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JR Lopez Gonzales 1:50 PM 0

International travel has increased largely since the 1960s. And for a country like the Philippines blessed with beautiful sceneries, tourism greatly helps the economy. A few weeks back though, the statement of US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas regarding sex tourism in the Philippines sure made some uproar in the media.

  
Ambassador Harry Thomas: “40 % of the all the male tourists comes to the Philippines for sex”.
Ofcourse, like a knee-jerk reaction, the new Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez was quick to point out that the statement is false. On the other hand, Abigail Valte, the Malacañang Spokeswoman, said in a press interview that shopping and sightseeing is the key reason for tourism influx. Is it? I simply find the renouncements pathetic.

A few days after his statement, Ambassador Thomas apologized already thru text to the country’s foreign secretary Albert del Rosario last September. That he was not able to back his statement up with proof. Well, Thomas’ way of apologizing shows some class for a diplomat.
Sex tourism refers to the travel to engage in sexual activity with prostitutes.

Some quick definitions first. “Sex Tourism” refers to the travel to engage in sexual activity with prostitutes. The World Tourism Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, defines sex tourism as “trips organized from within the tourism sector, or from outside this sector but using its structures and networks, with the primary purpose of effecting a commercial sexual relationship by the tourist with residents at the destination” [1].

            The denial made by Malacañang and the Department of Tourism is understandable. But it is important to look at the truth before most of us criticize the US Ambassador for the said statement. We should not let our emotions overwhelm our rationality on analyzing the truth behind such statements categorized by many as “offensive”.

Oh, come on. Nothing is wrong with "tourism" per se.
Arguing against the repudiations of the government, Senate Committee Chair on Women and Youth Pia Cayetano asks on "How exactly would Malacañang know if a tourist was coming to the Philippines for sex? Did he [the tourist] check the box on his Visa application indicating so?"

According to her, there were 800,000 prostitutes in the Philippines [2], half of them are minors. In a study be the Psychological Trauma Program of the University of the Philippines, it notes that prostitution may now be the fourth largest source of GNP.

            I see no point in contesting for the validity of the Ambassador’s statement. Whether his 40% number is too high or low is really beside the point - the point being that sex tourism in the Philippines is growing at an alarmingly level.

            In 2009, 5 million people visit each year to go to Philippine hotspots like Boracay, Cebu, and Palawan. With this comes human trafficking and child prostitution [3]. In the facts released by Dolores Alforte of End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism, to an interview by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, she said that “60 to 100,000 child prostitutes with the average age of 15 years old” [4].
AIDS: Too Much Love Will Kill You

            While the disadvantages of prostitution are evident; let us consider these hard facts by International Labor Organization [5]:

  • Surveys of women working as masseuses indicated that 34 % of them explained their choice of work as necessary to support poor parents, 8 % to support siblings and 28 % to support husbands or boyfriends.
  • More than 20 % said the job was well paid, but only 2 % said it was easy work and only 2 % claimed to enjoy the work.
  • Over a third reported that they had been subject to violence or harassment, most commonly from the police, but also from city officials and gangsters.
  • Over 50 % of the women surveyed in Philippine massage parlors said they carried out their work “with a heavy heart,” and 20 % said they were “conscience-stricken because they still considered sex with customers a sin".
  • Philippine bar girls revealed that more than half of them felt “nothing” when they had sex with a client, the remainder said the transactions saddened them.
  • The ILO survey also revealed that in the experience of most of the women surveyed, prostitution is one of the most alienating forms of labor.
Even with the introduction of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act in 2003 [6], there has only been a handful of prosecution of sex traffickers. These poor children are controlled by foreign or local syndicates and were forced to work in secret places. Some parents even act as pimps as what is portrayed in the opening scenes of the independent movie “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank”, converting their children to dollar-making machines. Due to bribery, foreigners operating in the Philippines leave scot-free.

Malacañang’s extreme denial is one of the cultural culprits for the prevalence of such problems. People tend to turn a blind eye and refuse to acknowledge that some children are exploited. No one can deny that the Philippines is known all over the world for this kind of activity. It is the truth. We’re even next to Thailand as the top sex destination in Southeast Asia [7].

It is thus clear that a composite many of programs is needed. We have to look into the basic welfare and psychological support in the short term and education awareness-raising, legal support, and advocacy for long term change.

Only after such reflection and action, we can refute the negative statements made by others about our people.


References:
[4] Canadian Broadcasting Corporation series the Lens episode "Selling Sex in Heaven" (2005), set in the Philippines.

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