Prostitution in the Philippines

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Prostitution in the Philippines is officially illegal. 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 often available through bars, karaoke bars (also known as KTVs), massage parlors, brothels (also known as casa), street walkers, and escort services.[2]

In 2013 it was estimated that there were up to 500,000 (Majority female) prostitutes in the Philippines.[3] In her “Anti-Prostitution Act” (Senate Bill No. 2341), Senator Pia S. Cayetano claims that the total number of people being exploited in prostitution in the Philippines could be as high as 800,000.[4]


Karayuki-san (唐行きさん?, literally "Ms. Gone-to-China" but actually meaning Ms. Gone Abroad") were Japanese women who traveled to or were trafficked to East Asia, Southeast Asia, Manchuria, Siberia and as far as San Francisco in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century to work as prostitutes, courtesans and geisha.[5] In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a network of Japanese prostitutes being trafficked across Asia, in countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and British India, in what was then known as the ’Yellow Slave Traffic’.[6] The main destinations of karayuki-san included China (particularly Shanghai), Hong Kong, the Philippines, Borneo, Sumatra,[7] Thailand, Indonesia, and the western USA (in particular San Francisco). They were often sent to Western colonies in Asia where there was a strong demand from Western military personnel and Chinese men.[8] There were cases of Japanese women being sent to places as far as Siberia, Manchuria, Hawaii, North America (California), and Africa (Zanzibar). In Karachi and Bombay there were Japanese prostitutes to be found.[9][10] The vast majority of Japanese emigrants to Southeast Asia in the early Meiji period were prostitutes (Karayuki-san), who worked in brothels in Malaya, Singapore,[11] Philippines, Dutch East Indies and French Indochina. During the American period, Japanese economic ties to the Philippines expanded tremendously and by 1929 Japan was the largest trading partner to the Philippines after the United States. Economic investment was accompanied by large-scale immigration of Japanese to the Philippines, mainly merchants, gardeners and prostitutes ('karayuki san'). Japanese immigrants Davao in Mindanao, had over 20,000 ethnic Japanese residents.

Prostitution in various regions[edit]

Prostitution caters to 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 City, Angeles City, Legazpi City in Albay, Pasay City and Subic Bay in Zambales,[12][not in citation given] with the customers usually foreign businessmen from East Asian and Western nations.[12][13]

Prostitution in Olongapo City and Angeles City was highly prominent during the time of the U.S. military in Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base, respectively.[14][15] 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.[16]

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

Studies estimate that a large number (40%) of individual male tourists visit the Philippines for sex tourism.[17] Online dating sites have a large role to play in encouraging this trend.[18]


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,[19] Philippines has a poverty incidence of 24.9%. While this figure has been decreasing over the past few years, 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 tend to be provincial, especially from Samar, Leyte and Visayas, having seen their friends live a better life because of their job in the prostitution industry. A comparison, however, made with other countries which have higher poverty statistics but do not have such rampant prostitution, reveals that poverty is just one reason given, with the reason below ("Attitude toward money") being equally important.[20]

Attitudes toward money[edit]

Some Filipinos have a carefree attitude concerning income, wherein saving money is given low priority and spending it is given a high priority.[21] Poorer Filipinos often tend to have spending habits not commensurate with their ability to afford items. Hence most Filipinos have a low accumulation of savings; and as a result, when the typical individual experiences a paucity of money, prostitution is seen in many cases as a convenient way out. Many Filipinas in the prostitution business—who tend to be women with families, husbands, and children—work in it temporarily as a means to supplement their domestic income.[22][23]

Social acceptance[edit]

Filipino society in general tends to have high acceptance levels of different behaviour. Gays, lesbians, same sex couples, single mothers, interracial marriages and couples with large age difference (up to 40 years) are openly accepted. Marrying for money, even when obvious, is not always looked down upon.[2] In some provinces, having a foreigner boyfriend or husband (irrespective of age differences) may be seen as a good catch.[24] In some regions, such alliances are seen to elevate to social status of the girl.[25]

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

Prostitution started around Clark Air Base in Angeles City since the early 1960s, when the base assumed importance because of the Vietnam war. During the 1970s, the main street of Olongapo City had no less than 30 girlie bars catering to the needs of U.S. Navy troops visiting Subic Naval base. The city acquired the pseudonym "Sin City".

