Press Conference Statement
On the Occasion of International Women’s Day
In an En Banc meeting of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) in Malacañang on Oct. 17, 2006, Pres. Gloria Arroyo said that prostituted women are like “petty thieves and criminals.” Therefore, to her, the women victims of prostitution should remain criminalized.
The above statement was made by Ms. Arroyo in response to the women’s sectoral council representative’s request that the anti-prostitution bill be certified as a priority bill. As we have been lobbying for 8 years now for the passage of said legislation, we might have anticipated a ‘no’ for an answer, but not a statement that further stigmatizes the victims in prostitution. Her statement becomes even more ironic now that the Palace is faced with grave charges of corruption – theft of public resources for private gain –, and worse, with treason for selling out Philippine sovereignty in exchange for fat Chinese loans.
We lament the fact that Philippine government officials – including the highest one – have found an ally in the Supreme Court in covering up their wrongdoings even as the victims of prostitution continue to get arrested nightly. To date, 1,031 recorded arrests for 2006 and 2007 have been gathered by the survivors’ group Bagong Kamalayan Collective, Inc. (BKCI), with the help of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP).
When arrested, the women are given the options “to bed or to jail” by the police. Liza Gonzales, an incest survivor who was victimized in street prostitution for 7 years, has been arrested at least 40 times, jailed for a sum of at least 2 years, sexually abused by the police for at least 15 times. The women are forced to accede to the police officers’ extraction of money or sexual advances for fear of leaving behind their children for months. “Arbor” is Filipino slang for sexual favor required by police officers of victims of prostitution in exchange for jail terms.
In the words of Eunice (not her real name), another officer of BKCI, “Nasa presinto na ako noon, tapos narinig ko yung isang bos tsip nila na lumapit sa umaresto sa akin at sinabi niya na aarborin na lang daw niya ako. Walang tanung-tanong, basta ang sabi sa akin sumama na lang daw ako para huwag akong makulong. Dalidali akong pinasakay sa kotse. Labag man sa loob ko pero inisip ko na lang mas okay na ito kaysa sa makulong o magbayad, may dalawa pa akong anak na naghihintay sa akin ngayong gabi. Isang linggo niya akong ginamit nang paulit-ulit at tuwing nababagansya ako ay aarborin niya ako at dadalhin sa motel.”
Excessive Abuse of Power
Kotong or monetary extraction from the women by the police is commonplace. The women are asked to give P100-300 to be released. In the case of Gina (not her real name) who was arrested in February 2008, her cellphone and those of 2 others were taken by the police. They were told to come back and give P750 to be able to get their phones back. But when they returned to the police station, the arresting officers refused to return their phones.
Our aggregate data above only covers the cities of Manila, Quezon, Pasay, Caloocan and Makati in Metro Manila. On top of this, BKCI itself adds 68 arrests during the same time period, which were not in the records of Quezon City police. Those in the BKCI records were rescued by our organizations from jail through assertion that the women are victims and should not be jailed. We argue that pimps or buyers should be the ones arrested and prosecuted. For 2008, there are already 39 recorded arrests in Pasay for the month of January alone.
Cases Solved? O Areglo?
Highest record for vagrancy arrests was in Manila with 789 women apprehended. However, we noted that whereas the arrests recorded in Ermita station (Station 5) alone reached a total of 371, there were only 43 cases filed with the Chief Prosecutor’s Office. We wonder then as to what happened to the arrested women. Why were their cases not filed? Were they released and on what bases or conditions? Could they have suffered the same fate as Liza, Eunice, Gina and many others? Given the incidence of undocumented killings of prostituted women, we believe there is much cause to worry about numbers that do not tally, and cases that cannot be witnessed or traced.
In Pasay, the women’s desk officer attested that they are not involved in the operations involving prostituted women. According to Eunice, police officers are frequent buyers of prostituted women. The very bar in Pasay where she was trapped in was owned by a police officer. Could the women’s desk officers – who appear relatively enlightened on women’s issues as they believe that prostituted women are victims – be made to focus on domestic violence and rape issues because prostitution is an “untouchable” area? Could the police operators be settling the cases through favors or other means? The Pasay City records showed equal number of “arrests” and “solved cases.” Could they be protecting the industry where they gain both sexually and financially?
In Quezon City, where our organizations have been campaigning for a paradigm shift – to focus arrests, investigation and prosecution on the perpetrators rather than the victims – police officers have reduced the number of arrests of prostituted women for vagrancy. However, some stations charge the women with robbery or estafa, instead, in connivance with customers. In Caloocan, the arrests happen in broad daylight even, and not just at night when vagrancy as legally defined takes place. Delia (not her real name), a street prostitute in front of Grand Central, was incarcerated for 6 months for theft.
Makati City boasts of having no arrests, despite the notorious image of the city for being the haven for high-class prostitution establishments. We then ask, how is the city acting on the establishment owners and buyers of prostitution in their area?
The big picture is clear: victims of poverty and sexual abuse go to jail while the real criminals stay in power.
Prosecute the Real Perpetrators
The present term of Congress should finally repeal the Vagrancy Act and pass an anti-prostitution law that effectively protects victims. In time for the Filipino women’s celebration of International Women’s Day, we anticipate the immediate passage of our bill.
Hon. Francis Joseph “Chiz” Escudero (present in our press conference), Chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights and sponsor of the anti-prostitution bill, has agreed to include the buyers and the business among actors to be penalized in the new law that will amend Art. 341 and repeal Art. 202 of the Revised Penal Code. We are equally hopeful that public officials will not be exempted from punishment should they be found guilty as actors.
We have seen the commitment of good senators in investigating thefts of public resources. We expect to witness the same courage on their part to see to the very end what we work for: the shift of accountability from the victims to the real perpetrators within the prostitution industry.
As we would like to witness that high officials of our land be charged and held accountable for prostituting our sovereignty as a people, so do we expect all other pimps prosecuted. Only then can we restore our hope in seeking justice for the Filipino people, especially our women.
Prosecute the big-time thief and pimp in Malacañang,
Not the victims of poverty and abuse.
Pass the Anti-Prostitution Law!
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP)
Bagong Kamalayan Collective, Inc. (BKCI)
Batis – AWARE
Buklod Center – Olongapo
Development Action for Women Network (DAWN)
Fatima Allian, Mindanao
Lawig Bubai – Davao
Talikala – Davao
Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) – Women
World March of Women – Pilipinas