MANILA, Philippines – Government clinics in the Philippines check and certify if sex workers are virgins, a US embassy cable released by antisecrecy group WikiLeaks has alleged.
Cable 09MANILA1827 sent by then US Ambassador Kristie Kenney said that although prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, social hygiene clinics run by local governments sometimes operate closely with nightclubs in red light districts.
Kenney said the government clinics certify bar workers' sexual health and their virginity.
"Embassy Manila's ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] office reports that many bars, hotels, and privately-operated social hygiene clinics work together to facilitate prostitution within their own business domains, each getting a cut that incentivizes their complicity," the cable said.
It cited Angeles City Health Office workers telling the embassy that "GROs [guest relations officers] are required by municipal law to have weekly medical checkups to be allowed to continue working."
In Angeles City, city government health workers even teach sex workers how to use their mouth to secretly put on a condom on a client's penis, as shown by a video published by Newsbreak earlier this year.
"Other cities may have different health requirements for GROs. While some cities implement these regulations to preserve the social hygiene of the community, other cities impose these requirements because the prostitution market plays an important role in the local economy," Kenney said in the cable.
The unclassified memo added that police support the local sex industry by providing protection for GRO bars.
"Bar owners pay local authorities to overlook the illegal activity; if any trouble arises, GROs may be at risk of arrest, while bar owners and management may sometimes walk away unscathed," it added.
Current US Ambassador to Manila Harry Thomas on Thursday told selected justices of the Court of Appeals that about 40% of foreign men who come to the Philippines are here for sex tourism.
He said some corrupt local officials seem to be in cahoots with those engaged in human trafficking.
A Department of Tourism official has disputed Thomas' sex tourism claim and asked the American envoy to shed more light on his statement.
'500,000 women, child prostitutes'
In the August 28, 2009 diplomatic cable, Kenney cited an International Labor Organization study stating that at one time, there were over 500,000 women and children engaged in prostitution in the Philippines.
"NGOs say that women who serve as bar workers or "Guest Relations Officers" at nightclubs are at risk for engaging in prostitution. Women in other environments may also perform work as prostitutes, in addition to working in brothels," the memo said.
It also identified sex trade hotspots as Manila, Cebu, Davao, Angeles City, Bicol, and Batangas.
Citing reports from a USAID-funded NGO, Kenney said "men may pay as little as P150 to P200 per night to engage in sex with a woman, who may receive a payment as low as P20."
"Prostitution may be supported by a system of debt bondage. Though girls receive some money for their work as prostitutes, bar or brothel owners may charge them such exorbitant fees for housing, food, and medical checkups that the girls remain indefinitely in debt to the owner," the cable said.
"A highly profitable trade, the sex industry in the Philippines remains a significant underground enterprise," it added.