In Mactan, on 6 March, seven South Koreans were charged with involvement in sex tourism.
The charges follow the establishment by Korean nationals of an Internet-based holiday booking-service for Koreans going to Cebu City, Philippines. The central purpose of the holidays was sex tourism.
The tour, costing about USD 5,000, included Korea/Cebu return airline tickets, ‘posh’ hotel stays, local sightseeing and the company of Filipino girls. Each would-be Korean tourist could choose in-advance the girl of his preference from the Internet booking site, and she would be waiting for him upon his arrival. Allegedly, the girls were provided by a local party for a fee.
The case against the Koreans is based on the claim that the girls were ‘trafficked’. If so, the charge against the Koreans could be “use of trafficked persons’, which is specifically against Philippines law. For girls over the age of 18, and free to come and go as they please, the ‘trafficked’ element suggests a level of coercion. At the time of the charging of the seven Koreans, Cebu authorities were busy trying to understand the willingness of the girls to have participated in the enterprise. At that point the girls said that they were not victims and had been paid to participate. However, seven out of the nine girls agreed with authorities to assist in the laying of charges against the Koreans.
Additionally, the Police Attache of the Korean Consulate in Cebu City, Consul Lee Yong Sang, has said that these seven Koreans will be reported to police authorities in Korea for possible violation of Korean laws relating to the same matter.
Possibly the strongest deterrent against foreign customers getting involved in organized sex tours in the Philippines is the knowledge that four Koreans who ran foul of this law two years ago are reportedly still in Cebu City Jail – reputed to be an institution in which any foreigner should avoid spending even one day.
Cebu authorities are now organizing to prevent Cebu getting a reputation as a destination for sex tours. It is encouraging a whistle-blower mentality by hotels and others to report suspicious activity. And it wants to emphasize its cultural and resort attractions. This is probably important, especially as China starts to ramp up its support for Chinese tourists to go to the Philippines after the Philippines Government pivoted from the United States and towards China. It is suggested that China may be the source of some one million tourists to the Philippines annually.
The Philippines is a tolerant society. More tolerant than some other countries in South-east Asia. What consulting adults do in private is their own business. However, Philippines authorities have in mind the development of a tourist industry which is widely based on its beaches, resorts, agri-tourism, forests, friendly people, warm climate and the English language. The official terminology is “a wholesome tourism destination”. Sex tourism and prostitution are not wanted in this plan.
The post-script to this story is that these Koreans sought bail and were released on the stipulation that they would not leave the Philippines pending their court appearances. Administratively this stipulation should have been entered on the computer referenced by the border-control officials to prevent them leaving the country. However there was an administrative oversight and their names were not placed on the ‘not to exit the country’ watch-list. Well, the Koreans did not adhere to their bail conditions, hot-footed it to the closest international airport and were able to get on a plane and return to Korea. Uumm, maybe it was an admin error, or maybe the case was not strong enough for the Philippines authorities to pursue in the courts.
Mike B. Bradshaw has been an officer of the Treasury, Canberra, an investment banker, and a consultant in Europe, the USA and Asia. He now works on project financing.
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