The recent Philippine Tourism Congress avoided a hot subject - sex tourism. This is the scourge that is causing endless abuse and exploitation of women and children. It is also destroying the moral and family values of this country and damaging the name of Philippine tourism. Some Philippine officials have hotly disputed a statistic mentioned by the US Ambassador, Harry K. Thomas, Jr. that 40% of the tourists coming to the Philippines are sex tourists. The Philippine officials raising a storm, are embarrassed that the ugly shameful truth has come out.
The exact figure may never be known, but can anyone prove 40% is not true? And is any percentage acceptable? The evidence is clear, the sex bars and clubs are filled with foreign customers and thousands of young women and even minors are for sale. The Ambassador, to end the controversy over his remark, said he regrets it, but he should not, it highlights a shocking reality - the truth of widespread sex tourism.
When it comes to such blatant crimes against women and children, denial, silence and indifference is a form of consent and is unacceptable. Church and State have to speak out and act more decisively to end this destructive industry that is widely tolerated. It is the major cause of the trafficking of persons in the Philippines. "Our faith is dead" says St. James, "when there is no action for the needy"(2 James Ch.2.vs 14-26).
The Preda Foundation gives free legal assistance and shelter to victims of sex trafficking. The case of two daughters, 12 and 14 years old, trafficked and sold as sex slaves by her parents to two foreign sex tourists at an Olongapo beach got no justice. Despite strong evidence of guilt, the case was dismissed on technicality. In another case, two children were made sex slaves at ten and eleven years old for four years by two American sex tourists in Olongapo City. They got no justice either and one has been abducted. The two child abusers, a father and son from California, went free and escaped when the law enforcers failed to present the evidence.
The sex tourists lie, bribe and go free. They are the big spenders and coddled by authority. Sex tourism, ignored by officialdom, is the scourge that spreads HIV-AIDS, moral depravity, child abuse, incest, abortion, woman abuse and corruption throughout Filipino society. Many victims fill the children's refuge centers seeking help, crying for justice. Thousands more victims are left to suffer. The sex industry is damaging the good name of the nation.
The US Ambassador was making an important speech appealing to judges to give more basic justice for the trafficked, exploited and oppressed women and children. The lack of justice in the Philippines is like people without food, it can drive many to violence. It has kept this nation at war with itself and has fostered an insurgency that can only end when corruption ends and justice is done speedily, fairly and with integrity. Then peace will reign.
What percentage of sex tourists can be tolerated, if not 40% of all arrivals? 10% of 3.5 million tourists is ok? For me and many more people of conscience who respect the dignity of women and children, even one act of rape, child abuse and sexual exploitation is one too many.
The estimated number of children alone trafficked or lured into the sex trade is said to be between 60,000 to 100,000 children, a statistic that most non-government agencies and UNICEF stand by. The number of women trafficked could be ten times that. In the Olongapo area, a research project learned that 5000 women are working in the sex trade in that city and nearby Subic Town.
In its July 2011 edition, The Reader's Digest, known for its meticulous research, shows a chart of human trafficking world wide and says that 500,000 Filipino women and children are trafficked to the United States and other nations every year. So how many more victims are trafficked internally from the poor regions of the Philippines to the cities and sex tourist resorts? Visit the bars and many thousands will be found.
These bars and clubs are managed by foreigners, and they offer the victims for sale in modern slavery auctions operated with a Mayor’s license and permit proudly displayed. Is this government approval? The sex tourism and the bars are a blight on the nation and must be closed down. Instead, human rights must be respected and work with dignity and fair wages must replace them.
Fr. Shay Cullen is a founder of PREDA.org - a nonprofit dedicated to ending the exploitation of children.