MANILA— A lawmaker has sought a Senate inquiry into rising signups into sugar daddy dating sites among Filipino women, including students, citing potential risk of abuse and exploitation, even prostitution.
Sen. Leila de Lima filed this month Senate Resolution No. 609 seeking a legislative inquiry into the increase in use of sugar dating sites among Filipino women as an income source amid the economic crunch brought by the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.
"There is an urgent need to safeguard vulnerable sectors and effectively address the employment needs and concerns of Filipinos... [and to] prevent the further proliferation of abuse and exploitation, particularly among young women," said De Lima in a resolution that widely cited an ABS-CBN News report on increasing signups on a sugar dating website.
The lawmaker said there is a "need to examine the underlying conditions in our population that render them (young women) vulnerable to exploitation by these kinds of website that prey on women, even minors, who are in desperate need of financial assistance."
In September last year, sugar dating site Sugarbook told ABS-CBN News there has been a 63% surge in Philippine signups from March to August 2020, just as unemployment rose in the country because of the COVID-19 crisis.
This online dating site, which carries the tagline "Where romance meets finance," matches young women with potential sugar daddies for a financial arrangement.
At the time, the total number of women (sugar babies 18 to 34 years old) using the platform were at 28,310, 46% of whom said they were students. Other top signups were from women in the entertainment industry (15%) and the hospitality industry (10%).
There were 4 times more women than men among members in the Philippines, according to data from Sugarbook.
At the time, sugar babies in the Philippines were receiving close to P50,000 from their sugar daddies, said the Sugarbook CEO.
“Driven by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, more users are signing up to Sugarbook due to unemployment and gender pay gaps. On average, a sugar baby in the Philippines receives up to
₱49,700 monthly,” said Sugarbook founder Darren Chan in an an earlier statement.
Sugarbook said in a statement sent to ABS-CBN News this week that its total Philippine membership has reached 160,000, with majority- 120,000- women.
De Lima, in her resolution, named Sugarbook as "one popular mode of facilitating sugar dating."
"...[A] number of Filipinos, especially young women, joined the website with the fervent hope of alleviating their current situation," she said.
She cited how the pandemic, where millions had lost jobs, was forcing Filipinos, especially young women, "into finding alternative means of livelihood, regardless of the moral issues involved."
De Lima also told of reports of women being duped by sugar daddies they met on a Facebook group asking them to send certain photos in exchange for money. The women said the money never came after the men got what they wanted.
“Victims said that they fell prey to luxurious offers where after the sending of the requested photo, the sugar daddy ends up not giving a single peso. One of the victims narrated how she refused to do the request but the sugar daddy blackmailed her and threatened that he will post the victim’s photos online," the resolution read.
She said it was "necessary to investigate these alleged cases of abuse and exploitation and gather more concrete data regarding this emerging industry in order to further protect women’s and children’s rights amid the looming effects of a global health crisis."
Lawyer Evalyn Ursua, who has prosecuted cases of gender-based violence against women, earlier told ABS-CBN News that Sugarbook's business was similar to “the concept of prostitution,” which she pointed out is illegal in the Philippines under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.
De Lima cited Ursua's comment in her resolution, also noting that such racket was punishable under the anti-trafficking law.
In a fresh statement, Sugarbook reiterated it was not in the business of prostituting women.
"First and foremost, due to the nature of our business, people's preconceived notions of Sugarbook’s values and processes often differ from reality. At Sugarbook, we do not condone nor allow any illegal activities such as prostitution," it said.
It called De Lima's allegations of exploitation "unjustifiable and flagrantly untrue."
It reiterated its vetting process, with those signing up required to be at least 18 years old and to submit a copy of their passport, ID, credit card and utility billing statements. It said it was constantly improving its security, screening and monitoring procedures.
It also asserted women's freedom of choice, saying they "can choose their life partners freely without being forced or deceived into any form of human trafficking and sexual exploitation."
"Sugar Babies DO NOT sell their bodies, and they are not obligated to have sex. They come from all walks of life such as students, single mothers, divorcees, widows or working adults striving for a better life," it said.