Forty per cent of male tourists 'visit Philippines for sex'

Forty percent of foreign men visiting the Philippines are sex tourists, the US ambassador on Manila said yesterday in comments that were quickly disputed by the government.

US ambassador Harry Thomas told a forum of Filipino judges and officials that corrupt officials were involved in a very visible sex trade, and challenged the legal profession to eliminate the "scourge".

"We know that 40 per cent of foreign men who come to the Philippines, including from the US, come for sexual tourism. That is not something I'm proud of. That's not something you should be proud of," Thomas said.

He highlighted a high profile string of karaoke bars and clubs along Roxas Boulevard, one of Manila's main roads on which the US embassy is also located, alleging they were infamous sex establishments.

"Corruption allows these notorious establishments to continue to operate. Local officials will look the other way or accept favours. These officials are doubly guilty," he said without naming any specific officials.

Thomas praised the Philippines for boosting efforts recently against human trafficking, but stressed more had to be done and pledged US help.

"Any American caught engaged in any of these crimes or cybersex should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and we will assist (you)," Thomas said he told Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, Asia's Roman Catholic outpost, but the sex trade flourishes openly in many urban areas, including Manila.

Nevertheless, the government immediately sought to downplay Thomas's remarks.


"Certainly that is something we would like to dispute. We are not sure where his statistics are coming from," Tourism assistant secretary Domingo Enario said.

Tourism department spokesman Benito Bengzon also emphasised that sex tourism was not part of the government's marketing campaign.

The ambassador's statements come amid Philippine government attempts to revitalise the country's tourism industry, which for years has lagged behind other Asian countries.

The Philippines recorded an all-time high of 3.52 million visitors last year and the government is aiming for tourist arrivals of six million by 2016.