By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — “The Department of Tourism is treading on dangerous waters. Marketing the Philippines as a destination for divorcees is practically synonymous to marketing the Philippines as a destination for sex tourists.”
This was the stand made by Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Luz Ilagan after reports came out that the Department of Tourism (DOT) was deliberately targeting divorcees and those trying to recover from broken relationships as a market in its tourism program.
Tourism Assistant Secretary Domingo Ramon Enerio III was quoted in reports saying those running away from domestic turmoil are among the target markets of the DOT for its long-stay tourism program. He said that because the country is among the last few where there is no divorce law, it would attract divorcees and could be a big market that can be tapped.??“If we can be a wedding or honeymoon destination, we can also become a destination for those in search of personal fulfillment, including those… in flight from domestic turmoil,” he explained.
Rep. Ilagan was irate against the DOT’s promotion scheme.
“How exactly does the tourism department envision its role in promoting our country? You cannot promote the country as a place to comfort and console the broken hearted without bringing in Filipino women in the equation,” said Ilagan.
“We have so many tourism destinations to promote and develop. Let us focus on our pristine coastlines, our rivers and our mountains. We have so many natural environmental wonders and resources for the DOT to promote.”
Ilagan said the tourism department should rethink its strategies.
“This divorcee marketing highlights their role in the perpetuation of sex tourism in our country,” she said.
Gabriela has also perennially come out with reports on the continuing cases of abuse and exploitation among mail-order brides as one of the offshoots of sex tourism in the country.
In a paper written for Gabriela by Janice Lee Monte, the group said that in the guise of matchmaking, women are exported into the sex industry.
“Technology advancement has given the industry a kick as Filipinas seeking marriage are now all over the internet. Several websites have pictures of young women, their names, dreams and other personal information given out. Interested suitors may then court the girl through email in a click or submit their names and means of contact in exchange for further information on the women. Stories of successful marriages are also given. In many cases, brides reportedly suffer in the hands of their newfound husbands. They become not only domestic slaves but sex slaves as well. Cases of mail-order brides eventually being sold or rented out either as domestic help or sex slaves have likewise been reported,” it said.
Flourishing sex tourism industry
The DOT has already been dragged into a similar controversy when in September, United States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. alleged that 40 percent of all foreign tourists who visit the Philippines come here for sex. The US official made the allegation during a roundtable discussion on combating human trafficking in the Philippines for selected appellate court justices in Manila, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro.
The official has already apologized over the uproar that erupted over his statement, but Gabriela’s Ilagan pointed out that even if the Aquino government already accepted Thomas’s apology the problem concerning the image of the country remains.
“Whether his apology is accepted or not, whether he leaves or not, the problem that tourists view our country as a sex destination remains,” Ilagan said.
She added that the Visiting Forces Agreement continues to support the sex trade.
“The US visiting forces still lure and victimize poor women. Travel agencies and internet ads still promote our islands with pictures of sexy women in skimpy attire,” she said.
The issue of the Philippines being a sex tourism venue is not knew. In recent years, WikiLeaks has exposed several US cables which dwelled on the flourishing sex tourism and flesh trade industry in the country.
In Cable 10MANILA293dated February 17, 2010, Deputy Chief of Mission Leslie A. Bassett commented on the US embassy’s 10th Annual Trafficking In Persons Report on the Philippines. In the cable, the official said that 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,”Bassett said in the cable sent to Washington.
In the same cable, the official reported that the Bureau of Immigration had deported two foreign sex offenders and pedophiles. It was also reported there that with the help of the Australian Federal Police, local police authorities were able to prohibit the entry of 19 Australian sex offenders into the country when they arrived at the airport.
Wikileaks also released two embassy memos marked confidential. The two memos dated 05MANILA5137 and 05MANILA5606 were addressed to Deputy Assistant Secretary Of State Eric John and Ambassador-at-large John Miller. In the memos, it was stated that the flourishing sex tourism industry contributes to the country’s problem of human trafficking.
In a separate cable, Sabang Beach in Puerto Galera was said to be a “a well known sex tourism destination in the province of Mindoro Oriental.” Another mentioned that sex tourism through Republic Act 9208 of 2003 has already been criminalized.
Based on records of the DOT, visitor arrivals for the first nine months of 2011 number 2,887,715, registering a 12.02 percent increase over last year’s arrivals of 2,577,775. Numbers peaked in July with 360,784 arrivals, while the months of February and January recorded the highest growth of 18.52 percent and 17.31 percent respectively.
The East Asian region maintained its position as the largest contributor of arrivals, accounting for 47.31 percent of the overall traffic base. This region posted an increase of 17.27 percent from its output of 1,165,072 the previous year to 1,366,301 arrivals this year.
Residents of North American countries comprised 550,244 of the arrivals, making their countries the second biggest supplier of arrivals for the country. Their numbers grew by 5.97 percent compared to the 519,269 arrivals in 2010 during the same period. Visitors from the various Southeast Asian countries made up for 8.46 percent of arrivals or 244,381 arrivals, ranking third in visitor contribution.
The US market comprised the second biggest arrivals for the period numbering 466,767 and sharing 16.16 percent to total visitor volume. This market grew by 4.73 percent compared to its contribution of 445,679 a year ago. The Japanese market contributed the third biggest arrivals of 286,588 comprising 9.92 percent of the total inbound traffic.