The Philippines, like some other Southeast Asian countries, has an unfortunate reputation for prostitution and sex tourism. It’s a huge industry domestically with an estimated 800,000 men, women and, sadly, children working in the trade. The country’s international image as a sex destination was largely a result of the US military presence here during and after World War II when “go go” or “girlie” bars flourished around the bases at Clark and Subic Bay.
While it’s illegal to sell or procure sex, the trade still operates under the guise of entertainment: sex workers are employed as singers, dancers, waitresses or “guest relations officers” in clubs and bars where they are expected to leave with any client who pays a fee. Then there’s what are euphemistically dubbed “freelancers”, prostitutes that independently cruise bars looking for paying customers.
According to the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (wwww.catw-ap.org), some fifteen thousand Australian men a year visit Angeles, north of Manila, on sex tours; plenty of Americans, Brits and Europeans join them, while Koreans, Taiwanese and Chinese have developed their own networks, usually based on karaoke bars and restaurants. Manila, Cebu City, Subic Bay and Pasay City are also major sex destinations.
Child Protection in the Philippines (wcpu-net.org.ph) estimates that almost half the prostitutes in the Philippines are underage, many of them street children lured from the provinces by the promise of work or simply food and water. If you suspect someone of being a paedophile or engaging in any abusive behaviour towards minors, call hotline t1-6-3 or check wwww.bantaybata163.com.
Though you will often see older Western men accompanied by young, attractive Filipina women, don’t assume all of these are prostitutes; the situation is confused further by the legal and equally popular phenomenon of mail-order brides (most now arranged by online dating sites) – plenty of the men you’ll see have been matched with their Filipina “girlfriend” and intend to marry them, however dubious this might seem.