Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls in the Philippines
In the Philippines, there are between 300,000 and a
million women in prostitution. The estimates for the number of children
used in prostitution vary from 75,000 to 100,000.
For some years now, governmental and non-governmental
bodies have recognized issues of prostitution and trafficking under the
rubric of human rights. This development has come about as a result of the
dynamic advocacy of the women’s movement in general and certain groups,
such as the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW)-Asia Pacific,
Women’s Education, Development, Productivity and Research Organization (WEDPRO),
Buklod, the United Women of Angeles City Multi-Purpose Cooperative (Nagkakaisang
Kababaihan ng Angeles City Multi-Purpose Cooperative), an organization of
survivors of prostitution which was co-founded by WEDPRO, and the
Philippine Network Against Trafficking in Women (PNATW).
problems of sexual exploitation and violence against women have been
rightly recognized by other sectors of Philippine society. Under the
section on women, peace, and human rights, the “Philippine NGO report to
the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women” identified sexual violence
as one of the problems facing Filipino women. “Women in militarized
areas are especially vulnerable to rape and other forms of sexual
violence, aside from the usual illegal arrest, torture, and salvaging
[summary execution]. Prostitution develops around military detachments,
increasing cases of women and children abandoned by military
personnel…." (Philippine NGO Report, 1995).
It is difficult to ascertain the actual incomes derived by the
women or for that matter those who profit from the sex industry. What is
known, however, is that the communities of Angeles and Olongapo, former
sites of two of the biggest U.S. facilities in the Philippines, prior to
their withdrawal, were cities that breathed and lived and developed from
the income of prostitution, euphemistically called the “entertainment
industry." In Manila, the mayor of that city closed down the “red
light” district in Ermita, a move that merely sent the pimps, bar owners
and brothel keepers, along with the women, scampering to other areas in
the metropolis. The shift to other locations proved that it is indeed a
widespread, highly organized, and profitable industry that will not be
coerced into inactivity by a decree of banishment.
International migration has been the anchor of trafficking, not
only for the labor, but for sex as well. In 1994, some 719,602 Filipino
workers were deployed abroad in different work situations. In 1994, women
constituted more than half of these figures. While it is difficult to
ascertain how many of these numbers have been trafficked, it is easy to
see the basis for potential and real trafficking. Undocumented migrants
have been a national headache as well as an international concern. In
Japan alone, Filipino women working mainly as “entertainers”
constitute a huge 65 percent (as of January 1992) of that country’s
total intake of imported “entertainers,” many of whom come from other
Asian countries. This number is a dramatic increase from a low of a little
over 9,000 Filipinas in the early 1980s. The majority of Filipina
“entertainers” in Japan are young and vulnerable. Japan has the
biggest sex industry in Asia (WEDPRO, Prostitution and Trafficking of
Filipino Women, 1997).
If the monetary figures related to migration are one basis to
deduce the profits derived from trafficking, potential as well as real,
then the reality is staggering. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
estimate that by the 1990s overseas migrant workers, more than half of
whom are women, generate some US $2.7 billion in remittances.
Condition of Women and Girls in Prostitution
The CATW Asia Pacific branch-sponsored consultation held 17-19
April 1997 in Cebu City in the Visayas brought together direct service
organizations, which target women and girls (and some men) in
prostitution, and government agencies that directly offer programs and
services to women and girls or have something to do with the legal system
(see Appendix 1 for the list). This list compiled in the consultation
reflects the present situation of women and girls in prostitution.
The problems faced by women and girls in prostitution can be summed
up in four major categories: problems related to health; the law or the
legal system; services; and violence against women (CATW, April 1997).
Problems Related to Health
· Lack of
comprehensive health services, and not just on sexual health.
lack of knowledge of health issues, fear of doctors or medical
professionals, and useless or risky health practices.
· Drug use
and risk from drugged clients.
and compulsory check-ups for issuance of health certificates.
HIV tests and the lack of pre-test and post-test counseling, as well as
the violation of confidentiality (publicly announced results) or no
· Lack of
funds for hospitalization and health emergencies.
· Need for
AIDS or other reproductive health education.
intake of contraceptive pills and unsafe abortions.
· The lack
of privacy for health checks (e.g., in Cebu City, the pap smear test was
being conducted in a public market; in some Social Hygiene Clinics,
waiting patients could actually see the test being done on half naked
Problems Related to the Law or the Legal System
discriminatory conduct of raids, including arrests, maltreatment during
raids or while in custody, extortion for release.
held in debt bondage.
laws are unconstitutional, i.e. they violate equal protection and are
classist and sexist in their enforcement.
Problems Related to Services
· Lack of
education, especially in the areas of literacy, rights awareness, and
have the status of criminals.
support systems in the areas of counseling and legal assistance, as well
as child care.
· The need
for skills development, such as organizational and management skills,
leadership, negotiation and documentation.
Problems Related to Violence Against Women
in women by syndicates that practice active, deceptive recruitment.
abuse, i.e. no work, no food and poverty.
high rate of rape.
caused by barangay (village) officials (fees, competition, harassment).
physical, emotional, and psychological effects on the women.
“salvaging” or summary execution, especially of sick women.
report written collaboratively by WEDPRO, CATW-Asia Pacific and Buklod,
the situation of women and girls in prostitution was highlighted. The
report, “The Philippine Report—Women and Children, Militarism and
Human Rights: International Planning Meeting” May 1-4, 1997, Naha,
Okinawa) summarized the socioeconomic and cultural impact of prostitution
on the women and their communities. In a nutshell, the report underscored
the situation of sexual exploitation and its relationship to violence
against women, women’s health and the low status of women. The report
contextualized the situation of women and girls, especially during the
presence of the U.S. military bases in the country, but noted as well that
the situation has not radically changed despite the withdrawal of the
foreign troops from Philippine territory. Survivors of military
prostitution continue to feel and suffer the trauma of their situation, as
no programs were set up for them or their families after the bases closed.
