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Foreign sex workers flocking into the Philippines

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Foreign sex workers flocking into the Philippines

Anand Sharma

According to a study conducted by the Philippines’ Population Institute and Demographic Research and Development Foundation, over 19 percent of the young males had paid for sex while 11 percent had received sexual favors.

In 2013, it was estimated that there were up to 500,000 prostitutes in the Philippines, from a population of roughly 97.5 million. Citing a 2005 study, Senator Pia S. Cayetano asserted in her “Anti-Prostitution Act” (Senate Bill No. 2341 s.2010), that the number of people being exploited in prostitution in the Philippines could be as high as 800,000.

Prostitution in the Philippines is illegal, although somewhat tolerated, with law enforcement being rare with regards to sex workers. Penalties range up to life imprisonment for those involved in trafficking, which is covered by the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003. Prostitution is often available through bars, karaoke bars (also known as KTVs), massage parlors, brothels  (also known as casa), street walkers, and escort services.

Prostitution caters to both local customers and foreigners. Media attention tends to focus on those areas catering to sex tourism, primarily through bars staffed by bargirls. Cities, where there is a high incidence of prostitution, are Olongapo City, Angeles City, Legazpi City in Albay, Pasay City and Subic Bay in Zambales, with the customers usually foreign businessmen from East Asian and Western nations.

Prostitution in Olongapo City and Angeles City was highly prominent during the time of the U.S. military in Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base, respectively. When Mount Pinatubo, a volcano, erupted in 1991, it destroyed most of Clark Air Base and the United States closed it down in 1992.

Some of the associated prostitution trade closed with it, but when the mayor of Manila, Alfredo Lim, closed down the sex industry area of Ermita in Manila during his first term starting in 1992, many of the businesses moved to Angeles, finding a new customer base among sex tourists.

Other tourist areas such as Cebu have also developed a high-profile prostitution industry.

According to researchers, there is no one single reason for the widespread prevalence of prostitution in the Philippines. Poverty is but one reason, as cultural factors and the attitude of people toward money and the social acceptance of prostitution play a major role.

Beginning of prostitution in the Philippines

Prostitution started around Clark Air Base in Angeles City since the early 1960s, when the base assumed importance because of the Vietnam war. During the 1970s, the main street of Olongapo City had no less than 30 girlie bars catering to the wants of U.S. Navy troops visiting Subic Naval base. The city acquired the pseudonym “Sin City”.

The American authorities supported the testing of the prostitutes for STIs by the local health authorities. Without the licenses issued with these examinations, the prostitutes were prevented from working. Angeles City and Olongapo health authorities passed on photographs of sex workers who had failed STI tests to the U.S. bases.

The closure of the U.S. bases in these two places did not change the scenario much — it only changed the clientele. Fields Avenue near Clark (Angeles) continued to grow as a center of the sex tourism industry, under the umbrella of “entertainment” and “hospitality industry“. The girlie bars at Olongapo were closed down in a major drive by the then governor Jane Gordon; they merely shifted, however, to the neighboring town of Barrio Baretto which contains a series of at least 40 bars which act as prostitution centers.

Single mothers enter into prostitution

Some women join the prostitution industry after they become single unwed mothers. The reasons for this vary — unpopularity of artificial contraception in the Philippines, inadequate sex education, delays in implementing birth control legislation and a machismo attitude among many Filipino males. More than half of the children born every year in the Philippines are illegitimate, and the percentage of illegitimate children is rising at the rate of nearly 2 percent annually.

Some of the single mothers, being oppressed or rejected by their families and societies initially look for two options. First of all, they frantically try to go into any of the Middle Eastern nations as housemaids. The second and mostly practiced way is stepping into prostitution. Those who go to the Gulf nations, in particular, are generally raped or sexually abused by the employers, while others voluntarily offer sex in exchange of some extra income. On their return to the Philippines, they finally land into the hands of prostitution rackets or even run the sex trade independently.

Transnational flesh trading and trafficking center

The Philippines is a source country and, to a lesser extent, a destination and transit country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Sex trafficking and prostitution are not one in the same, because often prostitution is a voluntary decision, but prostitutes can be subjected to sex trafficking against their will. An estimated 10 million Filipinos reside or work abroad and the government processes approximately 2.3 million new or renewed contracts for Filipinos to work overseas each year. A significant number of these migrant workers are subjected to sex trafficking, particularly in the Middle East and Asia, but also in all other regions. Traffickers, typically in partnership with local networks and facilitators, engage in illegal recruitment practices that leave migrant workers vulnerable to trafficking, such as charging excessive fees, producing fraudulent travel and contract documents, and confiscating identity documents. Illegal recruiters use student, intern, exchange program, and tourist visas, as well as travel through other countries to circumvent the Philippine government and destination countries’ legal frameworks for foreign workers. Traffickers also recruit Filipinos already working overseas through fraudulent offers of employment in another country.

Sex trafficking of women and children within the country remains a significant problem. Women and children from indigenous communities and remote areas of the Philippines are the most vulnerable to sex trafficking. Persons displaced due to the conflict in Mindanao, Filipinos returning from bordering countries without documents, and internally displaced persons in typhoon-affected communities are vulnerable to sex trafficking in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, central and northern Luzon, and urban areas in Mindanao. Sex trafficking also occurs in tourist destinations, such as Boracay, Angeles City, Olongapo, Puerto Galera, and Surigao, where there is a high demand for commercial sex acts. Although the availability of child sex trafficking victims in commercial establishments declined in some urban areas, child sex trafficking remains a pervasive problem, typically abetted by taxi drivers who have knowledge of clandestine locations. In addition, young Filipino girls and boys are increasingly induced to perform sex acts for live internet broadcasts to paying foreigners in other countries; this typically occurs in private residences or small internet cafes and may be facilitated by victims’ family members and neighbors. NGOs report high numbers of child sex tourists in the Philippines, many of whom are citizens of Australia, Japan, the United States, Canada, and countries in Europe; Filipino men also purchase commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims. Organized crime syndicates allegedly transport sex trafficking victims from China through the Philippines en route to other countries.

Officials, including those in diplomatic missions, law enforcement agencies, and other government entities, allegedly have been complicit in trafficking or allowed traffickers to operate with impunity. Reports in previous years asserted police conduct indiscriminate or fake raids on commercial sex establishments to extort money from managers, clients, and victims.

The United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ranks the Philippines as a ‘Tier 1’ country.

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