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40% of male foreigners come to PHL for sex — US envoy
SOPHIA M. DEDACE, GMA News September 22, 2011 11:18am
UPDATED 6:00 p.m. - Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr., the United States' envoy to the Philippines, said about 40 percent of the male foreign tourists in the Philippines come for sex.
Speaking before a round-table discussion among Court of Appeals magistrates in Manila on Thursday, Thomas said it was unacceptable but "we know that 40 percent of foreign men who come to the Philippines, including from the US, come for sexual tourism."
"That is not something I'm proud of. That's not something you should be proud of. I told [Philippine Department of Justice] Secretary Leila de Lima that any American caught engaged in any of these crimes or cybersex should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and we will assist," he said.
Thomas said the US government will not hesitate to assist the Philippine government in prosecuting Americans engaged in sexual tourism.
Thomas likewise referred to the existence of establishments that promote sexual tourism, some of which are found along Roxas Boulevard, where the US Embassy in Manila is located.
"We all know when we walk outside this hotel, when we walk on Roxas Boulevard, we will see these establishments. We all know who owns them, who benefits from them, who allows them to continue," he said.
The US ambassador then shifted to a more personal tone when he recalled seeing human trafficking victims: "When you look in their eyes, it is death, it is death, it is death."
Much remains to be done
The Philipines may have increased its conviction rate against human traffickers, but much remains to be done.
Human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings for forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.
Earlier this year, the US government removed the Philippines from its "Tier 2 Watch List" for bagging several convictions of human traffickers in the past year.
The 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report of the US State Department placed the Philippines under "Tier 2," one level higher than its "Tier 2 Watch List" category the year before.
The US State Department said although the Philippines "still does not fully comply with minimum standards to eliminate trafficking, Manila is making significant efforts to do so."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton released the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report in June.
We can't celebrate yet
While Thomas noted that the Philippines has moved up in its tier ranking in the US human trafficking watchlist, he said "we cannot celebrate" just yet.
Thomas lamented how corruption among local officials has allowed human trafficking to flourish.
"Corruption allows these notorious establishments to continue to operate. Local officials will look the other way or accept favors. These officials are doubly guilty. They allow trafficking to continue and they betray the public trust and all citizens concerned," he said.
"I think we need to look at barangay officials because we know what they're up to," he told reporters later.
Thomas then said the Philippine judiciary can propose possible amendments that can strengthen the country's Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.
"I hope today will be used to strengthen the Philippines' Trafficking in Persons Law, to see how [the] law is particularly used. It could be a tremendous resource for legislators who are now in the process of considering amendments to the very law that you must interpret in your daily work," Thomas told the appellate court justices.
He likewise said the successful prosecution of traffickers is not enough because eradicating trafficking "demands the traditional three P's: prevention, protection and prosecution."
"There is an emerging fourth P. And that is partnership," said Thomas, who added that the United States will continue assisting the Philippines in fighting trafficking. - RSJ/VVP/RJMD, GMA News