Moreover, prostitution continues, albeit in the context of heightened sex
tourism in the former baselands, and within the context of “national
development” and base conversion plans.
the country, the same situation applies, and industries or businesses
related to prostitution have become lucrative economic activities for
everyone, except for the women and girls. For example, in Cebu and Boracay
in the Visayas, Davao and General Santos in Mindanao, once sleepy placid
towns, prostitution is thriving as much as in the relatively unknown town
of Laoag and the once-indigenous community of Baguio in the northern part
of Luzon, and of course in Manila and Quezon City. Honky-tonks have not
spared even the remotest barrios of the land. Further, poor men have
become active "clients". It used to be believed that only rich
men could “afford” the sexual services of women and girls in
prostitution. For many families, reliance on daughters leaving for the
cities to work in the “entertainment industry" has been seen as
another way out of poverty, despite all the attendant risks for women and
girls in the industry.
The Mail-Order Bride Phenomenon
Philippines is one of the global sources for mail-order brides. Type in
“Filipino brides” in the search mode on the Internet, and a deluge of
information flashes across the screen. The classic racism and sexism in
the descriptions about Filipinas, along with other Asian women, makes
one’s blood boil. Peddled off the Internet as “virgins,”
“loyal,” “obedient,” “loving,” “family-oriented,”
“petite,” and “comely,” the Filipino women have become mere
commodities in the worldwide sales of women via marriage. In 1989, more
than 7,000 Filipinas were married or became fiancées, most often engaged
to Australians, Germans, Taiwanese, and British nationals. The total
number of women involved reflected a 94 percent increase from the previous
year. In Australia alone, there are a total of 20,000 Filipino women in
marriage to Aussie men, some 90 percent of whom came through the system of
serial sponsorship. A 1992 study found evidence of 111 serial sponsors: 53
sponsored twice, 57 in three occasions, and one over seven times. In 1996,
an Australian report on “Violence Against Filipino Women” revealed
that Filipino women who emigrate to Australia are “particularly
vulnerable” to domestic violence. Australian immigration authorities
reported that 80 out of 110 cases they handled had domestic violence
men have also been known to particularly like Filipino women from farming
communities, especially from the northern part of the country where
indigenous communities live, such as the mountain people of the Igorot
tribe. As brides to Japanese farmers, Filipino women are believed to be
able to endure the hard work in remote rural villages of Japan where the
women are taken. In the Philippines, there is one NGO specializing in
programs and services to “Japino” children alone, children borne out
of Japanese-Filipino marriages.
1994, a noticeable number of South Korean men came to the Philippines to
begin their search for their Filipina brides; in 1995-96, hundreds of
Filipino women were married in a mass ceremony to South Korean men through
an organization called the Moonies. Protests over this wholesale of
Filipinas were launched, and the case is now in the court in the
the United States, some 50,000 mail-order brides have been reported. In
European countries, their husbands have sold a number of brides to other
men in countries such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Germany.
Filipino brides are also found in Denmark, Austria, Sweden, Italy, and
Spain, to name a few more countries. There are "pen pal"
agencies or marriage bureaus that even guarantee their clients’
satisfaction‑in the “discovery process,” the men can have sex
with the potential bride in the agencies, while the thirty day guarantee
allows the men to return their fiancées if they prove to be unworthy of
the male criteria.
case documentation of the mail-order bride phenomenon is far from being
extensive due to the private nature of the transactions and the
exploitation. Yet, of those that had been reported, the prevalence of
violence in all its forms, from physical to emotional to economic, is
something that is approximating the level of a global disaster that calls
for national and international interventions.
Sexual Exploitation and Violence Against Women
exploitation is the most fundamental situation common to all those in
prostitution, trafficking, and the “mail-order bride” system. The
Philippine Report to the Okinawa Conference stated:
“Through this phenomenon [prostitution], women’s
subordinated status further became entrenched, as female sexual service
for male needs was normalized in the paid-sex setting. The good versus bad
women dichotomy pitted women against each other and provided a scapegoat
for many social problems.”
1992, in a focus group discussion with women in the community, WEDPRO
encountered the popular thinking among local women of Angeles City—and
possibly in many societies—that prostitution allows them to be
“freed” from the sexual services that their husbands demand of them,
and these include sexual acts which the wives felt were only done by
“bad” women, the prostitutes. One woman emphatically said that she
allowed her husband to “use” a prostituted woman because to her, his
sexual practices were perversities meant only to be done to “pigs.”
harassment, abuse, and rape are normalized in prostitution. Despite the
advocacy, direct action and services of NGOs in the area of
prostitution—not that we are that many—there remains a strong and
popular notion that women in prostitution can not be raped, and when it
does happen and gets reported, prostituted women are blamed for inviting
the violence. In the WEDPRO studies of 1990 and 1993-94, a number of the
respondents pointed to abusive childhood and sexual abuse from male
relatives. In fact, their own kin and partners in intimate relationships
sold some of them to the casa.
nearly nine years of legislative advocacy, SIBOL‑acronym for a
coalition of women's groups and institutions than means "Collective
Initiatives for Change in Law and Society"‑made possible the
passage of an anti-rape bill. This action was a nodal point in our
struggle against patriarchy. The predominantly male legislators who sat in
the committee that examined and approved the bill, however, still refused
to recognized the various way through which women could be sexually abused
and attacked, or that all women, including wives could be raped. The
marital rape aspect was diluted when the bill was amended to include the
wife's pardon as an element to allow the husband-rapist to escape. The men
also found that non-penile penetration was merely an act of sexual assault
a notch lower than penile rape. Still, it was a victory in the right
and psychological abuse and economic deprivation characterized the lives
of women and girls in prostitution. Moreover, the ways in which women
experienced abortions also included various ways in which they had
internalized the violence against them.
The ill treatment they received from boyfriends, families and the medical
workers all constitute violence as well.
