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From Oripun to the Yapayuki-San: An Historical Outline of Prostitution in the Philippines

D’oripun à yapayuki-san: un aperçu historique de la prostitution aux Philippines
François-Xavier Bonnet
p. 41-64


L’étude de la prostitution aux Philippines, à travers les temps longs, montre des cycles de développement de ce phénomène liés à l’intégration de l’archipel au capitalisme colonial international, la militarisation du territoire à partir des garnisons et les énormes bases militaires américaines et enfin les politiques publiques agressives dans les domaines du développement touristique et du travail à l’étranger depuis la période Marcos jusqu’à maintenant. Face à ce secteur, les législations ont fluctué mais n’ont pas réduit la prostitution. L’explosion de l’épidémie de Sida depuis quatre ans pourrait bien relancer un débat national sur la prostitution.

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1The Philippines, archipelago of 104 million of inhabitants, are, after 350 years of Spanish colonization and 50 years of American colonization, the unique stronghold of catholicism in Asia. The society, deeply rooted on a patriarchal tradition, condemns the sexual relationships before marriage, disapproves the nocturnal outings of the young girls without a chaperon and above all considers the prostitution as a moral aberration, real national shame. But, like the neighboring countries, the prostitution in the Philippines became, in few decades, a real industry contributing directly or indirectly, but secretly, to the growth of the national economy. It is estimated, that 300,000 to 500,000 young women practice “the oldest job of the world” in the Philippines and 50,000 to 70,000 others had moved to Japan every year to practice it. The “entertainment” sector (often an euphemism for prostitution) is thus becoming a real actor of the national economy and organized itself in powerful lobbies comprising the tourism actors, manpower agencies domestics or international, etc.

2How the Philippines reached this paradoxical situation? What are the factors, classical but also original, having helped the growth of that sector? This article is only a first historical outline of prostitution in the Philippines, showing, through the use of the long period of time (temps long), some cycles of development of this economic sector at the national and international levels.

Datu and Oripun: A Pre-Spanish Prostitution?

3The prostitution, in its modern concept of a paid sexual service, combined with an unequal power play between genders, seems non-existent in the Philippines before the arrival of the Spanish. According to Filipino historians, the women enjoyed an equal treatment with the men, were allowed to inherit, manage farms, choose their husbands, divorce, be free sexually and occupy the prestigious functions of Babaylan (spiritual leader and healer) (Ofreneo 1998: 100). This perception of history, diffused by the nationalists leaders of the middle 19th century, among them Jose Rizal, then resumed by the present day historians and numerous feminists organizations, refers to a Golden Age where the relationships between persons were harmonious, harmony broken by the introduction of the patriarchal system, the cult of the female virginity and other systems of social control organized by the Spanish administration and its religious auxiliaries. In this context, the prostitution is perceived as an imported product from a foreign land, one of the results of the Spanish colonization, and so without indigenous roots.

4However, as William H. Scott has shown, the main coastal communities or barangay (like Tondo in Manila, or those in the regions of Bicol, or Pangasinan in Luzon, Mindoro, Cebu, etc.) presented a marked social stratification. At the top of the social scale, was the datu whom authority was dependent from his lineage but whom political power was based on his skills to control the commercial flows, the number of slaves, concubines, subjects and his reputation of warrior. The free men (timawa) were the second class composed of children and descendants of the concubines of the datu and of freed slaves. The timawa had to pay a tribute to the datu and constituted the warrior class of the community, receiving a part of the loot and prisoners according to his good will. At the bottom of the society were the oripun composing the main part of the population. Legally, they could be sold and bought by their masters and were thus considered as slaves. Technically, however, their status were diversified: slaves by debt serving their masters in proportion to their debts, slave domestics, slaves captured during the annual raids, criminals and even slaves of slaves (Scott 1994: 127-146).

5The role of the datu, as a “supplier” of women, appears discretely in some details given by the first conquistadores, details censored in the 19th century but appearing again in the first half of the 20th century. When Magellan sealed a blood compact in 1521 with the datu (Rajah) Humabon of Cebu, Pigafetta, chronicler of the expedition, praised the hospitality of the women surrounding the datu of Cebu. This hospitality did not consist only in their skills as musicians but extended also to the pleasure of the flesh. This question seemed to have worried Magellan, warning datu Humabon that the Europeans could not have relationships with the indigenous women without committing a mortal sin. However, according to Pigafetta, the main argument of Magellan seemed to have been only that the local women were pagans and thus could not mix with the Catholic crew, forgetting conveniently the whole tradition of the medieval christian theology (Blair & Robertson 1914b: 144). After the baptism of the women of Cebu, it seemed that all the doubts disappeared and Pigafetta wrote: “[…] the women loved us much more than their own men” (ibid.: 173). Few decades later, on April 27 1565, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi arrived in Cebu starting the process of colonization of the islands. After having sealed a peace pact with several local chiefs, Legaspi built a fort and forbade the locals to come inside after the night fell. According to an anonymous Spanish officer, this curfew was necessary because “the local women prostituted themselves freely in the camp, an evil that Legaspi, despite having posted sentries, was unable to eliminate” (Blair & Robertson, 1914a: 138). Legaspi met the local datu on this question, the latter retorted that it was custom of hospitality towards all the strangers: “The first thing that they [datu] do is to send them women. [...] Even the wives and daughters of the chiefs are involved in a sexual activity without restrictions” (ibid.: 138). The sexuality as a modality of hospitality, perceived as prostitution by the newcomers, seemed however having been under the control of the datu. We don’t know if these wives and daughters of the chiefs were legitimate or concubines and of what level. Nevertheless, this “sharing” could not exist in the community without a kind of rights to adultery.

Virtuous Women and “Women of Low Life”

6During most of the Spanish colonization, the question of prostitution in the Philippines seemed secondary for the Spanish civilian authorities. Only the religious authorities denounced regularly this practice, attracting the attention of the authorities of Madrid, Manila and their parishioners, on the immorality of the behavior. But, it is in the context of deep socio-economic changes in the 19th century, that a flourishing sector of prostitution developed in the Philippines as evidenced by the great varieties of qualifiers for a prostitute: dama de noche (woman of the night), mujeres libres (free woman), mujer pública (public woman), mujerzuela (woman of low value), puta or prostituta (prostitute), vagamunda (vagrant), indocumentada (not having paid the personal tax or cédula) (Dery 2001: 133).

7The Spanish archives, located in Manila on this question, spaced out from 1849 to 1897, far from being complete, allow nevertheless to make a link between poverty and prostitution. Thus, on the one hundred young women arrested by the Guardia Civil Veterana of Manila and for whom the information exist, an average profile was established by Ken De Bevoise (De Bevoise 2002). These women are young (more than 50% are less than 20 years old, the youngest was 13), illiterate, bachelors and migrating from 21 provinces of Luzon. On the other hand, the dysfunction of the family appears clearly when a majority notified that they lost one of their parents or were orphans. For those who stated the work of their parents, more than 50% of their fathers were farm laborers or day-laborer and more than 60% of their mothers were dressmakers or workers in the cigar industry. Finally, when these young women stated their own legitimate activity, 85% said they were dressmakers, workers in the cigar industry, domestic helpers and laundry women (ibid.: 74-76).

