I first learned about Filipino teen-age girls selling their bodies on San Francisco’s Sixth Street from a Filipino senior citizen manong who viewed the pitiful sight from his hotel window. A Filipino American police officer personally confirmed the manong’s account to me and added that many of the young Pinay prostitutes are high school drop-outs strung out on dope and peddled by their pimps to pay for their drugs.
A community meeting was held last year to discuss the problem hosted by the West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center, a grassroots Filipino organization located in the South of Market district near Sixth Street. According to its website, West Bay provides programs “for children and youth such as after-school tutoring, homework assistance and other services to keep youth motivated in education, keep them off the streets and from violence, and provide guidance as they mature to adulthood.”
The hard-working executive director of this 40-year old non-profit organization is Rudy Asercion, a community activist and a close friend even though we are usually poles apart on various political issues. The latest, and probably strangest, point of dispute between us is our position on the recent remarks of US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas, Jr.
On October 4, Rudy sent out an e-blast to his yahoogroups calling on “the sovereign Filipino people to compel President Aquino to expel the US Ambassador to the Philippines for his remark that 40% of male tourists go to the Philippines for sex.”
When I disagreed with his call, Rudy responded: “Apparently, there are people among us that think the injurious remark by the US Ambassador to the Philippines does not affect the self-worth of Filipino children.”
What did the Ambassador say that would affect the self-worth of Filipino children?
According to the US Embassy website, Amb. Thomas, in a prepared speech before a group of Philippine appellate judges meeting in Manila on September 22, 2011, said:
“The evils of human trafficking are something I feel personally. Within this very city and all around the world, there are vulnerable women, men, and even children who are being bought and sold every day by human traffickers to be exploited, often forced into prostitution. This is nothing less than slavery. It is a form of slavery that predominately targets women and girls — an estimated 80 percent of transnational trafficking victims are women and girls. These victims place a powerful call for justice to all of us, and those victims urgently need our help.”
Thomas added: “corruption allows these notorious establishments to continue to operate — the local officials who look the other way or accept a payoff. These officials are doubly guilty — they have allowed trafficking to continue and they betray the public trust placed in them to protect all citizens and deserve enhanced sentences for this betrayal.”
In response to a question during the open forum that followed his remarks, Thomas said: “We know that 40% of foreign men who travel to the Philippines, including Americans, do so for sexual tourism.”
Unfortunately, it was this remark that made it to the front pages of the Manila newspapers on September 23, 2011 prompting Philippine senators Juan Ponce-Enrile, Panfilo Lacson and Chiz Escudero to pile on and call for Thomas’ resignation. My friend, Rudy, joined them and added: “Kick him out. He is not a diplomat. True or false he should not say that.”
Amb. Thomas was not the first foreigner to denounce human trafficking in the Philippines. Fr. Shay Cullen, an Irish missionary who founded the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974, has been writing about the problem for almost four decades. On March 21, 2011, Fr. Cullen posted an article, “Sex Tourism in the Philippines”, that was syndicated internationally where he wrote:
“The case of a 14 year-old child, call her Angel, who was sold by her parents to an Australian tourist at Baloy Beach, Olongapo city and made the child as his live-in sex toy caused me to speak more forcibly than usual at the International Tourist Exhibition in Berlin (ITB) held last 9 to 13 March. As a member of a panel to discuss Human Rights and Tourism, the fact that thousands of children and youth are being sold as sex-slaves to foreign tourists with the connivance of local authorities in the Philippines and elsewhere, gave a critical edge to my speech.”
“There are some people who believe that young Filipino girls, even underage, ought to be available for the sexual gratification of older Caucasian foreign men, especially if they are willing to pay large sums of money. How else can we explain the almost total absence of prosecutions and convictions of foreign child sex abusers in the Philippines?”
“Even the conviction of traffickers of persons is so low that the Philippines is on the watch list of the US State Department for non-compliance with international standards. Unless there are just prosecutions and sound convictions, the anti-trafficking and child protection law appears to be a useless scrap of paper and the system looks like a game where everyone is making money. The chief justices ought to act and save the justice system. If not, there will be many more victims like little 14 year-old Angel unless there is serious reform.”
Rudy does not need to go to Manila to understand what Amb. Thomas and Fr. Cullen were deeply concerned about. He just has to walk a block to Sixth Street in San Francisco to meet 14-year old sex-trafficking Pinay victims like Angel.
(Send comments to Rodel50@aol.com or mail them to the Law offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).