Reproductive Tract Infections, Sexually Transmitted Diseases and
pervasiveness of reproductive tract infections, which include sexually
transmitted diseases and HIV and AIDS haunt the lives of the women and
girls in prostitution. A woman tells of her experiences with a customer
who bar fined her for a month [meaning he bought her for a month]. She
found crab lice in his genitalia, and tried to persuade him to get
treated. She herself was infected, demanded money for treatment, and
suggested that he, too, see a doctor. He found this suggestion insulting,
and threw her out of the house into the streets, along with her clothes.
a health project began by WEDPRO in 1995 in Angeles City, the participants
who worked in the bars during the base period and up to the present openly
discussed the various reproductive tract infections and sexually
transmitted diseases which they had when they were active in the industry,
and almost all the usual types of sexually transmitted diseases had been
experienced by them. Finding medical treatment expensive, a great number
of women learned various ways to treat their sexually transmitted
diseases; some simply were too embarrassed to seek medical attention.
Abuse of antibiotics and douching were and continue to be prevalent,
exposing women to infections and illnesses. The findings in the medical
component in the project of the Philippine Network Against Trafficking in
Women (PNATW) suggest the vulnerability of women and girls to sexually
transmitted diseases and other reproductive tract infections, including
unwanted pregnancies. Violence punctuates the issue of reproductive tract
infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV/AIDS. The use of
condoms and other contraceptive barriers is something that is negotiated
delicately by the women with their clients, and in not too rare cases,
violence would accompany the negotiations for safe sex. Women are either
beaten up or their bar fines are refunded to the customers. The fatalistic
psyche of Filipinos, oftentimes attributed to the ideological content of
Hispanic colonization, contributed to putting women in vulnerable
circumstances, such as those in prostitution, at risk for unwanted
pregnancies (Okinawan Report).
are common. Abortion-related hospital admissions have become the number
two problem in hospitals in Manila and other key cities of the country. It
has become an urgent public health issue, according to the report that was
released by the Population Institute of the reputable University of the
Philippines in 1996. Some stories about unsafe abortions are definitely
traumatizing to the women, and underscore the need for reproductive health
care services, as well as the need to review the policy of illegality of
abortion. Because abortion is illegal, backyard abortionists are the last
resort of the women and girls, causing thousands of maternal deaths each
year. Unsafe abortions render women vulnerable not only to infections and
other health complications, but even to actual death. In WEDPRO’s work
with the women of Angeles City, abortion has been a real concern. One
story among the many which we have encountered emphasizes various problems
(not her real name) worked the bars of both Olongapo and Angeles in the
1980s up to the 1990s. She became pregnant and took Cytotec, an anti-ulcer
medication with an abortifacient effect. She had heard from other women in
the bars that the drug had been effective in some cases. Then, Cytotec
could be bought over the counter; even now when it is a banned drug, it is
not difficult to obtain a prescription from some doctors, for a fee. When
that was unsuccessful she had her abdomen massaged to induce abortion.
Still later, she took a labor-inducing drug, which induced labor in her
seventh month. Without any assistance, she managed her own abortion,
pulled out a dead fetus, which she had not realized had by then badly
deteriorated in her womb. She was saved from bleeding to death when her
landlord found her slumped in her room and got some help from a
traditional midwife nearby (Okinawan Report).
in prostitution have adopted and re-adopted many forms of drug-induced
abortion techniques, which they combine with traditional methods, as they
usually can not afford to go to a doctor for safe abortion procedures.
While abortion is illegal in the Philippines, women who have the means as
well as the access to safe abortion clinics could actually have this
procedure. Clearly then, abortion is not only a reproductive health issue,
it is obviously a class issue as well.
Drug and Alcohol Use
and alcohol consumption dominates the lives of the women. Most of them
regard these practices as part of their trade, and a number said that
consuming drugs and alcohol made them less shy and able to do the sexual
acts required by their clients. In the bars of Angeles and Olongapo, the
women earned their income by enticing clients to buy ladies drinks from
which they got commissions and some tips. The more they drank, the more
they earned was the philosophy. Their clients, boyfriends and colleagues,
on the other hand, pushed drugs on to them. The most commonly used were
tranquilizers, marijuana, cough syrup and shabu (metaphetamine
hydrochloride)‑a "poor person's cocaine."
women and girls experience other health problems. Anemia and respiratory
infections as well as stress-induced illnesses continue to plague the
lives of many women, as is the case with their children. Their life and
work styles aggravate their malnutrition and general ill health.
presence of Amerasian children born specifically out of unions between
Filipino women and girls and the foreign troops present during the stay of
the U.S. bases in the country is a particular concern that now faces the
women and the Philippine society in general. Estimated at 30,000,
Amerasian children receive little or no assistance at all from the U.S.
and Philippine governments, save for the very minimal and oftentimes
difficult to access educational grants from one American organization.
Moreover, Afro-Asian children are the targets of racism and ostracism.
study conducted by a task force convened to examine the phenomenon of
Amerasian children, found that two-thirds of Amerasians live with and are
being cared for by their natural mothers in single-headed households;
others are either under the care of surrogate parents, who often are
relatives of the women or with non-relatives, and some live on their own
or are in institutions. The burden of raising these children falls
predominantly on the women and their families, with no support from the
American fathers. Nearly one hundred percent of mothers of Amerasians
interviewed for the task force study said that they had no jobs or were
employed minimally. The top six needs of the Amerasian children identified
during the interviews were education, US citizenship, employment, housing,
livelihood, and skills development
of human rights violations and the various ways in which women and girls
experience violence in prostitution is beginning to be an urgent agenda of
groups working with women in this trade. At this point, I would like to
especially cite a recent report, prepared by Buklod in April 1997,
regarding the experiences of women in Olongapo bars during the period
Five of the six women were from different provinces, mostly from
the Visayas in the central part of the Philippines. Three had come to
Olongapo in the early 1970s, three in the 1980s, to work as waitresses or
household help but eventually ended up in bar work. One woman was an
Amerasian whose father was an African-American. One woman had been married
to a serviceman who divorced her when he was back in the U.S. Without
exception, the women had Amerasian children.
