Cablegate: Prostitution, Human Trafficking, and U.S. Immigration
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #1827/01 2400043
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 280043Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5013
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL IMMEDIATE 2940
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO IMMEDIATE 3724
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 001827
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KTIP CVIS RP
SUBJECT: Prostitution, Human Trafficking, and U.S. Immigration
1. Summary: As a country facing major development and governance
challenges, the Philippines remains a place where prostitution and
human trafficking continue to afflict the lives of Filipino women,
some of whom may seek better lives abroad through legal or illegal
immigration. An analysis of consular data and other sources
indicates that at least some of these women pursue U.S. immigration
to seek new economic opportunities and to escape a life of
prostitution. However the data also show that there are few
instances, if any, of women trafficked into the U.S directly from
the Philippines for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.
This cable examines the structure of the commercial sex industry in
the Philippines and its connection to human trafficking, and
provides a brief analysis of consular data on female commercial sex
workers applying for U.S. visas. End Summary.
PROSTITUTION IN THE PHILIPPINES
2. Prostitution is a crime in the Philippines, and is heavily
concentrated in the major metropolitan areas of Manila, Cebu, and
Davao, as well as in Angeles City, the region of Bicol, and the
province of Batangas. There are no recent estimates of the number
of prostitutes in the Philippines, although an International Labor
Organization study from 1998 often cited in prostitution research
estimated that the commercial sex industry in the Philippines
involved, at that time, as many as over 500,000 women and children.
NGOs say that women who serve as bar workers or "Guest Relations
Officers" (GRO) at nightclubs are at risk for engaging in
prostitution. Women in other environments may also perform work as
prostitutes, in addition to working in brothels. According to U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers at Embassy Manila
and the Visayan Forum Foundation (VFF), an NGO working to rescue
Filipino trafficking victims, there is a small but increasing number
of male prostitutes. The Embassy Manila ICE office, which
investigates these trafficking centers and prostitution cases
first-hand, has noted that the general hierarchy in a prostitution
ring consists of 15 to 300 girls who are supervised by a few
"mama-sans," or female pimps. The mama-sans answer to one or two
managers, who in turn report to the owner of the establishment.
3. While some foreign clients are known to engage in illicit sexual
activity with prostitutes, local Filipinos are actually the most
common patrons of female sex workers at bars, nightclubs, beach
resorts, health clubs, massage parlors, hotels, and brothels. VFF
estimates that about 70% of prostitution clientele are local
Filipinos, and only 30% are foreigners. NGOs ascertain that foreign
men looking for commercial sex appear to be drawn to the Philippines
because of the country's welcoming people and hospitable culture.
4. According to reports in 2007 from a USAID-funded NGO, men may
pay as little as 150 - 200 Pesos (USD 3-4) per night to engage in
sex with a woman, who may receive a payment as low as P20 (40
cents), estimates corroborated by the VFF. Prostitution may be
supported by a system of debt bondage. Though girls receive some
money for their work as prostitutes, bar or brothel owners may
charge them such exorbitant fees for housing, food, and medical
checkups that the girls remain indefinitely in debt to the owner. A
highly profitable trade, the sex industry in the Philippines remains
a significant underground enterprise.
LOCAL SUPPORT FOR THE COMMERCIAL SEX INDUSTRY
5. Embassy Manila's ICE office reports that many bars, hotels, and
privately-operated social hygiene clinics work together to
facilitate prostitution within their own business domains, each
getting a cut that incentivizes their complicity. The Health Office
of Angeles City told Post that, in that city, GROs are required by
municipal law to have weekly medical checkups to be allowed to
continue working. Other cities may have different health
requirements for GROs. While some cities implement these
regulations to preserve the social hygiene of the community, other
cities impose these requirements because the prostitution market
plays an important role in the local economy. Embassy Manila's ICE
office has noted that social hygiene clinics sometimes operate
closely with the local bars, certifying both a prostitute's sexual
health and her virginity. Local law enforcement may also buoy the
industry by providing protection for GRO bars. Bar owners pay local
authorities to overlook the illegal activity; if any trouble arises,
GROs may be at risk of arrest, while bar owners and management may
sometimes walk away unscathed.