8When arrested by the guardia civil, these women had to pay a fine and spend few days to few weeks in jail, these punishments varying according to the status of the persons, first timers or multi recidivists. Up to the middle of the years 1870, the strongest punishment was the exile to the newly colonized areas of Mindanao (Davao), Sulu (Jolo), Palawan and Balabac island in order to isolate the “evil” from the mainstream society, to reform them and make them useful for the society in working in the agricultural colonies. This exile, feared by the young persons and their families, could last 1 to 2 years. In practice, this exile could be shortened on request of the prostitute to the general governor and after having shown the evidences of their reformation. Camagay specified that a request for marriage was generally enough for the comeback to the “civilization” but in some cases these requests were probably fixed for the circumstances (Camagay 1995: 102-104). However, this request for marriage could be used also in the other way as shown in the correspondence between the governor of Jolo and the governor general: the former asked the latter if he had a “stock” of 100 prostitutes to be sent to Jolo in order to marry them to the 100 soldiers of the Legazpi regiment based permanently on this island. The governor general approved the request... (Dery 2001: 148).

9From the years 1875-1880, the punishment of exile became less threatening, the moral aspects giving precedence to the medical question. The pessimistic reports of the Spanish doctors on the growth of venereal diseases in the Philippines forced the civil authorities to rethink the system. The arrested prostitutes, were not anymore deported but subjected to a medical examination (treated in the hospital of San Juan de Dios if needed) and then released after a short period in jail or sent back to their native provinces, most of them coming back to Manila as soon as possible. The next step was crossed when in the years 1880, the idea to regulate the sector of prostitution in Manila (not elsewhere) was seriously studied despite the resistance of the archbishop of Manila and some powerful sector of the population. This new policy was implemented in 1888. According to this law, the brothels (casas de prostitucion), the prostitutes and their bosses (ama for a female boss and amo for their male counterpart) should be registered and the young women were subjected to two medical examination each week by the health inspectors. The infected women were to be immediately hospitalized and the medical inspectors had the power to revoke the licenses of the casas for violation of the rules. By this system, it was recognized that in 1893, 1,693 prostitutes were living in Manila. But these statistics, of course, did not integrate the women working independently (in the streets, places, parks of Manila or at home or the home of their clients).

10The prostitution sector could not have developed so easily without the complicity of some public officials. During the period before the regulation, the members of the guardia civil could ignore the activities of an amo in exchange for a “gift”. The police forces were not, of course, alone as accomplices. In 1887, for example, the governor general himself, scandalized by the growth of the prostitution in Manila, ordered a strong campaign in order to eradicate this activity (prelude to the raids of the 20th century). The results of the raids were disappointing, few prostitutes arrested and few casas closed. The reason for this failure was simple: the Spanish governor of Manila was himself the main protector of the casas, neutralizing the operations of his own boss (Dery 2001: 135).

Prostitution: “A Military Necessity”?

11At the turn of the 19th century, the Philippines enter one of the darkest period of their history. In 1896, started the first revolution, then the second in 1898 in parallel to the Spanish-American war, the Filipino-American war in 1899 followed by the period of “pacification”. Of the thousands of Spanish soldiers defending the islands were added 120,000 American soldiers from August 1898 to 1902. An important part of the American troops (10,000 in 1900 for example on a total of 70,000) were located in the suburbs of Manila and more specifically in the district of Sampaloc, which, according to the witnesses, became, practically in a night, a huge open brothel where drunken soldiers and half naked women made the good Spanish families flee their home (De Bevoise 2002: 86).

12The explosion in the demand of sexual services for the rest and recreation of the troops was followed not only by a more intensive local recruitment but also by flows of foreign prostitutes attracted by the new opportunities. Russian, Austrian, American and other European, already prostitutes in Asia, settled in Manila. Numerically, however, these groups would be quickly overtaken by the Japanese prostitutes. According to Motoe Terami-wada, in 1902, the prostitution was one of the most prosperous activity of the Japanese community, with 35 casas managed by the Japanese of which 32 were in the Sampaloc district alone. These women generally came from the port of Nagasaki and entered the Philippines clandestinely or after having bought a fake passport in Hong Kong. The Japanese prostitutes were found all over the Philippines contrary to their western colleagues concentrated in Manila (Terami-Wada 1984: 4-6).

13The system of Spanish inspections was reorganized in Manila by the American authorities at the end of 1898. The medical examinations cost to the foreign prostitutes was between $1 and $2 and for the local between 50 cents and $1, the cost varying according to the place of examination, in the hospital or in the casa (De Bevoise 2002: 87). Then, in June 1899, the American military government took the control of this question in Manila, making the civil authorities (Philippine Commission) powerless. General Mac Arthur explained that it was a “military necessity” and that this sector was not legalized but regulated. Each known prostitute was registered, photographed, then treated if necessary (542 prostitutes were thus registred in Manila in 1900 of whom 80% were treated in the hospital). In 1901, General George Davis gathered the known prostitutes and classified them according to their potential customers (1st class for officers, etc.), forbidding the movement from one class to another and concentrated them to the district of Sampaloc in Gardenia street, creating then the first red-light district of Manila, in order to control the spread of venereal diseases (Dery 2001: 141-144). This system of inspection, classification and concentration was applied only for the capital and of course only for the known women. Since February 1899, the American troops were spread all over the Filipino territory following the start of the war with the revolutionaries and the numerous operations of “pacification”. In 1900, 600 garrisons were established in the archipelago, diffusing the prostitution in the provinces and its consequence, the syphilis.

14Despite these attempts of regulation or covert legalization with the view to preserve the operational capacity of the American army, the failure is clear. If we believe the report of H.W McFadden to the governor Taft in February 1902, based on military and medical documents: 20 to 40% of the American soldiers in the Philippines were sick and inapt for the service, being victims of venereal diseases. Even during their treatment, in the thermal waters of Los Baños, the American soldiers did not cease their activities, as deplored by Doctor Street who remarked that the women of Los Baños are more and more numerous to contract these diseases (Dery 2001: 141). Since 1902, the United States demobilized a part of their troops following the end of the operations of “pacification”, but between that year and 1918 an average of 17,000 men and officers (garrisons and seamen included) were on the Philippines soil every year. The first systematic campaign against the venereal diseases started only in March 1919 which led to the creation of two specialized clinics in the hospital of San Lazaro and the Philippines General Hospital.

