Philippine 'sex tourism' bared on leaked US cables

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at Oct 08 2011 12:27 AM | Updated as of Oct 08 2011 11:59 AM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Several US diplomatic cables published by antisecrecy group WikiLeaks have discussed the flourishing sex tourism and flesh trade industry in the Philippines.

This, even before the ruckus caused by US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr., who claimed that 40% of all male foreign tourists who visit the country arrive just for sex.

Cable 10MANILA293 -- the US embassy's 10th Annual Trafficking In Persons Report on the Philippines -- said child sex tourism remained a serious problem for the country.

"Sex tourists reportedly came from Asia, Europe, North America, and Australia to engage in sexual activity with minors," said the embassy cable dated February 17, 2010 that was sent to Washington in the name of Deputy Chief of Mission Leslie A. Bassett.

"In 2009, the Bureau of Immigration deported two foreign sex offenders and pedophiles, and in a joint program with the Australian Federal Police denied entry to 19 Australian sex offenders upon their arrival in the Philippines. The government also cooperated with the US in prosecuting American nationals under the terms of the U.S. PROTECT Act of 2003, which criminalized the commission of child abuse by American nationals overseas, including child pornography and other sexual offenses against a minor," the cable added.

Cable 10MANILA404 sent February 6, 2010 also by Bassett, said Philippine law enforcement agencies cooperated with a number of other countries to investigate cases of child sex tourism during the year, including one case that led to the conviction of an American citizen in Florida.  

Meanwhile, 2 confidential US embassy memos -- 05MANILA5137 and 05MANILA5606 -- addressed to Deputy Assistant Secretary Of State Eric John and Ambassador-at-large John Miller, said the flourishing sex tourism industry contributed to the continuation of human trafficking in the Philippines.

Cable 08MANILA1563, on the other hand, cited Sabang Beach in Puerto Galera, as "a well known sex tourism destination in the province of Mindoro Oriental."

The memo discussed the trafficking-in-persons conviction of Nelia Olegasco by a regional trial court in Batangas City.

Nolasco was sentenced to life imprisonment and was ordered to pay P20 million in criminal penalties and P100,000 in civil damages to the 2 victim complainants.

"This conviction, the first in 2008, also has significant legal ramifications: it is the first trafficking case in the Philippines in which the defendant was convicted based on an 'intent to exploit' victims," the cable said. "Prior convictions have been largely based on the testimony of victims rescued from exploitative and abusive situations. Many Philippine lawyers have previously noted the difficulty of proving in court a trafficker's 'intent to exploit,' particularly in cases where the victims are intercepted while in transit."

According to cable 07MANILA3857, the Philippines had already criminalized sex tourism through Republic Act 9208 of 2003.

Other leaked US embassy memos published by WikiLeaks also mention sex tourism and the prostitution industry in the country.

None, however, cite the claim made by Thomas that 4 in 10 male tourists come to the Philippines just for sex.

The US ambassador issued the statement at a roundtable discussion on combating human trafficking in the Philippines for selected appellate court justices in Manila, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro last month.

Thomas has reportedly apologized to Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario over his remark following requests made by Philippine government officials and lawmakers to explain where his data came from.

The US embassy earlier declined to comment on Thomas' "40%" statement.

"We have responded to queries about the basis for the Ambassador's statements during his speech to appellate court judges last week, by clarifying that they reflect US government estimates based on the work of US officials working with the Philippine authorities to close clubs that cater to pedophiles," embassy press attache Tina Malone said.