Most of the servicemen were young, white or black Americans. A
racial divide marked the establishment in the town of Olongapo; the area
with bars for the black Americans was known as “the jungle.” The
women, too, were known as being either for the use of whites or blacks.
Officers also frequented the bars, even admirals. Officers were known as
choosier clients for whom Madams would select “classier” women,
sometimes sending them to the officer’s hotel rooms or houses. However,
officers would also sit in the bars with their men. An officer once took
one of the women to a nearby island where military exercises were being
held, and after having sex with her, the officer asked if she wanted to
make extra money by “servicing his boys.” One woman’s regular client
was the base chaplain. All the women agreed that the Marines were
particularly bad clients, prone to rough or violent behavior.
Vietnam and Gulf War Periods.
Particularly during these times, men exhibited what the women called
“crazy” behavior, using many women a day, some as high as ten women.
There was a lot of drug use, and the men also made the women take drugs,
such as speed, hash, and cocaine. There was the case of the man who,
during sex, bit off the woman’s clitoris. She bled heavily and had to be
taken to the hospital.
The Social Hygiene Clinic was a joint U.S. Navy and Olongapo City
government operation, with the U.S. providing drugs, other medical
products and testing for HIV/AIDS. In 1987, all the women working in the
bars were ordered to submit to HIV/AIDS testing. There had been no
previous explanation or orientation nor were results later given to the
women. As regards sexually transmitted diseases, the women knew that any
woman with an STD would be publicly identified; her name, as well as the
name of the club in which she worked would be posted on base to indicate
which women the servicemen should avoid. Nevertheless, most of the men
refused to use condoms.
All the women had infections of sexually transmitted diseases and
knew of no bar women who hadn’t. The U.S.S. Midway was particularly
suspect, and women heard that half of the men on the Midway had sexually
transmitted diseases. After this ship had been in town, the incidence of
sexually transmitted diseases often rose sharply and in one bar, all of
the women tested positive after Midway men had bar fined the women. Some
men said that it served them right to be infected by men.
All the women had abortions, usually through uterine massage, which
was very painful and left the stomach black and blue, or through the use
of catheters. They knew of women who died as a result of abortions. When
women went to the hospital for treatment of complications from abortions,
they would often be made to wait and bleed or suffer pain before being
When she was very young, one of the women went to visit a Filipino woman
friend whose U.S. serviceman boyfriend happened to be visiting with a
friend. At some point, the other man began to make physical advances, and
then went on to rape her as the others looked on. It was her first sexual
encounter. She remembered how the men laughed as she left the house.
Women were often hurt, hit, or raped if they resisted anal sex,
giving blow jobs, allowing clients to put objects in their vaginas, or
other acts. A client tried to choke a woman, another bought a belt on way
to the hotel room to use on the woman, another shoved a bottle into a
woman’s vagina, and there was verbal abuse during sex. A woman’s ear
had to be sewn, at the hospital, after a client almost bit her ear off. He
gave her $200 in compensation.
If clients were angry, they falsely accused the woman to the police
or to the bar manager for stealing something from him or to the Social
Hygiene Clinic that she had infected him. For the women, this meant fines
and days of no income, or exposed the women to police abuse. In some
cases, the client had the woman fired from the club.
The men also sometimes refused to pay after sex; one man said he
had already bought her three hamburgers. While the woman slept or was out
of the room, others stole back the money that had been paid to the woman
One of the worst murders of a woman was by her steady boyfriend. She was
found with part of her uterus scraped out by a broken bottle and with
three barbecue sticks stabbed into her vagina. She was the neighbor and
friend of one of the women in the discussion group, who saw her dead body.
The serviceman was arrested and imprisoned for one year.
Another brutal murder was of a streetwalker who had police
protection. She was found killed and dismembered with her breasts cut off.
It was thought that the killers were police punishing and making an
example of her for having stopped giving them a cut of her earnings.
There were other murders where the men were given into the custody
of the Navy and sent away. In one case, the murderer got off by paying the
woman’s family about $2,000.
The men bought women because the women were cheap, because they
could make the women do things even if the women didn’t want to do them,
because they were not American women, because the men could hurt and
insult them and the women could do nothing. (Okinawan Report)
is not only on the women and girls that prostitution wrought havoc.
Communities continue to suffer not only the stigma of the industry but the
health hazards posed by the presence of military facilities. In the former
baselands in Angeles and Olongapo, the issue of toxic waste remains, and
direct service organizations, together with environmental groups, have
bonded together to expose the environmental damage wrought by the presence
of the bases in those areas, as well as demand that the U.S. and
Philippine governments be responsible for the ecological disaster that the
bases left behind. Accounts of injuries, illnesses and even deaths have
been reported in the former baselands.
Actions by NGOs
women’s organizations have taken up the issues of prostitution and/or
trafficking in the Philippine Network Against Trafficking in Women
(composed of WEDPRO, Women’s Legal Bureau, Women’s Crisis Center,
Women’s Health Care Foundation, Conspectus, Kalayaan); Samaritana and
BUKAL in Quezon City; the Nagkakaisang Kababaihan ng Angeles City
Multi-Purpose Cooperative (NKAC, or United Women of Angeles City
Multi-Purpose Cooperative) in Angeles City, Buklod in Olongapo City,
Talikala in Davao City and Forge in Cebu City. Talikala and Forge began
their work through HIV/AIDS programs. The Ateneo de Manila University and
the Center of Women’s Studies of the University of the Philippines are
two academic institutions that are conducting research on the issues.
major networks, the CATW-Asia Pacific and the PNATW, are the most active
in pushing the issues of prostitution and trafficking at national,
regional and international levels. They have taken part in press
conferences, rallies and demonstrations as well as implemented, in the
case of WEDPRO and Buklod, concrete programs on the ground to assist women
who work in the “entertainment” industry, and their families, during
the presence of the U.S. bases, and beyond.