15This campaign of 1919 followed the movement started by the Governor General Harrisson on order of President Wilson, abolishing the red-light district of Gardenia in 1917. The abolitionist movement was victorious the following year when the commanding officer of the U.S Army forbade all military and civil staff to enter or live in a house of ill reputation. Rafael Palma, the Secretary of Interior, followed the movement and ordered the closure of all dancing, bars, etc. (ibid.: 145). The direct consequence of this new policy was the expulsion, in 1918, of 122 Japanese, the exile of 120 Filipinas to Davao and the deportation of several dozens of westerners. Since that year, if we except a tentative by President Marcos to legalize or regulate this activity in 1980, the sector of prostitution in the Philippines entered legally in the “underground”. But, as Senator Manuel Quezon (future President of the Philippines Commonwealth) was explaining to Governor Harrisson in 1918, the closure of the district of Gardenia will allow the propagation of prostitution and the venereal diseases from Manila to the other provinces of the archipelago...

16Echoing the fears of Senator Quezon, the report of the League of Nations (LN) of 1933, on prostitution in Asia, showed that if the Manila authorities had a relative success in controlling the “evil” in Manila (only 300-500 clandestine prostitutes in Manila according to the chief of police), the situation in the provinces was probably not as rejoicing. In effect, the implementation of the fight against prostitution being the primary responsibility of the municipalities according to the administrative code of 1917 section 2242, the success could vary from one place to another, depending essentially of the good will of the local authorities (LN 1933: 189). Some provinces, close to Manila, were the beneficiaries of the transfer of these activities, under various covers (dancing halls, bars, etc.) improving noticeably the local government income.

17The committee remarked also that the ban on prostitution in the archipelago, reinforced by strict immigration laws, especially for the Chinese females, reduced drastically the international trafficking of women and children bound for the Philippines. The boat captains carrying immigrants for the Philippines had to cooperate with the immigration authorities, preparing a list of the passengers and allowing the landing of the latter only after examination of the immigration officers. Moreover, the captains were duty bound to repatriate the immigrants, who were barred to enter the Philippines, to the original port. The chief of the Immigration Department specified that all the women and girls, especially Chinese, coming to the Philippines, were systematically interviewed by the Board of Special Inquiry in order to statute on their cases. Some contradictions in their testimonies, or doubts about their age or the authenticity of their administrative documents, lead to their expulsion. Article 4 of the law on immigration stipulated 10 years of jail and a fine of $5000 to any person bringing in the Philippines a foreigner for prostitution or any other immoral actions (LN 1933: 197). Thus, between 1927 and 1932, 900 Chinese females were deported from the Philippines. This number doesn’t tell, however, the percentage of prostitutes among those “undesirable” aliens. According to some immigration officers, some Chinese businessmen attempted to bring some young women in order to employ them as maids or to marry them in violation of the law.

18Nevertheless, these laws, as strict as they may be, could apply, at best, in the official ports of entrance, like Manila or Cebu. But, the committee noticed an important clandestine immigration of Chinese between North Borneo (actual Sabah) and the Philippines through the archipelago of Sulu. In what measure these traffics were concerning women and children used for the prostitution, the Insular authorities could not say (ibid.: 200). Moreover, as deplored, in 1931, by Colonel Bowers, intelligence chief of the Philippine Constabulary, in practice, the geography of the archipelago and the insignificant means of the insular government were important factors favoring the clandestine traffics of products and Chinese: the coast guards and the customs had only one boat each to patrol the waters of the whole archipelago (Bowers 1931: 8). Moreover, these two boats were too slow and the staff was concentrated in Manila. On the other hand, Bowers was deploring the lack of coordination and cooperation between the concerned agencies in the Philippines and the consular representatives in the ports of origin of these traffic, specially Amoy (China) (ibid.). In short, the internal documents of the insular government, not communicated to the League of Nations, showed the Philippines as an open sea and probably vulnerable to international trafficking of women and children, of Chinese origin principally.

The American Bases and the Explosion of Prostitution

19As a passing remark, the League of Nation’s committee noticed that seemingly the total ban of prostitution in the Philippines suffered at least one exception. In 1929, in effect, the representatives of a civic organization denounced the presence, of all official casas in the barrio (village) of Lourdes (municipality of Angeles, Pampanga province) close to a military camp. These houses were supervised jointly by the civil authorities of Angeles and the medical doctors of the U.S Army. The scandal, exposing the general hypocrisy, was so strong in the Philippines and in the United States, that in 1930, the embarrassed American military authorities, stopped the medical examination of the young women. These facts were never publicly dismissed. The prostitution, a military necessity? After the war, the cities of Angeles and Olongapo, welcome the two biggest American military bases of Asia, Air Force base of Clark and Naval base of Subic Bay respectively. There were surnamed by the population, as Sodom and Gomorrah...

20From 1948 to 1950, Clark Airbase, following the new American strategy, was enlarged from 3,000 hectares to 64,053 hectares (nearly the area of Singapore), becoming the largest American military installation in the Far East. The demographic impact on the city of Angeles (became a City in 1963) was phenomenal. Between 1948 and 1990 (year of closure of the bases), the population of Angeles was multiplied by 6,3 (37,558 inhabitants in 1948 and 236,686 in 1990) when during the same period the population of Pampanga province was increased 3,4 times (National Statistics Office 1948 to 1990). In 1990, before the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, Angeles was the most populous city in Luzon after Metro Manila. However, this population growth was spatially circumscribed to 5 barangays located to the north of Angeles City poblacion (city center proper) closed to the base. Barangay Balibago, having the main entrance of the base, saw its population multiplying by 20 during this period. The adjacent barangays of Anunas, Malabanas, Pandan and Santa Teresita had similar growth. These five barangays form the red light district of Angeles City and concentrate, in the census of year 2010, more than 30% of the city’s population (Angeles is composed of 32 barangays).

21In 1990, a study made by the NGOs WEDPRO and Kalayaan, estimated that between Angeles City and Olongapo City, 50,000 to 55,000 women were working as prostitutes (Miralao 1990: 1). This estimate was based first on the number of officially registered entertainers in the social hygiene clinics and second on the generally accepted hypothesis that the call girls and streetwalkers are at least double the official number. Officially, 17,242 women were registered as “entertainers” of whom 5,642 were in Angeles City and 11,600 in Olongapo City, employed by 2,182 establishments (1,567 in Angeles and 615 in Olongapo). Moreover, the demand was potentially huge knowing that 25550 soldiers and their dependants were living in Clark and 5,000 soldiers, 560 civilians and their 5500 dependants, plus 800 U.S Marines were in Subic. To the latter must be added the 70000 seamen and officers of the U.S Fleet landing regularly in Subic for reparations, rest, etc., and of course the 50,000 Filipino civilians employed on the two bases.

