MANILA, Philippines -- Tourism can be a double-edged sword. The moment Filipinos start opening their doors to tourists, all kinds of people come in; high-spending tourists, long-staying retirees and even those who come for sex.
The issue of sex tourism is like a dark cloud hovering over the tourism industry since the dawn of red light districts in Clark and Subic. With the recent statement of US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. that 40 percent of tourists come to the Philippines for sex, the horrifying realities of prostitution and exploitation spark anew.
Although no one is denying the fact that sex trade is indeed happening in the Philippines, (searching the word 'Filipina' on the internet leads to a slew of dating sites featuring Filipinas, that eventually lead to chatrooms with young girls and boys in front of web cameras) the government and the tourism industry were deeply disturbed and offended by the envoy's somewhat exaggerated claim.
The Department of Tourism (DoT) was quick to deny and question Thomas' alleged statistics, reporting instead that in DoT's 2010 Profile of Visitors, 75 percent of tourists who visit the country came for shopping and sightseeing.
The Senate challenged Thomas to back up his statement with solid proof. In the meantime, Senate youth, women and family relations committee chair Pia Cayetano urged the government to step up its campaign against sex tourism - especially for crimes involving children.
In an interview with ANC, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez said, "Our message to all tourists is that if you come here for darker reasons, we don't want your business."
Jimenez however admitted that apart from the arrival/departure cards given inside the airports, there is no way for the government to find out the real intentions of tourists coming into the country.
On the other hand, Assistant Secretary for International Tourism Promotion Benito Bengzon Jr. said the DoT has been actively working with End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) to unite the tourism business sector against child sex tourism and promote the efforts of the government to protect children from exploitation and human trafficking. …