“spring”‑is a project which addresses women in the streets, the
so-called “streetwalkers,” which in the parlance are also referred to
as “jocards.” BUKAL was established in 1995, a spin off from an
earlier project; so in one sense, BUKAL’s
herstory is much earlier than 1995. Staffed by three women, and assisted
by its Board of Directors, BUKAL conducts educational sessions and
provides services to women through its mobile center. The major objective
of BUKAL is to assist the women in setting up their own organization to
address their needs in the streets and outside of them. It covers two
major areas in Quezon City; Cubao, a major shopping and commercial
district, and Quezon Avenue, the major stretch of road that cuts through
many districts of Quezon City. The streetwalkers make use of a mobile
vehicle, which serves as a drop-in center for the women during their
“break time.” The van contains a thermos bottle, cups and saucers,
coffee, tea, choco drink, some comics and other reading materials, as well
as informational brochures on such issues as vagrancy law, violence
against women, and others. BUKAL offers referral for the women’s health
needs including HIV/AIDS.
has also recently completed research on vagrancy law, and its impact on
the women. One of the more successful activities of BUKAL is its prison
visitation, a program in which the staff visit the arrested women and give
them education and training. This activity has been most appreciated by
the women, particularly due to the boredom that accompanies such a
situation. Significantly, the data on the vagrancy issue has come from the
actual lived experience of these women in prison.
BUKAL’s annual report on “Visitation, Organizing and Advocacy Project
for Streetwalker Prostituted Women in Quezon City,” the following were
noted. In eleven months, BUKAL visited the areas ninety-seven times and
talked to a total of 249 women, eighty-one on a regular basis. The
original target was set at three hundred women. Jail visitation is also
part of BUKAL’s programs. The education modules currently being used for
education were pre-tested in jail where the women have more time for
concentrated discussion with BUKAL staff, partly because of their
detention and partly due to the absence of drugs.
Problems and Areas of Concern
is difficult to sustain in the streets because of the women’s need for
money. Staff try to hold short conversations and distribute reading
materials (on violence against women, reproductive health and rights,
sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV/AIDS). Community
visitations are also being done where the women seem to have more time for
· Drug use
as a mechanism to stay awake at night, to help the women handle difficult
situations especially with clients and harassment from the police.
actions, i.e. patrols, which the women fear will lead to their arrests and
such as battery, sexual harassment, rape, incest, family and intimate
relationships, pervades the lives of the women.
made for counseling and legal advice or action are usually not used to
maximum advantage. The women are slow to use the services of women’s
groups offering these services (e.g., one out of five women referred to a
woman’s health NGO, Likhaan, availed of its services.
Only one, to date, accessed a women’s legal NGO, the Women’s
Legal Bureau. Referrals to the Women’s Crisis Center failed because the
cases were outside staff expertise or the women simply did not go).
· In cases
where the women themselves asked for a service, e.g., an HIV test, BUKAL
feels acutely its internal resource limitations for supporting women who
may test positive.
of the program, as the project is only funded for another two years.
Strengths and Successes
· Won the
trust of the women as shown through the disclosure of their personal
stories and experiences for documentation, and as a form of counseling.
condom use for safer sex and protection of women, which they see as
controlling some aspects of their health.
contribute to BUKAL’s
newsletter, enabling them to tell their stories, providing a forum for
their creative potentials and developing a sense of ownership of the
project and this particular activity.
began its involvement with the women of Angeles City in the aftermath of
the base closings. When no programs were forthcoming from the national and
local governments, despite the promise of then President Aquino, WEDPRO
assisted a group of bar women and urban poor women in their cooperative
building. This first group has since evolved into an autonomous
organization. The first group was called Laka ng Kababaihan (Strength of
Women)-Angeles City. In 1993, WEDPRO assisted once more another group, the
Nagkakaisang Kababaihan ng Angeles City (NKAC, or United Women of Angeles
City). WEDPRO helped organize this group and just like in the first group,
extended support in organizing, educating, training, and developing micro
enterprises for the women. This support continues to be given to the NKAC.
WEDPRO also has developed micro credit facilities for the women, and
trained them in cooperative building. As part of its continuing advocacy,
WEDPRO does research on prostitution and sex trafficking, and has
published information on these topics, as well as information, education
and communication materials (posters, video, flyers, comics). WEDPRO, with
the help of another women’s NGO, put up a community-based clinic and
does health training in reproductive rights, and sexually transmitted
diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Buklod in Olongapo City has a similar
from the above activities conducted by CATW-Asia Pacific, other efforts,
both at the national and regional levels, have been addressed by the
Coalition. CATW and its network have protested to the Department of
Foreign Affairs (DFA) and have met with DFA officials to demand that the
entry of U.S. and other military vessels for “R and R” shore leaves be
disallowed. These same organizations campaigned for many years for the
rights and welfare of Filipino Amerasian children of U.S. military
the occasion of the World Congress Against Child Sexual Exploitation in
1996, CATW met with the delegation from the Pentagon to express its
concerns regarding the practices of sexual exploitative behavior of U.S.
servicemen in Asia. CATW and Buklod coordinate with the Asia-Pacific
Center for Justice and Peace in Washington, DC, which lobbies on issues of
military prostitution in connection with “R and R,” the rights of
Amerasian children, and toxic wastes left in the Philippines by the
military at and around former baselands.
The Philippine Network Against Trafficking in Women
acts as the secretariat for the “Pilot Project Against Trafficking in
Women,” a two-year project supported by the Government of Belgium
through a bilateral agreement with the Government of the Philippines. The
National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW) acts as the
executing agency for the project, on behalf of the Philippine government.