22According to this WEDPRO’s study, on 300 prostitutes interviewed (150 in Olongapo and 150 in Angeles), the totality of employees of casas (officially employed as waitresses in small eateries) and 95% of the employees of bars and clubs were in the two cities less than five years. This migration phenomenon was less visible for the call-girls and streetwalkers whom 42% were born in the provinces of Pampanga and Zambales (ibid.: 7 and 30). The provinces of origin (around 50%) were among the poorest of the Philippines: Samar, Leyte and the Bicol region (Albay, Sorsogon and Camarines) located on the Pacific side and swept from June to October by devastating typhoons and are the locus of important conflicts between the NPA (New People’s Army, military arm of the communist party) and the Philippine army. This migration towards these two cities was not made blindly, 66% of these women knew somebody there, a friend, a relative, colleagues and accompanied by them during their journeys. Only 17% were actively recruited by a procurer or a mamasan (floor manager of a nightclub).

23With the exception of freelance prostitutes, the study showed that in 1990, the women of these two cities had an income, in average, above those of domestic helpers but below the official legal minimum in the Philippines (2000 pesos monthly in 1990). Only 10% of the hostesses of casas and 16% of the bars had an income above 2000 pesos a month. Moreover, these incomes were extremely irregular, depending on the number of clients. The hostesses received a fixed commission on drinks bought by the client for himself and for the hostess (ladies’s drink) and, according to the bars, 35 to 50% of the bar fine paid by the client to the owner of the bar allowing him to take out the prostitute from her workplace, without forgetting the tip given by the client to his sexual partner. Other clients, the patronizing ones, preferred the cheaper formula of “renting” a prostitute at home, for a minimum of two weeks after negotiations with the bar owner. The prostitute was, then, used also as a maid, cook, etc., dreaming that one day the client would become the boy-friend or even the husband. In most of the cases, however, the relationships stopped at the end of the contract but could result in a more substantial tip (Miralao 1990: 38).

24According to a survey made by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and five NGOs and Foundations, around 12,000 children Amerasians were born in Olongapo and Angeles between 1969 and 1993 (DSWD 1995: 8). The survey, on 2,287 persons of less than 24 years old, showed that only 6% of the births were legitimate. The fathers, a majority of white American soldiers (66%) had practically abandoned their offspring since less than 2% continued to finance the education of their children and 74% of the latter did not know the address of their biological fathers. These children were under the care of their mothers and their families and to a certain extent helped by Filipino-American NGOs for scholarships. But, the cycle of poverty continued. Due to a lack of resources and early marital relationships, 30% of these children were very early out of school and only 9% were studying in college. The jobs of these young persons were closely related to those of their mother: waitresses, domestic helpers, dancers, sales ladies and non-qualified factory workers for the females, and carpenters, electrician or low skilled office clerks for the males with only 35% of stable jobs (ibid.: 23). Despite these difficulties, and contrary to media reports, these young people thought that they were well integrated in the society and didn’t feel much of discrimination even those with a black American father (only 2,7% of the latter ). Despite being abandoned by their fathers, the attraction for the United States was still very strong for these teenagers, since a majority of them dreamed to become American citizens. Twenty percent of the students even hoped to be integrated one day in the U.S Navy or the U.S Air Force...

The Explosion of Sexual Tourism

25During the years 1970s-1980s, the Marcos government launched an aggressive campaign to promote the Philippines as a touristic destination, successful enough to go beyond the million of visitors in 1980 (16,6431 only in 1972) and bringing more than 300 millions of dollars. In 1979, 26% of the tourists coming to Philippines were Japanese, of whom 95% were males, traveling in groups via Japan Air Lines, residing in Japanese hotels and using a Japanese Tour Operator. However, most of their activities in the Philippines (in Thailand, Korea and Taiwan also) were to visit the numerous clubs, massage parlors, bars which proliferated in Manila, particularly in the districts of Ermita and Malate. The Japanese mafia, the Yakuza (or boryokudan), played a key role in the organization of this kind of tourism, facilitating the contacts with local operators and financing also the clubs which offered these sexual services (De Dios 1992: 43).

26In 1979, Ryoschi Sasakawa, a powerful businessman with close connections with the godfathers of the Yakuza and an intimate friend of President Marcos, established the World Safari Club, a tour operator exclusively for Japanese with exclusive rights to develop Lubang island (off Mindoro island) in a paradise for Japanese tourists: hunting, fishing and women in an environment of tropical vegetation were the main arguments for promotion. Denounced as a project of open prostitution by Filipino and Japanese feminist organizations and by the Catholic Church, the project was cancelled. At the same time, a protest campaign was launched in Korea, Thailand, Philippines and Japan against the practice of sexual tourism, including petitions to the Prime Minister Suzuki in 1981, putting enough pressure on the Japanese government to reduce this practice (ibid.: 43).

27But, as noted by the Philippine Plan for Gender Responsive Development 1995-2025, sexual tourism is still well alive, linked to complex financial interests of the actors of tourism. The American company Philippines Adventure Tours, for example, located in California, promised to the clients to “never sleep alone during their tours and to have a different girl every night, even two if they were able”. The client paid $1,645 including the airplane ticket, hotels and guided visits in the bars. This company closed in 1999 but it could have, according to the NBI (Filipino FBI), at least 25 other companies giving these kind of services and based essentially in the United States, Australia, Japan and Germany (Marcelino 2004: 50). Other companies, like Big Apple Oriental Tour (also in Thailand), are specialized in the negotiation of prices with the owners of the bars and clubs, the client taking charge of his airplane ticket and hotel. Following the strong raids of the police, during the 1990s, in the districts of Ermita and Malate, under the control of the Manila Mayor, Alfredo Lim (former director of the NBI), the establishments were transferred to “less hostile” places: Pasay City, Cebu City (direct flights with Tokyo) and Davao City (historical links with Japan since before the Second World War) became the three main centers of attraction for the sexual tourism and the recruitment of the yapayuki-san.

The Explosion of the Yapayuki-San Phenomenon

28The Filipinos have a long tradition in music, dance and folk songs, which were well-recognized by their neighbors. The nightclubs of Shanghai and Tokyo, for instance, employed the best Filipino professional singers, attracting the clients by their skills during the 1950s-1970s. Nowadays, however, the word “entertainers” has taken a strong negative meaning, in Japan or in the Philippines, synonymous of yapayuki-san, term derived of “Karayuki-san” which designated the Japanese prostitutes serving the Japanese soldiers in China before and during the Second World War. Following the campaigns against the sexual tourism at the beginning of the 1980s, the Japanese government was forced to reduce this practice, forcing the tour operators to be more discrete. Simultaneously, however, this same government opened a new category of visa in 1981, the visa for entertainers (De Dios 1992: 43). In 1982, 9,125 Filipinas went to Japan using this visa, but this number reached 70,000 in 2001. In 2004, of 130,000 foreigners who came in Japan with this visa, 60% were from the Philippines. In total, it was estimated that 180,000 Filipino entertainers and residents in Japan remitted more than 200 millions of dollars in the Philippines yearly.

