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The challenges for Philippine Tourism in 2012

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For the beautiful Philippines to have an attractive, clean and healthy tourism industry, much effort has to be done in eradicating the tarnished image made by the influx of thousands of single men seeking sex. We all need to face this 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 but 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 center in Olongapo City.

Ruth was rescued and the two Australians charged with trafficking and sexual exploitation of a minor. But this case and many others like it highlight the complicity of the justice system in giving foreign child sex offenders 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 of 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. 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 is bad for business. There have been few convictions of sex tourists or traffickers in recent years. Although this will hopefully change as President Aquino and Justice Secretary Leila De Lima crack down on corruption.

The Philippine government for the past ten years allowed the spread of the sex tourist industry instead of curbing it and protecting the vulnerable impoverished women and children that were recruited and forced or lured into prostitution. The promotion of the gambling business with the spread of gambling casinos where drugs and prostitution are part of the attraction is equally damaging to the youth. The holding of so-called “beauty contests” where bikini-clad young girls are displayed as models and contestants is to entice sex tourists, both local Filipinos and foreigners, to flock to the Philippines. These contests are not much more than a sanitized slave market.

Local governments are accountable too. They issue operating permits and licenses to the sex clubs. The government support and leniency attracts the international sex Mafia, drug traffickers and people traffickers. Human rights activists 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 foundations 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 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 as to the damage it is causing and work for its elimination and encourage the positive kind of tourism for which the Philippines is also well known and famous for.

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

By Fr. Shay Cullen




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