MANILA, Philippines – When 37-year-old Remy packed up for Singapore last August, she had no idea that she would be into the flesh trade.
Her recruiter forced her into prostitution so that she could pay the airfare and other processing expenses to the Lion City, which reached P100, 000.
Without any other means to pay her debts, Remy had to follow arrangements made by a pimp to serve “customers”in hotels.
“We had no other choice. Everything I earned (from prostituting) I surrendered it all to the recruiter,” she said in a GMA News report.
Forty-year-old Gemma, who was also lured to work in Southeast Asia’s wealthiest country, felt helpless in the two months she was held captive by a prostitution ring.
“We had to beg for our own fares. For dinner we ate leftovers,” she recalled.
Fortunately, through the help of the Philippine government and several groups, the two escaped from their captors and returned home earlier this month. However, 28 of their colleagues are still being held in a prostitution den in Singapore, awaiting rescue.
The recorded cases of Filipino women being “trafficked” to the ‘Lion City’ last year have surged to 70 percent, according to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
In a report to the DFA, the Philippine Embassy in Singapore cited “an alarming increase” in the number of victims to 212 in 2007 from 125 cases in 2006.
The report said 57 Filipinas or 27 percent of the 212 victims of human trafficking admitted to either having engaged in prostitution or coerced by Filipino and Singaporean handlers to prostitute themselves.
Of the 57 victims, the embassy said “39 were pub workers, 15 worked in the escort service, while three were pick-up girls.”
Victims are considered “trafficked” if they have been deceived, coerced, or subjected to conditions of exploitation as defined by Republic Act 9208, a Philippine law otherwise known as the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.
On the occasion of the International Day of No Prostitution on Wednesday, several women and migrants’ rights groups have urged Philippine lawmakers to push for the Anti-Prostitution Bill (House Bill 970) that would protect women like Gemma and Remy from being abused in their own country and abroad.
About 100 members of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific (CATW-AP), People’s Global Action, Alliance of Progressive Labor-Women, World March of Women-Pilipinas and Preda gathered in front of the House of Representatives in Quezon City to support the measure.
Marlene Sindayen, APL-Women spokesperson, told GMANews.TV that the policies of the government should be geared toward the creation of decent and dignified work for women.
Sindayen criticized the International Labor Organization’s report on the sex sector, which said that “adults can choose prostitution as work.”
“Government policies should be towards creation of local work with dignity… not (the) promotion of a labor export policy that results in intensified vulnerabilities of women to trafficking and sexual exploitation,” Sindayen said.
Filipina migrants are often employed in 3D jobs – dirty, dangerous and difficult – that expose them to further abuse and exploitation abroad.
Cheaper travel expenses for trafficking
Consul General Renato Villa told GMANews.TV that syndicates had taken advantage of budget air fares in smuggling female workers to Malaysia.
A local airline company for instance could charge a one-way ticket to Kota Kinabalu– one of the top destinations of trafficked Filipina prostitutes – for as low as P 1,000. Filipinas who are lured to work in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore are often diverted to Kota Kinabalu to work as prostitutes.
“Nagiging talamak dahil sa (It becomes rampant because of) budget airfares,” Villa said.
The Philippine government had earlier ordered the immigration bureau to heighten its security at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Pampanga province, which has been a favorite exit point for undocumented workers seeking work in Malaysia.
’Culture of Silence’
Jean Enriquez, CATW-AP executive director, said some of the trafficked Filipino women come from various ethnic minority groups that practice a “culture of silence.”
In her report before the 10th National Convention on Statistics, Enriquez said the “culture of silence in the ethnic groups prevent women and their families from reporting victimization to trafficking and prostitution.”
Enriquez said the indigenous women trafficked came from the following ethnic groups: B’laan, T’Boli, Kaulo, Maranao, Mandaya, Badjao, Sama, Manobo and other ethnic groups in Mindanao.
She also explained that prostituted women have an eroded sense of self. They consider themselves as “damaged goods,” and tolerate prostitution as part of reality.
“They think to themselves: ‘Why not earn from this, since I’m used daily anyway,’” Enriquez said.
In the recently concluded International Conference on Gender, Migration and Development at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza in Manila, about 436 participants urged governments to commit in creating fair and gender sensitive polices and practices.
According to the participants — some of whom came from the United Nations (UN) and ILO — sending workers, especially women, into jobs in countries where their rights and dignity are “grossly violated” should be discouraged.
They said governments should promote “gender responsive provisions” in bilateral agreements and memorandums of understanding in favor of women workers and at the same time provide alternatives for safe migration or jobs at home. – MARK JOSEPH H. UBALDE, GMANews.TV