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Challenge is to promote the real Philippine tourism

The Philippines is famous for its tropical island beaches, natural scenic and adventure tourism, scuba diving, golf, heritage and historic tourism.

For the beautiful Philippines to have an attractive, clean and healthy tourism industry, much effort must go into eradicating an image tarnished by the influx of thousands of men travelling alone to look for sex.

We all need to face the harsh truth that thousands of young women and minors are being exploited in the so-called sex tourism business. This is driving away family tourism, as millions of prospective, decent, respectful tourists do not want to be associated with that image.

It brings to mind the story of 15-year-old Jenny, who was brought to the beach apartment of an Australian tourist in Olongapo city and sold by her parents to him as a live-in sex partner.

Jenny hated it, but could not run away. However, when her younger 13-year-old sister, Ruth, was introduced to the Australian’s new friend from Sydney to be his room cleaner and then his sex partner, Jenny sought help from the PREDA Child Protection Centre in Olongapo City.

Ruth was rescued and the two Australians charged with trafficking and sexual exploitation of a minor. But this case, as well as many others like it, highlights the complicity of the justice system in giving human traffickers and foreigners who offend against child sex laws and traffickers, leniency and every chance to bribe their way out of trouble.

The two Australians were able to have the charges against them dropped, despite available testimony from the minors. The judge ordered Ruth, the strongest witness, to be taken out of the protection of the PREDA Shelter and given back to the parents who sold her to the tourist in the first place.

This was the end of the legal action. Ruth, the prime witness, was threatened with punishment and silenced. No police action was taken against the parents either.

The unwritten government policy appears to be that trials of foreign sex-tourists are bad for business. There have been few convictions of sex tourists or traffickers in recent years, although this will hopefully change as the president, Noynoy Aquino, and justice secretary, Leila de Lima, cracks down on corruption.

The government has for the past 10 years allowed the spread of the sex tourist industry instead of curbing it and protecting the vulnerable, impoverished women and children that were recruited, forced or lured into prostitution.

The promotion of the gambling business with the spread of casinos where money laundering, drugs and prostitution are part of the attraction is equally damaging to the young.

The holding of so-called beauty contests, where bikini-clad young girls are displayed as models and contestants is nothing but a ploy to entice sex tourists, both local Filipinos and foreigners, to flock to tourist resorts.

These contests are not much more than a sanitised slave market.

Local governments are accountable too. They issue operating permits and licenses to the sex clubs. Government support and leniency attracts the international sex Mafia, drug traffickers and people traffickers.

Human rights advocates are challenging government to drastically change this policy of allowing the industry to continue unchecked and unregulated.

The busy social hygiene clinics, where sex bars and clubs are mandated to have their employees medically examined monthly or so, are evidence of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV-AIDS, which is reportedly on the increase.

The most important aims and goals of the PREDA Foundation programme is to educate and alert local government officials and the parents of the dangers and evils of sex tourism and the vice industry.

It has to be the aim of all women’s and children’s rights advocates to oppose the existing approved practice and persuade government to ban sex tourism and close the establishments that are fronts for prostitution.

We have to inform public opinion through the media of the damage it is causing and work for its elimination, while encouraging a positive kind of tourism for which The Philippines is also well known and famous.

Its tropical island beaches, natural scenic and adventure tourism, scuba diving, golf, heritage and historic tourism is among the best in the world. Environmental tourism and whale watching are popular and many new opportunities await development.

The good tourism is there. It needs investment and development and the commitment of the government to close down the worst kind and promote the good. All of us have the duty to work for these goals.

 

  l Father Shay Cullen

      www.preda.org