29The inquiry of the Filipino Senate, after the mysterious death of a dancer in Japan in September 1991, showed that 90% of the Filipino entertainers were in fact used as hostesses and attracted the clients towards the clubs (dohan practice). Facing the intense competition between the clubs, the hostesses had to satisfy the clients even if it meant to bear in silence the abuses of the drunken clients: verbal and physical abuses, long hours of work (no resting days), rapes and the necessity to go out with the clients were among the most common complains of the Filippines “yapayuki” (Senate Committee report 1991: 12).

30Following the scandal of September 1991 and on the recommendations of the Senate, the rules for the deployment of the artists had been reinforced. The introduction of the Philippines and Japan on the watchlist of the United States Department of State in June 2004 (list of countries which did not act enough to eliminate the traffics of persons) seemed to have produced a certain electroshock. In a period of three years, as the two states were negotiating a general agreement, the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement or JPEPA signed on September 9 2006, the Japanese government reduced the number of visas of the Overseas Performing Artists (OPA), from 50,000 in 2004 to 10,000 in 2007 (Piquero-Ballescas 2009: 86 )

The Prostitution of Children

31One of the main targets of sexual tourism are the children, defined by the United Nations as being less than 18 years old, or by the law 7610 voted in 1992 by the Congress of the Philippines, as being more than 18 years old but having a mental or physical handicap making them particularly vulnerable. According to this definition, the NGO ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) estimated that there were 20,000 children prostitutes in 1986 and between 60,000-100,000 in 1997 in the Philippines (DSWD-UNICEF 1998: 31). This latter estimate has been accepted by DSWD, UNICEF and numerous NGOs. However, none of these organizations explained their criteria in order to arrive at these results, making a group of researchers wondering that probably some NGOs over-estimated these results in order to attract more subventions (DSWD 1998: 4). The number of children used for sexual services is generally derived from the data of the centers and institutions in charge of street children. These street children were estimated to reach 1,5 million at the national level. This statistic, however, must be used with great caution since these children are extremely mobile, visiting several centers at the same time and are then counted several times in the statistics. The researches on general prostitution in the touristic cities of Cebu and Davao showed that 20-25% of the prostitutes were between 15 to 17 years old (DSWD-UNICEF 1998: 32). The data of DSWD, comprising only the number of cases which were reported for action (by the families, police etc.), showed an increase of the number of cases reported of sexually exploited children, from 102 in 1991 to 453 cases in 1999. For the year 2000, on 280 actions taken by the DSWD for sexually exploited children, 66% concerned young girls in prostitution, 16% victims of traffickers, 14% victims of pedophiles (33 girls and 7 boys) and 3% victims of the pornographic industry (DSWD 2003).

32However, if geographically, the victims helped by the DSWD came principally from the most touristic and economically active cities of the Philippines like Manila, Angeles, Cebu or Davao, other smaller centers are “specialized” in pedophilia. The most notorious town was Pagsanjan (Laguna province), south of Manila. The pedophiles’ activities were denounced in 1981 in a French documentary called “les trottoirs de Manille” shown on the TV channel TF1 and and seen by 12 millions of Europeans. Following this expose, several children prostitutes were arrested not only in Pagsanjan but also in Manila and five foreigners were deported for having used the services of children aged 9 to 16 years. In 1988, new raids were launched by the Bureau of Immigration and the NBI resulting in the arrest of 22 foreigners. The confiscation of documents from the American A. Harvey by the NBI unearthed the complexity of fighting child prostitution and pedophilia. Harvey was a go-between with the clients and had a file on 590 children of Pagsanjan aged 7 to 17 years old (practically all the children of the town) complete with the pornographic pictures. His clients were Filipino and foreign businessmen linked to international companies, politicians, government officials, Western and Asian diplomats and foreign tourists (Marcelino 2004: 41). This massive prostitution could not have developed without the complicity of the parents and local officials. In fact, Pagsanjan was described as an economically prosperous center, the parents receiving enough money to send their children to school, renovate their houses, buy a jeepney, a shop, etc. In 1988, even some parents ventilated their indignation on the arrest of the foreigners, the latter being so generous... Since then, the village of Sabang near Puerto Galera (Mindoro Oriental) seemed to take the place of Pagsanjan but more discretely. Other modus operandi of the pedophiles had been documented by the NBI and NGOs: adoption and sponsor of children, organization of NGOs, Institutes and Fondations specialized in “helping the street children”, modeling agencies for children, etc.

The New Development of a Virtual Prostitution

33If this question is still not studied in the Philippines, the different raids launched by the NBI on cybersex joints of Angeles, Davao, Cebu and Makati (business center of the Philippines) between the years 2000 and 2004, allow us to have an idea of this activity. In May 2003, an American was arrested by the NBI during a search in his luxurious house in Makati. This rented house was divided in 10 rooms. In each room there was a computer equipped with several video cameras. Twenty young girls, among them two minors, were employed by this company, working every 8 hours, the center being open 24h/24. However, these young persons were not prostitutes but waitresses in restaurants and students in the university. Moreover, the American boss was only the representative of an important provider specialized in entertainment for adults online and located in the state of Nevada. The prostitution and pornography are legal in this American State, but the costs of the “human resources” and the attraction of the clients for “exotic” females, make the Philippines an attractive country... (Marcelino 2004: 46). The development of these new technologies helped Angeles City to have a second life after the closure of Clark. Barangay Balibago is now the place of concentration of cybersex joints which owners are American, Australian, German and British nationals. The prostitutes of Angeles confirmed their attraction for these new opportunities since the clients are much fewer than before 1991 and the virtual reality allows them not to be in physical contact with the clients. Nevertheless, the clients, in the other parts of the world, being kings after having paid for a minute or 30 minutes by credit card, the young persons cannot but obey to their fantasies. Thus, the raids of the NBI in March 2004 in Balibago, allowed to discover that 11 years old children were forced to execute sexual acts between themselves online (ibid.: 67).

34Some “attractive” remunerations (70-80 pesos per hour or more according to the experience and kind of services, the minimum pay in Manila for companies of more than 10 persons is 300 pesos a day in 2005), a simple equipment for the cybersex joint and the feeling of virtual reality were all favorable factors for the spread of this kind of prostitution towards smaller urban centers. Thus, the small town of Bislig (Surigao del Sur province, Mindanao), which was in crisis since the closure of the wood industry in the 90’s, had seen the proliferation of cybersex joints, under the cover of internet cafes (Bernardo, personal communication, Manila, January 2005). The number of candidates for this kind of activity was particularly “important” sometime before the beginning of the school year in high school or college, when it is a need to pay the tuition fees, school supplies and accumulate pocket money for the year. The work in a cybersex joint can be seen as a practical mean, temporary and discreet to earn quickly some money, helping, without the knowledge of the parents, the small family budget.

