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Prostitution in the Philippines

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Prostitution in the Philippines is illegal, although somewhat tolerated, with law enforcement being rare with regards to sex workers. Penalties range up to life imprisonment for those involved in trafficking, which is covered by the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.[1] Prostitution is available through bars, karaoke bars (also known as KTVs), massage parlors, brothels (also known as casa), street walkers, and escort services.[2]

The "Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study" conducted in 2002 by the University of the Philippines' Population Institute and Demographic Research and Development Foundation found that 19% of young males had paid for sex and 11% had received payment for sexual favors.[3]

In 2013, it was estimated that there were up to 500,000 prostitutes in the Philippines,[4] from a population of roughly 97.5 million. Citing a 2005 study, Senator Pia S. Cayetano asserted in her “Anti-Prostitution Act” (Senate Bill No. 2341 s.2010), that the number of people being exploited in prostitution in the Philippines could be as high as 800,000.[5][6] The bill was reintroduced in 2013 as Senate Bill No. 3382,[7] and in 2015 as Senate Bill No. 2621.[8]

Japanese prostitutes (Karayuki-san) worked in the Philippines during US rule.[9][failed verification]

During the Cold War, Japanese businessmen went on sex tourism with Filipino women, Thai women and South Korean women.[10][11]

Prostitution in various regions[edit]

Prostitution caters to both local customers and foreigners. Media attention tends to focus on those areas catering to sex tourism, primarily through bars staffed by bargirls. Cities where there is a high incidence of prostitution are Olongapo, Angeles City, Legazpi in Albay, Pasay and Subic Bay in Zambales,[12] with the customers usually foreign businessmen from East Asian and Western nations.[13][14]

Prostitution in Olongapo City and Angeles was highly prominent during the time of the U.S. military in Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base, respectively.[15][16] When Mount Pinatubo, a volcano, erupted in 1991, it destroyed most of Clark Air Base and the United States closed it down in 1992.

Some of the associated prostitution trade closed with it, but when the mayor of Manila, Alfredo Lim, closed down the sex industry area of Ermita in Manila during his first term starting in 1992, many of the businesses moved to Angeles, finding a new customer base among sex tourists.[17]

Other tourist areas such as Cebu have also developed a high-profile prostitution industry.


There is no one single reason for the widespread prevalence of prostitution in the Philippines. Poverty is but one reason, as cultural factors and the attitude of people toward money and the social acceptance of prostitution play a major role.[2]


Per the Philippine Statistics Authority, in 2015 the Philippines had a poverty incidence of 26.3%.[18] While this figure has been decreasing over the past few years,[18] this still is one of the reasons why girls and their families turn to prostitution to enable the family to maintain a certain level of lifestyle.[19] A large number of girls who come to Angeles City tend to be provincial, especially from Visayas particular in Cebu, Samar, Leyte, Negros Island and Mindanao, having seen their friends live a better life because of their job in the prostitution industry.[20][21]

U.S. Naval and Air Force bases[edit]

Clark Air Base was originally established as Fort Stotsenburg in 1898, after the Spanish–American War, renamed Clark field in 1928, and expanded into a major U.S. military installation during the Cold War.[22] Prostitution flourished around the base during the Vietnam War. The U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay, a naval installation since Spanish colonial times, had also grown into a major facility by the 1970s; the main street of Olongapo City had no less than 30 girlie bars and the city acquired the pseudonym "Sin City".

The American authorities supported the testing of the prostitutes for STIs by the local health authorities. Without the licenses issued with these examinations, the prostitutes were prevented from working. Angeles and Olongapo health authorities passed on photographs of sex workers who had failed STI tests to the U.S. bases.[23]

The closure of the U.S. bases in these two places did not change the scenario much—it only changed the clientele. Fields Avenue near Clark (Angeles) continued to grow as a center of the sex tourism industry, under the umbrella of "entertainment" and "hospitality industry". The girlie bars at Olongapo were closed down in a major drive by the then governor Jane Gordon; they merely shifted, however, to the neighbouring town of Barrio Baretto, which contains a series of at least 40 bars which act as prostitution centers.[24]

Single mothers[edit]

Some women join the prostitution industry after they become single unwed mothers.[25] The reason for this is mainly the unpopularity of artificial contraception in the Philippines; the country is overwhelmingly Catholic, and the Catholic Church has opposed birth control measures as "anti-life".[26] More than half of the children born every year in Philippines are illegitimate,[27] and the percentage of illegitimate children is rising at the rate of nearly 2% annually.[28][29][30][31]