PROSTITUTION AS A GATEWAY TO HUMAN TRAFFICKING
6. Human trafficking is the world's third most profitable organized
crime, according to the Department of State's 2009 Trafficking in
Persons Report, and in many countries is often linked to
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prostitution, as is the case in the Philippines. As noted in the
Report, Filipinos may be trafficked within the country and
internationally for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or
forced labor. VFF notes that about 85% of victims that it rescues
are internally trafficked from the Visayas and Mindanao regions.
These victims are typically girls and young women aged 12 to 22.
Trafficked women older than 22 years of age may be considered too
old for the commercial sex industry.
PROFILE OF A PROSTITUTE
7. Mission Manila's Diplomatic Security and ICE offices, through
their close work with NGOs and Philippine law enforcement, have
noted that women enter prostitution because of their economic or
social circumstances, not out of personal interest in the commercial
sex industry. According to an Embassy Manila report, many women
involved in the sex industry come from extreme poverty, often
trading sex for money to purchase basic necessities such as food and
water for themselves and their families. ICE interviews with
Philippine trafficking victims indicate that, given any other viable
option, nearly all of these women would seek another way to earn
money. Many prostitutes optimistically hope that a foreign man will
marry them, enabling their subsequent emigration from the
8. As NGO and Mission Manila reports indicate, women migrate from
economically depressed regions of the Philippines to seek decent
work in big port cities such as Manila and Cebu to support relatives
back in their hometowns. Sometimes, these women are lured by close
friends, relatives and even parents who have sold them to mama-sans
for commercial sexual exploitation. Other women, some of whom
become victims of human trafficking, go abroad through legitimate
means to countries such as Japan and Korea to work as "entertainers"
in bars and night clubs where they may be subjected to sexual abuse,
harassment, and violence.
U.S. IMMIGRATION CONCERNS
9. While Philippine prostitutes are unlikely to qualify for U.S.
visas, that does not stop them from applying, as evidenced by
Embassy Manila's consular data. Between 2000 and 2009, Embassy
Manila documented that 28 out of over 500,000 total visa applicants
were refused visas because of a 212(a)(2)(D) ineligibility,
disqualifying applicants for ten years if they have traded sex for
commercial gain. While all U.S. visa applicants are required to
submit a police background check with their applications, most of
these 28 women identified as prostitutes had no criminal records.
It is usually only through an honest admission of guilt that
consular officers are made aware of this derogatory evidence.
10. Mission Manila's ICE office believes that former sex workers in
the Philippines are most likely to attempt to immigrate to the U.S.
using K-visas (fiance visas). Of the 28 applicants refused in
Manila, 18 were applicants for fiance visas, while the remainder had
spousal immigrant visa petitions. Women applying through spousal or
other immediate relative-based visa petitions are considered to be
less likely to be engaged in prostitution. These women have
children, siblings or parents in the U.S. willing to support their
immigration and most probably receive remittances from these
relatives to support their livelihoods while the immigrant visa
applications are being processed.
11. Mission Manila law enforcement officials believe that
prostitution is only a temporary job for most prostitutes. When
these women are able to arrange better employment and earn money for
their families through other means, they usually leave the sex
12. Although the Philippines is a source country for human
trafficking victims, direct trafficking for commercial sex or forced
labor from the Philippines to the U.S. is not a widespread problem.
According to a 2002 United Nations survey on human trafficking in
the Philippines, human traffickers and their victims sometimes gain
access to the U.S. via transit countries such as Malaysia.
13. Widespread prostitution in the Philippines poses many concerns
for Mission Manila -- especially the Consular Section. The
possibility that visa applicants may be trafficked for sexual
exploitation always exists; however, as evidenced by data from
several sources, applicants from the Philippines bear a low risk for
being trafficked directly to the U.S. Embassy Manila research
indicates that women involved in this illicit sex trade, whether
deceived or forced by extreme economic circumstances, see
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prostitution as a life from which they must escape.