Within the context of a round table discussion with appellate court justices on combatting human trafficking, U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas was quoted as saying: “We know that 40% of foreign men who travel to the Philippines, including Americans, do so for sexual tourism.”
Concerned that this statement might affect the tourist trade, Assistant Secretary Domingo Enario of the Department of Tourism in knee-jerk fashion, immediately questioned the figures cited by Ambassador Thomas.
Senators Ponce Enrile, Panfilo Lacson and Chiz Escudero, also took potshots at the Ambassador.
Enrile said: “…I don’t think the statistics are correct.”
Lacson took a stronger position: “He should at least clarify if he was misquoted by media. Otherwise, he should apologize to the Filipino people or pack his bags and go home for being tactless, offensive and being undiplomatic.”
Escudero said that Thomas’ statement was an embarrassment to the country.
Should Ambassador Thomas apologize or resign for saying 40% of male foreign visitors are sex tourists?
Let’s be fair and look at the facts and reality. Our critical politicians and government officials appear to be confused and are missing the important issues here.
They do not deny that illegal, commercial sex is widespread and so easily accessible in the Philippines. This is an open visible obvious secret. Instead, they focus on the minutiae of statistical data.
Understandably, it is probably impossible to have exact accurate statistics of just how many foreign men come to the Philippines for sexual tourism activities. How will the researcher or statistician proceed? He can’t hang around the Ninoy Aquino International Airport foolishly asking newly arrived male tourist questions like: “Dude, did you come to the Philippines mainly for sex?”; or “Sir, are you a pedophile?”
However, the presence of so many foreigners in prostitution joints disguised as nightclubs, girlie bars and massage parlors in different Philippine cities and towns — in Pasay, Makati, Quezon City, Angeles, Olongapo, Cebu, etc. — affirms the undeniable fact that a huge number of foreign male tourists come to the Philippines for commercial illegal sex.
Thus, the real issue is not so much the pinpoint accuracy of the 40% figure cited by the Ambassador but whether or not a sizable number of male foreign tourists travel to the Philippines for illicit sex.
If it is the statistical data that was at issue, then if say, it is determined that the percentage of foreign men who travel to the Philippines is actually more than 40% but 43% — critics of the Ambassador’s statement would still say he is wrong —with them entirely missing his point — which is, that too many foreign male tourists come here for illicit sex.
Even if only 5% of foreign male visitors come to the Philippines for illicit commercial sex, that is still too much.
In the first place, before launching criticisms and catcalls, let’s look at why Ambassador Thomas’ made this statement. Did he want Filipinos to look bad? Did he have any intentions to embarrass the country? Does he hate Filipinos?
Negative to all three questions. The humanist Ambassador Thomas takes the campaign against human trafficking seriously. In speaking engagements, he frequently speaks of the many innocent young people condemned into terrible situations forced by human traffickers to become prostitutes or slave labor workers.
In a speech last week in a conference of overseas Filipino leaders from around the globe he said: “Human sex trafficking is unconscionable. It’s not just a Philippine problem, we also have it in the United States…this is a global challenge.”
It was within the setting and context of a discussion with appellate justices on the campaign against human trafficking when he made this foreign male sex tourist statement. It was taken out of context by his critics. Clearly, he made the statement not to embarrass the Philippines but to help Filipinos.
Any thinking person who does not easily impute malice on others will clearly see the Ambassador’s good intentions. His point: Many foreign male tourists come to the Philippines for illicit sex. If the market for these sex tourists continue and even increase, because of the profit involve — innocent young Filipinos will continue to be trafficked and victimized. We need to protect them.
He was not trying to drive away legitimate tourists. But what he hopes is that tourists who come for illicit sex especially pedophiles — do not come. He even encouraged the Justice Department to arrest Americans if they engage in illicit sex.
Ambassador Thomas’ position is totally in line with the Department of Tourism’s announced program of presenting wholesome nature and culture based offerings to foreign tourists. Certainly, we don’t want the money of foreign sex tourists that destroy the bodies and souls of our people. Instead of criticizing him, Department of Tourism officials should thank and honor him.
The irresponsible statement by Senator Lacson for him to apologize or pack up is totally uncalled for. He has done nothing for which he needs to apologize and correctly affirms that he will not apologize. He should not.
It is not Ambassador Thomas’ statement that should be a cause of embarrassment to us because he was merely stating the obvious. Instead, it should be the failure of our lawmakers and corrupt law enforcers to stop widespread illegal commercial sex. This situation encourages foreign sex tourists to continue to come.
One of the U.S.’ top career diplomats, Thomas became the first African American Ambassador to the Philippines. Previously, he was Director General of the Foreign Service. He has an impressive background: He graduated from the Jesuit Holy Cross College and did graduate studies at Columbia University. He was Ambassador to Bangladesh and also held posts in different countries: India, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Peru. He also served as Executive Director in the State Department and was Special Assistant to the former Secretary of State Condooleeza Rice.
A remarkable linguist, he speaks Spanish, Urdu, Bangla and now also speaks Tagalog — with a slight New York accent.
The previous Ambassador Kristie Kenney was a hard act to follow. She was very popular with Filipinos. She attended social functions, did interviews on popular TV shows, met with local leaders and watched Ateneo versus La Salle basketball games. She secretly cheered for the Ateneo team and was an avid fan of basketball star Chris Tiu.
But in the one year and a half that Ambassador Thomas has been here, he has made a tremendous impact on Philippine affairs.
Let’s just look at some of his other most recent public statements which clearly indicate his goodwill towards Filipinos.
Just days ago, he commented: “The US is very proud to ally itself with an honest government.” He praised President Aquino for bringing honesty back to government.
Let’s look at the significance and impact of this statement. First, it’s an honest diplomatic way of saying that the past administration provided dishonest leadership. Indeed, during the past administration, the Philippines had the reputation of being the second most corrupt country in Asia and arguably maybe the most corrupt as new discoveries of corruption continue to emerge.
With Ambassador Thomas’ statement to the world that we now have an honest President who’s working hard to have an honest and transparent government — the world now looks at us with more respect. Investors are now more inclined to invest in the Philippines. It also adds to Filipinos having more faith in their government.
The Ambassador also gave a short statement two weeks ago which I believe was quite remarkable indicating that he is a true humanist. He stated: “This week marks the 39th anniversary of the imposition of martial law. It was not the finest hour for the Philippines nor the United States.”
About 30,000 people were victims of the dictatorship. Ambassador Thomas’ statement was a surprisingly honest admission and condemnation of the United States’ role in propping up a corrupt and brutal dictatorship. For this alone, he deserves our highest respect.
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