Violence and coercion against prostitutes[edit]

Women and children involved in prostitution are vulnerable to rape, murder, and AIDS as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.[32]

Surveys of women working as masseuses indicated that 34 percent of them explained their choice of work as necessary to support poor parents, 8% to support siblings, and 28% to support husbands or boyfriends.[33] More than 20% said the job was well paid, but only 2% said it was easy work, and only 2% claimed to enjoy the work.[33]

Over a third reported that they had been subject to violence or harassment, most commonly from the police, but also from city officials and gangsters.[33]

According to a survey conducted by the International Labour Organization, prostitution is one of the most alienating forms of labor.[33] Over 50% of the women surveyed in Philippine massage parlors said they carried out their work "with a heavy heart", and 20% said they were "conscience-stricken because they still considered sex with customers a sin".[33] Interviews with Philippine bar girls revealed that more than half of them felt "nothing" when they had sex with a client, and the remainder said the transactions saddened them.[33]

President Rodrigo Duterte's "war on drugs" since 2016 has been used by some members of the police to harass women in prostitution and extort money or sexual services from them.[34]

Sex trafficking[edit]

The Philippines is a source country and, to a lesser extent, a destination and transit country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking. An estimated 10 million Filipinos reside or work abroad and the government processes approximately 2.3 million new or renewed contracts for Filipinos to work overseas each year. A significant number of these migrant workers are subjected to sex trafficking, particularly in the Middle East and Asia, but also in all other regions. Traffickers, typically in partnership with local networks and facilitators, engage in illegal recruitment practices that leave migrant workers vulnerable to trafficking, such as charging excessive fees, producing fraudulent travel and contract documents, and confiscating identity documents. Illegal recruiters use student, intern, exchange program, and tourist visas, as well as travel through other countries to circumvent the Philippine government and destination countries’ legal frameworks for foreign workers. Traffickers also recruit Filipinos already working overseas through fraudulent offers of employment in another country.[35]

Sex trafficking of women and children within the country remains a significant problem. Women and children from indigenous communities and remote areas of the Philippines are the most vulnerable to sex trafficking. Persons displaced due to the conflict in Mindanao, Filipinos returning from bordering countries without documents, and internally displaced persons in typhoon-affected communities are vulnerable to sex trafficking in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, central and northern Luzon, and urban areas in Mindanao. Sex trafficking also occurs in tourist destinations, such as Boracay, Angeles City, Olongapo, Puerto Galera, and Surigao, where there is a high demand for commercial sex acts. Although the availability of child sex trafficking victims in commercial establishments declined in some urban areas, child sex trafficking remains a pervasive problem, typically abetted by taxi drivers who have knowledge of clandestine locations. In addition, young Filipino girls and boys are increasingly induced to perform sex acts for live internet broadcast to paying foreigners in other countries; this typically occurs in private residences or small internet cafes, and may be facilitated by victims’ family members and neighbors. NGOs report high numbers of child sex tourists in the Philippines, many of whom are citizens of Australia, Japan, the United States, Canada, and countries in Europe; Filipino men also purchase commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims. Organized crime syndicates allegedly transport sex trafficking victims from China to the Philippines.[35] Sex trafficking victims from China only serve Chinese male clients who visit or work at those offshore gaming operators according to the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation, the pimps and clients of the prostitutes being both Chinese men residing in the Philippines, not local Filipino men or other foreigners in the Philippines.[36]

Officials, including those in diplomatic missions, law enforcement agencies, and other government entities, allegedly have been complicit in trafficking or allowed traffickers to operate with impunity. Reports in previous years asserted police conduct indiscriminate or fake raids on commercial sex establishments to extort money from managers, clients, and victims.[35]