The Philippine-Belgian project is being implemented by a seven-member
network—the Ateneo de Manila University, Conspectus Foundation, Kalayaan,
Women’s Crisis Center, WEDPRO, Women’s Health Care Foundation, and
Women’s Legal Bureau—which bonded together under the name Philippine
Network Against Trafficking in Women, or the PNATW. The University of
Ghent in Belgium is the partner academe of the Ateneo de Manila
project has three major components: the preventative aspect, which is
concretized through research, community-based education and training and
advocacy; the social assistance component, which features counseling and
shelter, legal and medical assistance and referrals; and, the repression
component, which deals with legal reforms on national and international
of the groups have greater working relationships than others, in part a
result of their geographical coverage and shared perspectives. In
particular, BUKAL, Buklod,
WEDPRO, and NKAC are presently discussing more collaborative efforts in
several areas, one of which is a planned human rights documentation
project of the violations against women and girls in prostitution. While
some germinal efforts have been started, a consortium approach project
doing this documentation has been conceived and is currently under
discussion (as of June 1997). It is hoped that this consortium approach
brings together closer direct service NGOs and organizations of women in
prostitution for a more sustained, connected and heightened advocacy and
direct actions. It is also envisioned that such a coming together in a
more defined manner will bring about in the near future a coalition of
groups working in the area of prostitution and trafficking.
agenda that is currently under discussion is a sharing of a systematic
assessment of the programs of the four organizations in the areas of
socioeconomic activities for the women as alternative sources of income,
organizing, education and training, crisis intervention, support services
such as day and night care, income support, and others. The objective is
to identify the weaknesses of the programs and identify key lessons
learned for future planning. The groups are also finding ways to make
sexual exploitation issues a “national” concern and a priority for
intervention and legislative reforms.
response to the issues of sexual exploitation, particularly prostitution
and trafficking, is multi-pronged and multi-level. Its mission statement
and programs indicate a framework, which sees these issues in the context
of development and the institutions of patriarchy. Some of the responses
include the following:
and education on various women’s issues, including a deepening of their
understanding of prostitution and violence against women: in early 1990s,
we ran a twelve-week educational course; subsequent educational sessions
echoed the themes of the previous sessions; in 1995-96, we ran a
three-month training on sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS in the
context of development and patriarchy from which fifteen grassroots women
were eventually given a more in-depth training to become peer educators
and community-based health workers.
with another organization, the Women’s Health Care Foundation, WEDPRO
sponsors a clinic in Angeles City. Twice a month the clinic goes to the
communities and renders medical services to the urban poor communities,
specializing in reproductive health issues, including services for pap
smear, referral for HIV/AIDS testing, etc.; this program originated in
Olongapo City, with Buklod as the implementing organization in that city.
in the communities in Angeles City, at the moment, are four priority sites
(Balibago, Malabanas, Anunas, Capaya II)—these are the most marginal
areas in the region and where the rate of prostitution and the potential
for trafficking are highest.
with SIBOL, and other women’s organizations, the support for the policy
advocacy on the vagrancy law as pioneered by the Women’s Legal Bureau (WLB).
The vagrancy law is used as the main basis for arresting women and girls
in the streets. The Women's Legal Bureau contested the constitutionality
of the law using specific cases, and had been affirmed by a regional trial
court; however, much has to be done as this law has to be completely
amended by two houses of legislators and moved on for further testing in
other branches of the judiciary.
1992, WEDPRO has implemented micro enterprise training in management and
micro finance activities for survivors of prostitution; presently the
program includes women from poor communities in Angeles City. One of the
concrete results of this program is the establishment of food stalls in
Angeles City as the pioneer attempt to assist women survivors right after
the removal of the U.S. bases.
belongs to national and local networks in Metro Manila, Quezon City and
Angeles respectively, doing advocacy and networking on the issues of
violence against women, sex trafficking, HIV/AIDS, military base toxic
cleanup, and so forth.
along with CATW, Buklod and other organizations campaigned for programs
that can benefit Amerasian children and their caregivers. A coalition
project currently being implemented by various organizations was born out
of this advocacy. The coalition project aims to address the needs of
Amerasian children and their caregivers through educational scholarships
for the children, socioeconomic programs for them and their caregivers,
and other psycho-social activities aimed at the plight of this sector. In
particular, WEDPRO shall lead the last activity in cooperation with other
Weaknesses vs. Strengths of Programs
programs on prostitution could be considered pioneer in the field. The
integrated social and economic package of assistance, which earnestly
began in 1992, continues to take shape, and still remains unique. The
other organization, which has developed its economic component, is Buklod
in Olongapo City. As a pioneer undertaking, therefore, it was not
surprising for WEDPRO to find its programs, directly related to and
servicing women and girls in prostitution, peppered with problems
especially during the early formative years. Some of the problems that
hounded and to a degree continue to hound the programs are:
need for sustained crisis intervention for the women and girls. In
Angeles City where WEDPRO’s communities of women are, there is not a
single NGO-led crisis center, apart from the government’s Department of
Social Welfare and Development, which may need improvement in terms of a
women’s perspective in counseling and crisis intervention especially
suited to women and girls in prostitution. There is one
government-initiated NGO, which has its own building, but its officers
admit that they are not yet capable of organizing crisis centers in the
city, or of taking on programmatically women in crises. WEDPRO, however,
has served as a crisis center, accommodating, from time to time, women and
their children in crisis, although admittedly the facilities and resources
of WEDPRO are not conducive to sustain these efforts. Most of those in
crisis are therefore referred to other institutions, including the WCC.
However, the geographical distance is a problem. WEDPRO has realized that
it has to strengthen its own capability for crisis intervention, including
possibly some forms of sheltering.