The Legislative System in the Philippines: Fighting Prostitution

35Facing all the forms of prostitution on the national territory, the Congress voted two fundamental laws. Law 7610 or law for the special protection of the children, implemented since 1992, penalizing of heavy terms of jail not only any person procuring a child for prostitution (life term jail for the parents and public servants and recidivists), or the persons beneficing materially from this activity (owners of bar, etc.) but also, and for the first time, the clients of these children. If the victim is less than 12 years old, the client will be prosecuted for rape. This law punishes also the attempt to commit an act of prostitution if a person is alone with a child (with no kinship) in a room of a house, hotel, motel, vehicle, etc. The trafficking of a child is punished by life term in jail if the child is less than 12 years old. The second law, R.A 9208, otherwise known as law against the trafficking of persons was implemented in June 2003 after 8 years of deliberations. According to this law, the trafficking of persons is defined as an act of recruitment, transport, transfer, sheltering and reception of persons, with or without their consent, on the national territory or abroad, using all means of coercion and pressure with the objectives, among others, to exploit sexually these persons. Among the actions defining the trafficking of persons (section 4), to use the services of a prostitute, even adult, constitute, from now on, a criminal act punishable by 20 years of jail and a fine of 1 to 2 million pesos. On the other hand, the persons facilitating the traffic, specially via internet and other information technologies are punishable by 15 years in jail and a fine of 1 million pesos. Finally, when a child is trafficked, or the delinquents are the parents or a public servant, etc., the trafficking act is qualified and the punishment is life imprisonment.

36But, if these two laws had been warmly welcomed for their harshness, some social workers had some doubts on their practicality. Since 1992, for instance, the foreign pedophiles had been voluntarily deported by the Bureau of Immigration, even before being prosecuted and serving the sentence. They could, thus, continue their activities in a neighboring country or even come back to the Philippines under another name. Moreover, if these two laws considered the prostitutes as victims, the penal code of 1965 had not been amended and continued to perceive the prostitutes as delinquents like vagrants (art. 202, with punishment of 30 days in jail). The labor code of 1974 recognized their legitimate activities (massage attendants, hostesses etc.) and were considered as employees of these establishments, but did not recognize their activities of prostitution, their real unique source of income. Finally, the main urban municipalities had imposed a mandatory medical check-up in exchange of a health card that the young women have to carry during their work, recognizing indirectly the status of prostitute. This ambiguous juridical status favored the development of practices of corruption by some law enforcers. Since the 1990s, several feminists organizations launched a campaign for the elimination of article 202 of the penal code and the de-criminalization of the prostitutes, refusing the legalization of this sector for moral reasons (exploitation and violations of the persons’rights) but reinforcing the punishments for the other actors of this industry (Ofreneo 1998: 123).

37This strict legislation can only be implemented on the national territory. The internationalization of prostitution, however, can play in both ways: the classical or virtual prostitution can be located on the national soil for international and national clients but can also be “exported” to answer the needs of the foreign markets.

The Explosion of “Marriage Marketing”

38The Philippines became, since the end of the 80’s, one of the main Asian sources of young women for the international marriage marketing. Hundreds of western matching agencies “sell” to their potential clients Asiatic women stereotyped as exotic, simple, submissive and traditional whose main dream is to meet, marry, and make the client the happiest man on earth (Santos 2002: 10). Facing the “Asian contest” (Thailand and Indonesia principally), the Filipinas have two other main assets, the Catholic faith and the English language, which put them closer to the westerners. At the opposite, the Philippine culture, with deep patriarchal roots, tends to see a single young woman of more than 25 years old as kawawa (pitiful). It must be added also what the sociologists have called the “colonial mentality”, inheritance of 450 years of colonization, and which perceives, with strong stereotypes also, a marriage with a foreigner as a good choice allowing a comfortable material life not only for themselves but also for their families still in the Philippines living in difficult situations (ibid.).

  • 1 Interview with Joseph Escasio, director management information system office of CFO, January 5 200 (...)

39Thus, between 1989 and 2014, 47,7834 persons (91% of women) came through the services of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO 2015a and 2015e), institution in charge of orienting and advising the fiancées and spouses of foreign national. The certificates of participation to the seminars of the CFO are mandatory to obtain a fiancée and spouses visa delivered by the foreign embassies. In total, 76% of the women were spouses (24% fiancées) but only 20-25% of the persons having the visa decided to migrate (for a given year). The majority stayed, then, in the Philippines, either because the foreign husband decided to reside there, or, in the majority of the cases, one of the two partners made more or less long visits in the country of the other, the decision to migrate being done on the middle or long term1. The foreign partners of Filipinos were American (43%), Japanese (25%), Australians (8%), and Canadians, South Koreans and Germans 4% respectively (CFO 2015h).

40The international marriage marketing targeting the Philippines, is characterized by strong age differences. Sixty-four percent of the young women were located in the bracket 18-29 of whom 31% were between 18 and 24 years old and 93% of the spouses and fiancées were single before meeting their foreign partners. At the opposite, the latter had an average age of 38 years old and 42% of them were more than 40 years old of whom 10% were more than 55 years old (CFO 2015b). This gap between the ages was also reflected in the civil status of the men: 61% were single but 35% divorced at least one time before meeting their Filipina partner, and widows (3%) (CFO 2015d). But the second characteristic of this market is the nearly perfect balance in the level of education: 43% and 40% of the women and their partners had graduated from high school respectively and 50% of both partners went to college with whom 31% and 30% respectively graduated or even had a Master degree. The persons having no education or went only up to the primary level formed only a small part of the whole: 5,5% of the women and 2,5% of their partners (CFO 2015c).

41If, of course, a large majority of these women would live a normal life with their foreign spouses, the private and public institutions in charge of fighting the international trafficking of women and children had warned the public on the important abuses of the marriage marketing sector. A report for the Philippine Center on Transnational Crime (PCTC 1999), institution of the Philippine National Police, recognized two main forms of abuse of the fiancé/spouse visa. The first abuse was the “serial sponsor” whereby, a young woman who wanted to work abroad, without the legal documents, must find a fictitious foreign fiancé, who was paid around 50,000-100,000 pesos for his services. When abroad, the “fiancés” left each other, the woman stayed clandestinely on the foreign soil while her sponsor went back to the Philippines and started again his activity (PCTC 1999: 10). In other cases, the fiancés were real but the relationship would last only up to the duration of the visa. An Australian survey of 1992 on 111 “serial sponsors” showed that 53 men sponsored 2 Filipinas, 57 were the sponsor of 3 women and one Australian the sponsor of 8. These sponsors believed that this system was cheaper (visa of 3 months) than to rent daily the services of an Australian prostitute. This same survey also showed that on 110 “serial sponsoring”, 80 cases experienced domestic violence (PCTC 1999: 10). A study by the Criminology Institute of Sydney in 1996 found that 70% of the Filipinas having migrated to Australia used this system of acquiring the fiancé/spouse visa and were the object of domestic violence: the Filipinas had the risk of being killed six times more than an Australian wife (ibid.: 11). Moreover, the Australian States of Victoria, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and Queensland had legalized prostitution since the 1980s-1990s (those of Tasmania and South Australia will probably do the same). However, far from having controlled the spread of prostitution, legalizing this industry had the opposite effect (Sullivan 2002: 4). One fully growing sector was the clandestine trafficking of young Asian women, with market valued at 30 million Australian dollars. Moreover, the Australian brothels earned around one million Australian dollars each week because of this illegal trafficking (Sullivan 2002: 13). If most of the cases made public in the Australian press seemed to concern Thai and Indonesian women, the Filipinas were not absent. In fact, on March 2005, the NBI raided a cybersex joint in Abra province (Northern Luzon) owned by two Australian of Victoria State (Cimatu 2005: 19). These Australians and their local accomplices recruited young women in this province promising a wonderful wedding with an Australian. Meantime, these girls were forced to work for a while in the cybersex joint until they enter Australia as fiancées and eventually be sexually exploited in one of the brothels of Melbourne.