The United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ranks the Philippines as a 'Tier 1' country.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Republic Act No. 9208 (Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003)". Chan Robles Virtual Law Library. May 26, 2003. Retrieved January 6, 2016.
  2. ^ a b McEvoy, Mary. "Gender Issues in the Informal Sector: A Philippine Case Study". www.trocaire.org. Trocaire. Archived from the original on January 6, 2011. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
  3. ^ 2002 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (PDF) (Report). yafs.com. July 23, 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 1, 2005.
  4. ^ "Number of prostitutes in the Philippines". September 23, 2013. Archived from the original on November 16, 2013.
  5. ^ "Privilege speech on prostitution". Official website of Senator Pia S. Cayetano. September 26, 2011. Archived from the original on October 13, 2013.
  6. ^ "Senate Bill No. 2341 : Anti-Prostitution Act of 2010". Senate of the Philippines. August 3, 2010.
  7. ^ "Senate Bill No. 3382 : Anti-Prostitution Act". Senate of the Philippines. January 14, 2013.
  8. ^ "Senate Bill No. 2621 : Anti-Prostitution Act of 2015". Senate of the Philippines. February 2, 2015.
  9. ^ Warren 2003, p. 87.
  10. ^ "The Sex Tourist's Yen". New Internationalist. No. 245. July 5, 1993.
  11. ^ Norma, Caroline. “Demand from Abroad: Japanese Involvement in the 1970s’ Development of South Korea’s Sex Industry.” The Journal of Korean Studies (1979-), vol. 19, no. 2, 2014, pp. 399–428. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43923277.
  12. ^ "Prostitution and sex tourism – About Philippines". Rough Guides. Retrieved April 17, 2018.
  13. ^ "Empowering Street Children". Archived from the original on October 10, 2007.
  14. ^ Parwel, Tezza (June 27, 1987). "The Victimless Crime". No. 27. National Midweek II.
  15. ^ Martin Brass (2004). The Modern Scourge of Sex Slavery. Soldier of Fortune Magazine.
  16. ^ Lin Lean Lim (1998). The Sex Sector: The Economic and Social Bases of Prostitution in Southeast Asia. International Labour Organization. ISBN 978-92-2-109522-4.
  17. ^ Lauber, Sabina (1995). "Confronting Sexual Exploitation". Australian Law Reform Commission Reform Bulletin. Winter 1995 (67). Archived from the original on July 19, 2012. Retrieved February 7, 2007.
  18. ^ a b "Poverty incidence among Filipinos registered at 26.3%, as of first semester of 2015 – PSA | Philippine Statistics Authority". psa.gov.ph. March 18, 2016. Retrieved April 17, 2018.
  19. ^ "2012 Full Year Official Poverty Statistics". www.nscb.gov.ph. Philippine Statistics Authority – National Statistical Coordination Board. Archived from the original on April 16, 2016. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
  20. ^ "Prostitution in the Philippines – A report". feminism.eserver.org. feminism and Women's studies, Campaign against military prostitution. Archived from the original on July 22, 2007. Retrieved June 10, 2014. (Reprinted from Summer 1993 issue of The Mobilizer, the publication of the National Mobilization for Survival organization which campaigned against foreign military bases.)
  21. ^ Hays, Jeffrey (June 2015). "Prostitution in the Philippines | Facts and Details". factsanddetails.com. Retrieved April 17, 2018.
  22. ^ "Clark Air Base". britannica.com. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  23. ^ Enloe, Cynthia. "It takes more than two". RAF Wives. Archived from the original on January 10, 2016. Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  24. ^ "The Philippines—Trafficking – A Report". Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
  25. ^ Raymond, Janice G. "Sex Trafficking is Not "Sex Work". No. Spring 2005. Conscience XXVI:1.
  26. ^ "Filipino senator risks church anger with contraception call". UCANews. Retrieved November 15, 2022.
  27. ^ 2015 PSA data on live births by legitimacy by regions
  28. ^ "The Last Country in the World Where Divorce Is Illegal". Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  29. ^ "The fight to make divorce legal in the Philippines.", CNN, October 6, 2014.
  30. ^ Stephanie Hepburn and Rita J. Simon, 2007, "Women's Roles and Statuses the World Over", pp51.
  31. ^ "Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP): There is no need for divorce in PH", Inquirer News, March 27, 2015.
  32. ^ Dennis A. Ahlburg, Eric R. Jensen and Aurora E. Perez, "Determinants of extramarital sex in the Philippines Archived May 16, 2008, at the Wayback Machine", Health Transition Review, Supplement to Volume 7, 1997, 467–479
  33. ^ a b c d e f "Sex industry assuming massive proportions in Southeast Asia" (Press release). International Labour Organization. August 19, 1998.
  34. ^ Parmanand, Sharmila (April 29, 2019). "The Philippine Sex Workers Collective: Struggling to be heard, not saved". Anti-Trafficking Review (12): 57–73. doi:10.14197/atr.201219124. ISSN 2287-0113. Recently, PresidentRodrigo Duterte's war on drugs has been weaponised by some members of the police to harass sex workers.
  35. ^ a b c d "Philippines 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report". U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on July 30, 2018. Retrieved July 30, 2018.Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  36. ^ "'Probe Chinese group's sex trafficking activities'". SunStar Cebu. August 6, 2019. Archived from the original on August 6, 2019.

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