need to plan and organize an adequate and comprehensive response to women
and girls escaping from prostitution and trafficking situations as well as
domestic violence. In the last few months, WEDPRO saw itself
responding, albeit unprepared organizationally, to rescue calls from women
and girls. Rescue of girls in sexual slavery from brothels or pimps calls
for a comprehensive package of security assistance, legal advice,
temporary sheltering and immediate counseling, as well as alternatives to
situations like uncooperative or violent families, and need for income,
among others. WEDPRO, in the meantime, has stopped actively pursuing
rescue operations, until the infrastructure of support is planned and set
in place. The absence of such may jeopardize a girl’s life and the lives
of other girls (or women) in sexual slavery situations, as well as the
lives of our own staff. In Angeles particularly, although there is no
distinct proof, it is widely known that brothel owners, pimps, police and
some local government officials are actually operating together and have
some links due to the profit that this industry provides
need to review existing practices of micro finances activities, which
mutually empower WEDPRO and the women. Since 1992, WEDPRO has
innovated various approaches to social credit and other economic
assistance to women and girls in prostitution, together with the urban
poor community, that genuinely and strategically benefit them. Approaches
such as no or low interest loans for micro enterprises were and are being
undertaken by WEDPRO. This approach has been critiqued by development
workers utilizing mainstream approaches, because this does not promote a
two-way empowerment, and this does not allow women to develop a level of
business sense and responsibility to the partner organization providing
the loan. Further, in terms of cost-benefit analysis, it does not deliver
back enough resources to the sponsoring organization, resources that in
turn can be used to fund administrative costs of the program, and as
another pool of cash that can be used by other women. WEDPRO’s dilemma
lies in the fact that the beneficiaries-participants in its program are
women of marginal incomes, in single-headed households buffeted by the
double day, multi-task situation, and where the possibility for earning
more income according to the needs of the household is constrained by the
low level of skills of the women and girls.
“entertainment industry" is a highly controlled industry where
police and government officials benefit along with establishment owners
and security of women and program staff. In Angeles City, for example,
drugs and sex work are so integrated that those who control the drug scene
also control the industry. WEDPRO’s advocacy for immediate reforms and
strategic planning to benefit women and girls in prostitution have
consistently met with stiff resistance from these actors. What makes it
much more difficult is that the community, which has traditionally
benefited (as to how much in real terms is another question) from the
presence of the prostitution industry, especially during the presence of
the U.S. bases in the country, offers some forms of resistance to change.
In Angeles City, the local government, together with big business, has
sold the idea to the people that without the bars and related
establishments of “entertainment,” its economy would suffer, creating
massive unemployment, etc. Moreover, up front and pro-active advocacy also
poses danger to the program, the women and the staff, as harassment in
various forms from time to time is initiated to intimidate the above.
mobile program participants. WEDPRO’s integrated package of
assistance and services presupposes a strategic timeframe and sustained
commitment of the program participants. Women and girls in prostitution,
or especially after engagement in it, face myriad problems, including
re-integration into a society that stigmatizes them, and adjustment to an
entirely different environment.
baggage of women and girls and burnout syndrome of staff. WEDPRO’s
experience shows that long-term counseling and re-integration processes
are necessary basic steps for the women to benefit fully from our
organizational programs. However, in many cases, women and girls are
afraid to confront their own demons, so to speak, and understandably so,
so that competition and a high degree of individualism are burdening the
program approaches and implementation. They are often burdened as well by
the “othering” stance where they feel that women who have not been in
prostitution may not be able to understand their difficulties. This
“othering” does not help the program personnel either, and burnout
syndrome is the result. A high level of commitment from both parties is
therefore a fundamental need, which can only come from a sense of moving
forward, learning lessons and gaining concrete material and non-material
gains, particularly for the survivors. Having come from a thoroughly
dependency-creating environment, survivors also feel strongly the need for
more “stable” circumstances, such as having a man to look after them.
Unfortunately, a number of survivors also end up with men who tend to
either take advantage of them (e.g., being economically dependent on
women’s incomes or exploitative of the emotional instability of the
survivors). Admittedly, survivors in particular crisis situations see
going back to prostitution as an easier option as the environment is
familiar, and therefore much more negotiable, than in the mainstream
of resources for program sustainability. WEDPRO, as with other
organizations, does not have the institutional funds, which greatly help
in long-term planning and experimenting with various innovations that
address particularities of women’s situations. In an organization that
sustains itself from project to project, long-term programs and projects
are nearly impossible to implement. Further on, staff development is also
jeopardized, since workers with tested skills and capability are not
enticed to stay long term with a program which can not promise
sustainability and tenure. The level of wages of NGO workers in the
Philippines is also a problem, especially in the face of continuing
poverty in the country.
On the other
hand, WEDPRO can chalk up a few successes. The strengths of the programs
of WEDPRO are in the following areas:
organizing of women and girls in prostitution, along with women in the
community, into a multi-purpose cooperative, which over time allows the
survivors, together with other members, to set up their own self-propelled
organization with its own set of activities and manage their own
resources. WEDPRO was instrumental in the setting up of Laka ng Kababaihan
ng Angeles City in 1993-94, which was the first ever cooperative of women
in the “entertainment” industry. Lakas had since been an independent
organization. The second co-op assisted by WEDPRO is the Nagkakaisang
Kababaaihan ng Angeles City (NKAC, or the United Women of Angeles City).
The NKAC has been an autonomous formation since over a year ago, and is
beginning to manage its own micro enterprises and run its own
organization, with WEDPRO as its partner.
of support services even on a limited scale. WEDPRO has provided a set
of support mechanisms for the program participants which hopefully create
an environment that allows women to take a more active role in their
empowerment; these are daycare services, medical checkups and
occasionally, when possible, free medicine, emergency health funds,
counseling and referrals.
on women’s human right. Together with other non-governmental
organizations, WEDPRO has promoted a perspective that protects and
enhances women’s human rights, particularly for those trapped in
prostitution and trafficked situations; these efforts contribute to the
international campaign to address the human rights of women and girls
victimized in sexual exploitation.
How can harm to women and girls be made visible?
are various problems that need to be addressed before women and girls can
make visible the harm done to them by sexual exploitation.
Women and girls often find it difficult to speak about their experiences
due to the stigmatization. Moreover, they themselves are not very clear on
their analysis of their own situation, which in many cases are simply a
manifestation of their self-internalized stigmatization. Women and girls
in prostitution, for example, see the violence in the industry as
“natural” hazards of the trade—“ganoon
talaga ‘yon” (“it’s really like that”), is an oft-quoted
response of the survivors and those still trapped in the industry.
Advocates can merely provide the nurturing environment for the women and
girls to come to a point in their lives where they can feel strong enough
to leave the industry and move on to other less exploitative alternatives.
