FOREIGN sex tours to the Philippines were banned decades ago in reaction to an influx of Japanese male tourists and a rise in prostitution and abuse and trafficking of women.
There were several lessons then on sex tourism and on what communities, governments and advocates can do to put an end to luring tourists, usually males, to come to the Philippines to enjoy nature and our women. Sex tourism was not eradicated and instead resurfaced in pockets of instances. In the latest Cebu incident, the Japanese were replaced with South Korean male tourists.
Sex tours to the Philippines, including Cebu, continue today but with modifications from the practice we knew of the 1970s and 1980s. The price has gone up, blame it on inflation or the weakening Philippine peso, and a “pre-order” of the women can be done via websites and social media. The women can be viewed and selected even before the tourists come. But the nature of transactions remained the same, and the corruption of the women, Filipino women in general, persisted.
The arrest last Friday of nine South Korean male tourists in a Lapu-Lapu City resort was the result of surveillance work by local agencies targeting a syndicate that sell such tour packages. The National Bureau of Investigation 7 that led the arresting team raised the possibility of the Korean mafia involved in sex tourism in Cebu.
Lessons from the Japanese sex tours controversy gave telltale signs of the illegal practice. Signs of sex tours: they are all men in the group, they take direct flights, they stay for three to four nights per visit, they spend most of their time in the hotel or beach resort. What they pay the tour organizer is to cover for all expenses, including the women. It is not known how much goes to the woman and how much to the organizer, hotel, tour guides, bus or van drivers, and pimps. The amount of P250,000 reportedly paid by each of the South Korean tourist did not go to the woman.
How to combat the mafia or syndicate? It would require involvement of the Philippine and South Korean governments, travel agencies, communities and groups fighting for women’s rights.
Those arrested should be prosecuted. Let them face the charges here. Their government might want them deported but that could mean saying goodbye to their prosecution. Whatever happened to foreigners arrested here and deported? Did they even face charges in their countries?
Places where these tourists stayed should also be checked. Hotels, beach resorts, or restaurants they went to could be owned by their compatriots, or fellow South Korean nationals. That’s how a mafia link was established during the time of Japanese sex tours.
But what got sex tourism banned was the involvement of women’s groups and the Church in denouncing the practice. Widespread protests reached Japan and Japanese women held their own mass actions to demand a stop to Philippine sex tourism.
Advocates today can take their cue from what happened decades ago.