MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang yesterday disputed the claim of US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. that at least 40 percent of male foreign tourists in the country, including Americans, come for sexual tourism.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the issue was already brought to the attention of Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, who clarified that the statistics cited by the ambassador were inaccurate.
Quoting Jimenez, Valte said the DOT’s figure shows that “shopping and sightseeing” are the dominant activities for both male and female tourists in the Philippines.
“Our message to all tourists is simple: you are welcome to the Philippines anytime for good, clean fun and excitement. If you are coming for darker reasons, we don’t want your business,” Jimenez said in a statement sent to the Palace.
“The Philippines is a beautiful country and although we would like to see the number of tourist arrivals increase, we would want that our tourists, that our friends, come here for the right reasons,” Valte noted.
She said it cannot be denied that sexual tourism is happening, including human trafficking of women and children, but the government had been exerting efforts to curb the problem.
She said the best proof that the Philippines’ actions to combat trafficking were gaining ground was the fact that the US State Department upgraded the country’s status from its watchlist.
Around 40 percent of foreign men come here for sexual tourism, Thomas said during a roundtable discussion on human trafficking organized by the Supreme Court, Philippine Judicial Academy in partnership with the Court of Appeals and the US Department of Justice Criminal Division.
Phl wholesome destination
Contrary to reports that sex tourism is rampant in the country, Tourism Assistant Secretary Benito Bengzon maintained that the Philippines is a wholesome destination for local and foreign visitors.
Bengzon said a majority of foreign tourists come here to go shopping aside from visiting famous tourist spots like Boracay.
“More than half or 56 percent of foreign tourists come here primarily to go shopping because we offer good but not expensive products,” he explained.
He said cases of sex tourism in the country are isolated.
“We do not know where he obtained his information. Our own research shows that foreign visitors come primarily to go shopping, sightseeing and visiting friends,” the DOT official said.
“Our marketing objective is to position the Philippines as a safe and wholesome destination anchored on historical sites, cultural heritage, nature-based attraction and shopping facilities,” he added.
Bengzon had earlier said that entertainment is one of the major “come-ons” of the Philippines among foreign travelers.
However, he stressed that that the country is only offering wholesome entertainment to foreign and local visitors.
Meanwhile, former tourism secretary Richard Gordon supported the claim of Thomas as he noted that cyber criminals promoting the Philippines as a “sex destination” have become more efficient than the government.
An interview with The STAR, Gordon lamented the failure of the Aquino government to promote a wholesome image for the Philippines.
“We do not have a positive image. We do not have an image at all,” said Gordon, whose ‘Wow Philippines’ slogan boosted tourism during his term as tourism secretary.
He said that most foreigners derive their information about the country from the Internet.
Gordon urged concerned government agencies like the National Bureau of Investigation to crack down on cyber criminals promoting sex tourism in the country.
He also said the increase in HIV and AIDS cases can be attributed to sex tourism. Latest statistics indicated that HIV and AIDS cases in the country already breached the 7,000 mark.
The DOT revealed during yesterday’s national meeting of the National Association of Independent Travel Agencies of the Philippines, Inc. (NAITAP) in Angeles City that the Philippines now ranks sixth among Southeast Asian nations in terms of tourist arrivals.
Socorro Caraig, chief of the DOT accreditation division, said that annual tourist arrivals in the Philippines was estimated at only 3.3 million, which is sixth in ranking below Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. Malaysia’s annual tourist arrivals reach about 25 million, she noted.