· Lack or
absence of viable economic alternatives and comprehensive programs and
services to address over time the scars wrought by prostitution, which is
the material basis by which getting out of prostitution and other sexually
exploitative situations can be made possible and sustaining. Over time,
the presence of this material alternative has been seen to allow the
survivors to take control of their own lives, albeit slowly and painfully,
and begin to unravel by themselves an analysis that make the harm to them
visible, and tangible.
· A sense
of community with the women, especially in post-prostitution or
trafficking, is essential. WEDPRO’s experiences point to the need to
help survivors link up with one another in a healing process, in an
environment of trust and respect, an environment which is hardly known to
them in prostitution. Organizing survivors however, must go beyond therapy
or counseling sessions, as proven by our experience, and address long-term
solidarity and sisterhood among themselves and with the advocates.
CATW-Asia Pacific, in collaboration with HURIDOCS, a human rights
organization based in Switzerland, conducted a series of training sessions
among women’s groups, people’s organizations and human rights groups
on how to systematize human rights documentation. The current challenge
facing this task is making the system gender sensitive, a task that is
currently underway within the system; in WEDPRO and BUKAL, a total of five women have been trained.
advocacy/campaigns where the stories of survivors are told with dignity
and respect by media practitioners who have imbibed a perspective that
does not exploit for sensationalism’s sake and with a “scoop
mentality” the stories of the women and girls. Many women are appalled
by the distortion in the press about prostitution and trafficking, which
in turn generates a “blaming the victim” mentality in society.
advocacy to expand the conceptual framework of human rights and violence
against women, and to include in the programs of human rights
organizations and crisis centers appropriate and timely responses to all
forms of sexual exploitation against women and girls.
regional and international exchange of information and review of programs
and services, taking lessons from across the world, and developing a
sustained program of exposure trips to countries especially where CATW has
chapters among survivors, to ensure a continuing dialogue and solidarity.
and policy advocacy at all levels, including the United Nations, to bring
to the world’s attention the gravity of the situation.
One of the
obvious needs of WEDPRO and all other organizations working in the area of
sexual exploitation is the sharpening of its analytical framework through
the synthesis and evaluation of programs and projects on the ground. Women
who take part in the programs and projects need to play a crucial role in
the evaluation. In Beijing during the Fourth World Conference on Women,
CATW sponsored a workshop in which one of the key discussion points was
centered on the similarity between the torture-trauma of women in
political detention and the treatment of women and girls in prostitution.
This approach needs to be discussed and sharpened, and used to further
validate the experiences of survivors. Human rights violations among women
political prisoners are easy to understand and make manifest. The same
could be done in the area prostitution, and further studies in this area
of the dilemmas of WEDPRO is summed up by this reflection: there are
thousands of women and girls in prostitution, and the little that we have
reached still need so much assistance and intervention and support. If we
have been instrumental in making these few woman and girls be human again
and feel life to be worth living, have we actually succeeded? Or have we
in fact failed in the face of the continuing misery and exploitation that
thousands of others continue to bear?
The work among
and for prostituted women and children is just beginning to take roots.
The debates on whether to legalize prostitution as an industry or not have
proven to be a forum for continuing education and advocacy, despite the
insistence for a dominantly economic view of the problem. In many ways,
the work that has been promoted by the organizations working with women in
prostitution, has been a challenge as well to the entire women’s
movement in the Philippines, who for many decades had refused to see
prostitution as a central issue to women’s liberation struggle. Other
groups and people’s community-based organizations have slowly moved
towards a recognition of one of the gravest problems that beset Philippine
society, and that has marked one of the most dramatic instances of
women’s subordination here and elsewhere,
Lee, Lynn and WEDPRO.
“From Carriers to Communities, Alternative Employment, Economic
Livelihood and Human Resource Development: The NGO Version of the Bases
Conversion Program for Women.” WEDPRO, Quezon City, Philippines, March
Miralao, Virginia A.,
Celia O. Carlos and Aida Fulleros Santos. “Women Entertainers in Angeles
and Olongapo: A Survey Report.” Women’s Education, Development,
Productivity and Research Organization (WEDPRO) and Katipunan
ng Kababaihan para sa Kalayan (KALAYAAN), Quezon City, Philippines,
Pearl S. Buck Foundation
and Task Force on Amerasians. “Agencies Collaborating Together with
Amerasians, Their Families and Communities: A Project Proposal.” Manila,
“The Philippine NGO
Report on Women: Issues and Recommendations. A Document for the 1995
United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women.” Karen Tanada and
Rosalinda Ofreneo, eds. National Steering Committee of NGOs (NSC), Quezon
City, Philippines, January 1995.
Development Report 1994.” Published by the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP), Makati, Philippines, 1994.
Sturdevant, Saundra and
Brenda Stotlfuz. Let the Good Times
Roll: The Sale of Women’s Sexual Labor Around U.S. Military Bases in the
Philippines, Okinawa and the Southern Part of Korea. Berkeley,
California: U of California P, 1991.
“Summary Report on
Development and Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls: A National
Consultation on Prostitution Among Direct Service NGOs and Agencies.”
Sponsored by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific, Cebu
City, Philippines, 17-19 April 1997.
Organizing and Advocacy Project for Streetwalker Prostituted Women in
Quezon City: An Annual Report.” BUKAL,,
Quezon City, Philippines, 1997.
and Trafficking of Filipino Women: A Matter of Fact, a Matter of Flaki”
(a draft report). Quezon City, Philippines, 1997.
WEDPRO. “From Angeles to
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“Entertainment” Industry.” Quezon City, Philippines, 1995.
F. Santos is the project director of the "pilot Project Against
Trafficking in Women" currently being implemented by the Philippine
Network Against Trafficking in Women. She was the Executive Director of
WEDPRO, Inc., a Women's NGO working with women in prostitution, since the
early 1990s to 1998. Ms. Santos co-founded several women's groups in the
Philippines and a pioneer in lesbian rights advocacy. She has authored and
edited several publications, and is a multi-awarded poet and essayist.