42Facing all these kinds of exploitation by the marriage marketing sector, President Cory Aquino signed in 1990 R.A 6955 which criminalized all acts of organizing meetings for a wedding between a Filipina and a foreigner. This measure targeted directly the professional brokers and other professional intermediaries of interpersonal relationships. Any person having violated this law can be punished by 6 to 8 years of jail and a fine of $350. The problem, of course, is the implementation of this law. The law did not forbid an individual to travel or to marry a foreigner, moreover, the matrimonial agencies are legal in western countries and use dummies in order to operate in the Philippines. Finally, the internet had become an important tool in the area of marriage marketing in the Philippines since the year 2000 (CFO 2015g). These websites are located in western countries where they are legal. The men suscribing to these websites pay between $35 and $135 and receive a personal access code to the data of the young women (the Filipinas do not pay anything). In short, the implementation of this law seemed doubtful in front of the quick technological evolution and informal networks of interpersonal contacts that dominate the sector. The risks of sexual exploitation and criminal trafficking are real. The young women should have the knowledge of the country of destination, the cultural practices, legislation and other pertinent information needed in making the decision to migrate. The statistics of the CFO are interesting on this aspect: 65% of the women recognized to have a very small knowledge or no knowledge at all on the country of their partners (CFO 2015f).

Is There a Male Prostitution in the Philippines?

43Of all the forms of prostitution, the male prostitution in the Philippines is probably the most taboo. The national media are not interested in this sector and the researches by scholars and institutions are practically non-existent. There were only two dissertations in epidemiology of the University of California authored by two Filipino medical doctors and one study by the Department of Health sponsored by the WHO which formed practically the only sources of informations on male prostitution. These pioneering studies, however, were geographically concentrated in Manila and its suburb (Pasay City and Quezon City) and did not allow us to generalize on the other urban centers of the Philippines.

44Nevertheless, the Department of Health estimated plausible the hypothesis that 1,4% of the men aged 15-24 years old were active in the prostitution sector (Sescon 2002: 1) that is to say more than 100,000 individuals at the national level (7,5 millions of men aged 15-24 in the census of 2000). This estimate had, however, never been explained and derived from a national survey in 1994 by the University of the Philippines on sexuality and fertlity of young adults, on 10,000 persons (both sexes). Since then, this estimate seemed to have been accepted by the medical authorities more on an act of faith than on serious researches. If this estimate is correct, it would mean that one individual out of 4 or 6 involved in prostitution is a male (the generally accepted hypothesis states that there are about 300,000-500,000 female prostitutes in the country)!

45The three studies classified the male prostitutes in two categories: the independents and those employed in establishments. The former were looking for their clients in commercial centers (malls open from 10h to 21h), the parks, theaters and the streets adjacent to the nightclubs, bars and schools and comprised 98% not bonded to a pimp (ibid.). The second type were the employed, working as singers, dancers, models, actors of erotic shows and massage attendants, etc., in establishments open to homosexuals only or to both genders. The client must pay a bar-fine before leaving with the prostitute (Borja 1998: 88). The researches of Sescon (2002) and Saniel (1996) involved 103 and 322 independents respectively, while those of Borja (1998) were based on a sample of 683 individuals of whom 14,5% were employed (99) and 85,5% were independents (584).

46Like their female counterparts, the male independent prostitutes were young, 85% being in the bracket 15-24 years old but 53% to 68% were between 15 and 19 years old (Borja 1998: 86; Sescon 2002: 3). The more precise classification of Saniel showed the importance of the minors in this activity: 10% were between 12 and 14 years old and 36% were between 15-17 years old (Saniel 1996: 197). The 25 years old and above were negligible in the independents category (5-10%) but comprising still 25% of the staff of the establishments. These differences of life duration in the activity was also reflected in the status of the prostitutes: 87% of the independents were single against 53% of the employed (Borja 1998: 196). The latter were living in with a partner (24%) or were married (13%) or separated (9%). Moreover, the education levels were high specially for the employed: 63% of the independents and 57% of the employed had been in high school but 31% of the independents and 42% of the employed had studied in college (ibid.: 198). Around a fourth of the samples were still enrolled in high school or college and said that it was precisely the reason why they entered in this activity (Sescon 2002: 6; Borja 1998: 86). In fact, the male prostitution seemed to be a part time job for 70 to 80% of these young men (Saniel 1996: 202; Sescon 2002: 7), the main activity being in other services like hotel employees, security guards, waiters in restaurants but also accountant, computer technicians, etc. Those men, working part time, were not considering themselves prostitutes but paid sexual partners. Typically, this activity occupied them two to three days a week for 3 to 6 hours of work a day with three clients a week.

47Contrary to their western counterparts, 80% of the interviewees considered themselves as heterosexuals and felt pleasure only with the opposite gender, 18,5% said that they were bisexuals and around 1,5% thought they were homosexuals (Borja 1998: 87; Sescon 2002: 7). This sexual orientation was even more pronounced for the employees since 90% and 10% were heterosexuals and bisexuals respectively, none having an homosexual orientation. Despite this strong sexual preference, 69% and 41% of the independents interwieved by Borja and Saniel respectively had an exclusive male clientele composed mainly of homosexuals but also transsexuals and bisexuals aged 30-40 years old (Borja 1998: 90; Saniel 1996: 206). Fifty percent of the young men said that they had at least a regular customer of which 23% were married. Most of the clients were Filipinos, but 30% of the prostitutes had also foreign clients, mainly Americans but also Japanese, Koreans, Thais, etc. The employed prostitutes had a more diversified clientele composed of men but also of women (54% of the employed had a mix clientèle) (Borja 1998: 90). According to Sescon (2002: 15), the female clients were generally widows aged 40-50 years old of Chinese origin but also unmarried women of 30-40 years old and prostitutes active locally or coming back from Japan. Nearly 23% of the employed had at least one regular female client (Borja 1998: 206). Finally, 34% of the male prostitutes had a non paid sexual activity with men and 80% with women (spouses, fiancées, or simple acquaintances) (Borja 1998: 215).