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.[26]

Single Unwed Mothers[edit]

Some girls join the prostitution industry after they become single unwed mothers.[27] The reasons for this vary, between the unpopularity of condoms in the Philippines because of a strong Catholic church opposing it,[28] poor / non-existent sex education, lack of a sex awareness legislation and a feeling of machismo among Filipino males. This normally consists of girls in the 17 to 19 years age bracket.[29]

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.[30]

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.[31] 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.[31]

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.[31]

According to a survey conducted by the International Labor Organization, prostitution is one of the most alienating forms of labor.[31] 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”.[31] 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.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Philippine Laws, Statutes And Codes - Chan Robles Virtual Law Library
  2. ^ a b c McEvoy, Mary. "Gender Issues in the Informal Sector: A Philippine Case Study". Trocaire. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  3. ^ "Number of prostitutes in the Philippines". September 23, 2013. 
  4. ^ Cayetano, Senator Pia S. ""Anti-Prostitution Act," Senate Bill No. 2341". Senate of the Philippines. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  5. ^ 来源:人民网-国家人文历史 (2013-07-10). "日本性宽容:"南洋姐"输出数十万". Ta Kung Pao 大公报. 
  6. ^ Fischer-Tiné, Harald (2003). "'White women degrading themselves to the lowest depths': European networks of prostitution and colonial anxieties in British India and Ceylon ca. 1880–1914". Indian Economic Social History Review 40 (2): 163–90 [175–81]. doi:10.1177/001946460304000202. 
  7. ^ James Francis Warren (2003). Ah Ku and Karayuki-san: Prostitution in Singapore, 1870-1940. Singapore Series, Singapore: studies in society & history (illustrated ed.). NUS Press. p. 86. ISBN 9971692678. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  8. ^ Books, UK: Google, August 2003, ISBN 978-9971-69-267-4 
  9. ^ League of Nations (1933). Advisory Commission for the Protection and Welfare of Children and Young People: Traffic in women and children committee. Minutes ... The Committee. p. 69. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  10. ^ League of Nations; Bascom Johnson (1933). Commission of Enquiry Into Traffic in Women and Children in the East: Report to the Council. Series of League of Nations publications: Social (C. 849. M. 393. 1932. iv. C.T.F.E./ Orient 39). League of Nations. p. 69. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  11. ^ Ho Ai Li (Apr 8, 2014). "Tragic fate for the unwanted daughters". THE STRAITS TIMES. 
  12. ^ a b Empowering Street Children
  13. ^ Parwel, Tezza (June 27, 1987). "The Victimless Crime," (27). National Midweek II. 
  14. ^ Martin Brass (2004). The Modern Scourge of Sex Slavery. Soldier of Fortune Magazine. 
  15. ^ Lin Lean Lim (1998). The Sex Sector: The Economic and Social Bases of Prostitution in Southeast Asia. International Labour Organization. ISBN 92-2-109522-3. 
  16. ^ Lauber, Sabina (1995). "Confronting Sexual Exploitation". Australian Law Reform Commission Reform Bulletin. Winter 1995 (67). Retrieved 2007-02-07. 
  17. ^ "Who is to blame for sex tourism? - Philippines Inside Story". Al Jazeera. 9 October 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  18. ^ "Battling a new brand of pimp". Al Jazeera. 15 May 2012. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  19. ^ a b "Poverty Studies - 2013". Philippine Statistics Authority - National Statistical Coordination Board. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  20. ^ "Prostitution in the Philippines - A report". feminism and Women's studies, Campaign against military prostitution. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  21. ^ Sandoval, Gerardo; Mangahas, Mahar; Guerrero, Linda Luz. "THE SITUATION OF FILIPINO YOUTH: A NATIONAL SURVEY". Social Weather Stations / 14th World Congress of Sociology, Working Group 3 / Sociology of Childhood at Montreal Canada, July 26 - August 1, 1998. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  22. ^ Perpiñan, Mary Soledad L. (2008). From Darkness to Light – Success Stories of Survivors of Incest, Rape and the Sex Trade. Quezon City: TW-MAE-W. 
  23. ^ "Awareness of poverty is just a fashion statement". get Real Philippines. Retrieved 10 June 2014.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  24. ^ Reuter, Fr. James. "Prostitution in the Philippines - a time for change (Foreword)". TW-MAE-W: Quezon City: 2008. 
  25. ^ "Child prostitution: case studies of the Philippines, Thailand and Japan - A thesis study". The University of Hong Kong (Pokfulam, Hong Kong). Retrieved 10 June 2014.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  26. ^ "The Philippines--Trafficking - A Report". Coalition against trafficking in women. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  27. ^ Raymond, Janice G. "Sex Trafficking is Not "Sex Work" (Spring 2005). Conscience XXVI:1. 
  28. ^ Paul II, Pope John (2006). Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. Boston: Pauline Books and Media. 
  29. ^ ""Sex: From Intimacy to "Sexual Labor" or is it a Human Right to Prostitute?"". Coalition Against Trafficking in Women--Asia Pacific. 
  30. ^ Dennis A. Ahlburg, Eric R. Jensen and Aurora E. Perez, Determinants of extramarital sex in the Philippines, Health Transition Review, Supplement to Volume 7, 1997, 467-479
  31. ^ a b c d e f "Sex industry assuming massive proportions in Southeast Asia" (Press release). International Labor Organization. 19 August 1998. 

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