbulag-bulagan.

Thank you, Mr. President.

[i] by Magnolia Yrasuegui/Priya Esselborn of Deutsche Welle which is Germany’s international broadcaster. The service is aimed at the overseas market. It broadcasts news and information on shortwave, Internet and satellite radio on 98.7 DZFE in 30 languages (DW Radio). It has a satellite television service (DW-TV), that is available in four languages, and there is also an online news site. Deutsche Welle, which in English means “German Wave”, is similar to international broadcasters such as the BBC World Service, Radio Canada International, Radio Free Europe and Radio France Internationale.


[iii] Juvida, Sol F. (Oct 12). “Scourge of Child Prostitution”. MANILA: IPS.






If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>