48With these multiple bisexuals paid or unpaid relations, the use of condoms was extremely low. According to Saniel, 62% of the young men never used or seldom used a condom during anal relationships with their clients (practiced by 60% of the male prostitutes among whom 48% exclusively in active position, 10% only receptive and 2% varying) and 78% in vaginal relationships with their female clients (81% with their non paying partners) (Saniel 1996: 211). The main reasons given by the clients for the refusal were the possibilities of being better paid for 80% of the cases and the trust in the non paying partners and the decrease of pleasure for 65%. The survey of Sescon, recent, did not show significant changes in this area, the client decided. Nearly 51% of the young men had at least one experience of venereal disease since they were active in this sector (in average starting this activity one year and a half before the survey) and less than 10% had seen a private or public medical doctor (Sescon 2002: 14). For the majority, the only possibility was the self medication on the advises of their colleagues not by lack of financial resources but because of a strong feeling of personal shame (80%).

Towards a Full Blown Epidemic of AIDS?

49For decades, the Philippines seemed to have avoided the disastrous AIDS epidemics confronted by the neighboring countries. Between 1984, year of the first official case of AIDS and 2015, the Department of Health (DOH) took the census of 27,138 seropositive persons (DOH 2015). However, if this total number was still small, most of the cases had been detected between 2010 and 2015 (22,714 or 84% of all the detected cases in 30 years). Moreover, the number of individuals diagnosed with the HIV is reaching 25 per day in 2016 (3802 new cases detected from January to May 2016), from four in 2010 (Lozada 2016). The patients diagnosed with the HIV since 2010 were mostly males (21,601 or 95%) and young (30% between age 15 to 24 and 50% between 25 and 34). The means of transmission were mostly sexual (93%, of which 79% were homosexual relations), and through needles sharing (5%).

50The national and international experts agree that the Philippines have all the necessary characteritics for an explosive AIDS epidemic. If the high risk groups (female and male prostitutes) have relatively few clients, the behavioral studies show since 1997 a low use of condoms: 50% for the registered prostitutes, 78% for the freelances and 29% for the male prostitutes and their clients and much lower rates with their non-paying partners. For the clients, only 58% used a condom with a prostitute and 8% with their partners (DOH 2002: 3). The direct consequence of non-use of condom is the high rate of venereal diseases that increase the risk of HIV transmission (DOH 2002: 2). Concerning the general population, an important survey on family planning done in 2002 by the Commission on Population on 11,6 millions of married women, showed the vulnerability of the persons in a potential context of AIDS epidemic. Here, 35,1% of the married women were using an artificial method of contraception and 13,8% practice natural methods. Among the modern technics, the use of pills and female sterilization were the most favored. The condom was the lowest of the couples’choices (just before the male sterilization) with only 1,6% of the couples using it (189,000 women).

51As the Philippines is facing a growing health crisis (133,000 cases could be detected by the year 2022 if nothing is done), the Philippine Congress has stopped the funding of the contraceptives, part of the Family Planning Law voted in 2015, in the national budget of 2016. If the President Rodrigo Duterte has promised to find a budget to implement this law up to the end of his mandate in 2022, the Philippines have nevertheless wasted a lot of precious time in the fight against AIDS. The first National HIV Testing Week was organized in July 2015 but as the World Health Organization representative in the Philippines said, the country needs a bigger action if it wants to control the epidemics (Geronimo 2015).

In Conclusion

52The study of prostitution in the Philippines, through the long period of time, shows some cycles of development of this phenomenon based on the integration of the archipelago to international colonial capitalism, the militarization of the territory through garrisons and huge American military bases and finally on aggressive public policies for the touristic development and the promotion of work abroad since the Marcos years until the present administration. Facing this sector, the legislation has fluctuated, hesitating between total ban for moral reasons, general ban but with some exceptions for military reasons, and disguised legalization for medical reasons. None of these formula has reduced prostitution, the clandestinity being the daily life of the majority of the prostitutes through time. Between pragmatism and the total ban, the feminist organizations call for a third way: decriminalization of the prostitutes but reinforcing the punishments for the other actor of the prostitution sector. A priori, this proposal seems to be tempting, but sets also a practical question. Since the 1990s, the judicial system of the Philippines has been continuously reinforced to fight all the actors of the prostitution sector. But, no national or foreign clients, owners or mamasans have been condemned so far. At worst, the foreigners arrested have been deported voluntarily without prosecution. In this context, the disguised legalization of prostitution seems premature, risking even to trivialize this work and not reduce it, the other actors having, eventually, to increase their “pay off” to protect themselves, the risk factor having been in theory displaced.

53These three proposals, control of the problem (pragmatism), evacuation of the problem (total ban) and a mix of both (feminist view), are laying on the postulate that the prostitution in the Philippines is a shameful sickness which must be eradicated. But, it seems for me, that at the opposite, the explosion of this sector is only one symptom of a much deeper sickness of the Philippine society: an economic growth which fruits are shared by a small economic and political elite, excluding the majority of the people. The Philippines having, up to recently, escaped the AIDS epidemic, have avoided a strong and real national debate on public policy orientation on social and economic development and their impact to the population. Can we, for example, promote the Philippines as a touristic destination using other arguments than the white sand beaches, the coconut trees, the very active urban nightlife and the beauty, charm, kindness and warmth of the Filipinas? How would the country attract a more family oriented tourism? What can be done to help the families reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies? All these questions and many more need middle to long term strategies actively supported by the successive administrations and their social partners. Will the Filipino politicians be able to put aside their recurring internal squabbles and propose real solutions to uplift the society?

Haut de page


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Note de fin

1 Interview with Joseph Escasio, director management information system office of CFO, January 5 2005.

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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

François-Xavier Bonnet, « From Oripun to the Yapayuki-San: An Historical Outline of Prostitution in the Philippines »Moussons, 29 | 2017, 41-64.

Référence électronique

François-Xavier Bonnet, « From Oripun to the Yapayuki-San: An Historical Outline of Prostitution in the Philippines »Moussons [En ligne], 29 | 2017, mis en ligne le 27 mars 2017, consulté le 30 mars 2020. URL :; DOI:

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François-Xavier Bonnet

François-Xavier Bonnet is a geographer and research associate with the Research Institute of Contemporary Southeast Asia (IRASEC). Specialized on Philippines geopolitics, he wrote several chapters of the book Philippines Contemporaines published by IRASEC and Les Indes Savantes in 2013. He is also a consultant on Philippines affairs for French, Philippines and International institutions.

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Les contenus de la revue Moussons sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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