• ‘Cigarettes? Flowers? Girls?’

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    The women’s group Kaisa Ka, which stands for the Pagkakaisa ng Kababaihan para sa Kalayaan, recently warned that more US troops in the country due to a potential new agreement on enhanced defense cooperation between the US and the Philippines would result in more prostitution of Filipino women.

    This reminds me of what the former US Ambassador to Manila, Harry K. Thomas, said, that nearly 40 percent of male foreign tourists, including Americans, visit the Philippines only for sex adventures, which created quite a stir.

    Whether we like it or not, the country indeed has become one of the most popular destinations for sex tourism.

    Even the Department of Tourism (DOT) warned that it would crack down on prostitution and child abuse in the proposed new areas for tourism in the country.

    The DOT has been conducting awareness seminars on Child Wise tourism and prevention of abuse against children amid the increasing tourist arrivals in the country.

    Child Wise is a global network of organizations and individuals working to eliminate child prostitution, child pornography and trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

    A nongovernment study conducted in 2009 estimated that there were 800,000 women working as prostitutes in the Philippines, with up to half of them underage.

    Prostitution in the Philippines is illegal, at least it is supposed to be. The penalty for prostitution is life imprisonment for those involved in trafficking, which is covered by the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.

    But just look around you and you know the law is laughably enforced, if at all.

    In Malate, for instance, one of the most popular tourist belts in Manila, vendors hawk girls along with flowers and cigarettes.

    In certain hotels, you could ask the staff to get you girls, no problem.

    Or go to karaoke bars (also known as KTVs), massage parlors, or call escort services.

    Prostitution, like the Converse ad once said, is everywhere.

    Do we need stronger laws against it or just better enforcement?

    Bills like the “The Anti-Prostitution Act” of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, should be enacted into law because it gets the problem of prostitution right.

    Various women’s rights groups have long been asking for the decriminalization of prostitution and the creation of a law that will punish instead the owners of prostitution joints, the recruiters and the pimps, even their clients.

    Instead of jailing prostitutes, Santiago’s bill shifts government’s efforts towards prosecuting those who are responsible for perpetrating prostitution. And the list of these perpetrators is quite long, according to the bill.

    If enacted into law, everyone involved in the flesh trade in some capacity or another would be guilty of the crime of prostitution, meriting jail time and fines—pimps, bar owners and managers, clients (even friends of clients who are present when the prostitution is taking place), recruiters, cybersex operators, local government, military and law enforcement officials who tolerate prostitution in their areas. Except the exploited prostitutes themselves.

    If Senator Santiago could have her way there will never be another jailed prostitute in this country again. Prostitutes, according to her bill, are not the criminals but the victims of a lucrative and despicable flesh trade that must be addressed at its roots. Victims of prostitution must be given protection and support by the government.

    “Persons exploited in prostitution have human rights that must be respected, protected and promoted by all branches, agencies and instrumentalities of the government in law enforcement drives, criminal prosecution, civil suits, service provision, and program development and implementation,” reads Section 15 of her bill.

    If Sen. Santiago’s bill is enacted into law, victims of prostitution can no longer be detained during police raids.

    How many times have we seen police crackdowns on prostitution bars where the only ones jailed are the women, not the owners and managers of these bars?

    Senator Santiago’s bill requires that at least one social worker or one NGO worker be present when these raids are conducted so that the rights of the women would be protected.

    There have been many incidents where policemen took advantage of the women during police raids. I remember a few cases when those arrested in karaoke bars accused some of the arresting officers of raping them or harassing them.

    Further violation of the suspected prostitutes’ rights is committed when the police allow full-blown media coverage of the raids, while sparing the male clients who patronize the prostitution joints. Such actions would also be a punishable offense under Santiago’s bill.

    Even the media is not exempt from responsibility. “Any journalist, reporter, editor, publisher or producer of print and broadcast media who exposes to the public the identity of any person exploited in prostitution without her or his consent thereto in writing, or causes the publication of any picture or video that violates the dignity and other human rights of the person exploited in prostitution shall suffer the penalty of one year imprisonment.” The guilty media practitioner would also be made to pay a P500,000 fine.

    The message of the proposed measure is clear: prostitution is a violation of human rights. Simply arresting and sending prostitutes to jail has never solved the problem of prostitution and it never will. The prostitutes are merely victims of a system which violates their rights and degrades them, and it is this system that must be abolished.

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