REVEALED: IN CITIES AND TOWNS ALL OVER THE PHILIPPINES, IRISHMEN PAY TO HAVE SEX WITH CHILDREN
September 24, 2006 ·
Sunday Tribune Investigation
September 24, 2006
By John Burke, Eoghan Rice
WHEN the sun sets over Angeles City, the neon glow from a single street illuminates everything around it. Set away from the smoke-filled traffic jams of the city’s main thoroughfares, Fields Avenue comes alive after dark.
This dusty street, which stretches for a kilometre, is lined on both sides with bars and nightclubs, each attempting to out-do the other with gaudy lights and tasteless names. Outside each bar stand groups of up to 10 girls. Their job is a straightforward one: they must encourage passing tourists to come into their premises for a drink. Once inside, the tourist will encounter another group of girls . . . often numbering 70 or 80. These girls are known as ‘entertainers’; in reality, they are prostitutes . . . girls as young as 13 sold into the sex trade and farmed out to western men looking for cheap thrills.
On Fields Avenue, you can see these men everywhere . . . on the street, where they walk hand-in-hand with local girls often under the age of 18; in the cafes, where they joke with each other about their latest exploits; and in the bars, where they stare at semi-naked girls before picking the one they want to bring back to their hotel rooms. They come primarily from Australia and the US, Britain and Germany. And increasingly, they come from Ireland.
A Sunday Tribune investigation has uncovered the shocking truth behind the Filipino sex trade . . . how children are purchased by bar owners and sold to tourists; how a hardcore group of European paedophiles has managed to evade justice; and how more and more Irishmen are travelling to the Philippines each year in order to buy the bodies of young girls.
There are perhaps more than 1,000 young girls working in the bars of Fields Avenue alone, but the problem is not confined to Angeles City. It is estimated that over 100,000 girls under the age of 18 work as prostitutes in the Philippines. In Manila, one hour’s drive from the neon lights of Fields Avenue, the Sunday Tribunewitnessed Irishmen purchasing young girls for as little as 15, while in Olongapo, a city three hours west of the capital, former ‘entertainers’ told the Sunday Tribune that they regularly had Irish customers.
An Irish problem
So frequently do Irish customers visit Filipino sex bars that the Philippines national senate has identified Ireland as one of a handful of countries driving the boom in sex tourism. Alongside countries such as America, Australia, Britain and Germany, Ireland has been found to be the origin of many of the men who travel to the Philippines in order to exploit underage girls.
The Filipino senate is to launch a major investigation into western men travelling to the Philippines for sex with underage girls, amid a major planned crackdown on widespread exploitation of underage girls. The senate intends to strengthen deportation laws, which would see any tourist found with an underage prostitute deported from the country immediately.
The move comes as a Sunday Tribune investigation into the sex industry in the Philippines has found that Irishmen are among the main clients of the brothels of Manila, Olongapo and the infamous Angeles City. We interviewed former child prostitutes who claimed that Irishmen were among the most numerous customers in the brothels and sex bars in which they worked.
The girls revealed how pimps used fake birth certificates to employ girls as young as 13, who were then paid as little as 15 by European men, including Irishmen, for sex.
These girls . . . Julie and Katie, who agreed to be photographed but asked us not to use their real names . . . told how they were conned into working as prostitutes after believing that they had secured waitressing jobs. They were just 13 and 14 years of age when they were approached by western tourists for sex (see panels on page 13).
Irishmen feature strongly among the westerners taking increasing advantage of the lack of police enforcement and lax regulation of underage girls in Filipino brothels. The Sunday Tribune encountered Irishmen openly procuring young prostitutes in Manila in particular, including one group of UK-based Irish businessmen.
One of these men, originally from Cork, told how he had travelled to the Philippines just a few days after attending the All-Ireland hurling final in Croke Park.
Australian John Shanahan, who runs the Orchid Resort hotel in Angeles City, told this newspaper that he organises one particular group of Irishmen who travel to the Philippines several times a year.
Shanahan said that Irish men were travelling to the Philippines in large numbers to stay in Angeles, the epicentre of the Filipino sex industry.
But while the sex-trading of young girls generates millions of euro, those who work in the red-light districts continue to be paid a pittance for selling their bodies. Girls working in the Bottoms club on Burgos in Makati district . . . where Manila’s main strip of brothels is located . . . told the Sunday Tribune that they are paid as little as 15 (1,000 peso) to spend a night with any Irish or English man who buys their services.
There is a uniformity to the appearance of the girls working in the clubs. Almost all appear to be in their early to mid-teens . . . the way the patrons seem to like them to look. After dancing in revealing lingerie-style outfits on stage, girls are picked by western men who sit and ogle the retinue of rotating girls.
Despite there being no obvious sign of coercion by management at the bars to force girls to go home with specific customers, the ratio of girls to clients is as high as six-to-one in some clubs and girls must compete for paying customers.
Payment is by commission only and girls are expected to shower their attention on every available man who comes through the door.
In most clubs, the girls are strictly banned by management from smoking in front of the patrons but are expected to attend to the customer’s every whim . . . which can extend from lighting a patron’s cigarette to having their breasts fondled as they sit and talk to male patrons.
If a customer sees something, or rather some girl, that he wants, all he has to do is pay around 3,000 peso ( 50) at the bar, in lieu of a non-existent drinks bill which circumvents Filipino anti-prostitution law, and then he can bring the girl back to his hotel or wherever he likes . . . returning her to the club the following afternoon.
The Filipino senate’s investigation into the exploitation of young girls, many of whom come from hopelessly impoverished backgrounds in rural Philippines, is being led by Jamby Madrigal, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Youth, Women and Family Relations. The crusading senator has set her sights on tackling one of the country’s greatest scourges of its young people.
But she insists that there are huge hurdles to overcome in tackling the country’s sex industry. In a country where corruption is a way of life, allegations remain that many bar owners run their illegal brothels with the tacit support of police and politicians, who receive either money or free girls as payment for turning a blind eye to their activities.
Police investigators have been found to let off foreign men accused of having sex with minors in exchange for sums of several thousand euro.
The situation is quite simply as bad as it could imaginably be for young girls trapped in the Filipino sex industry, with almost no protection afforded them from aggressive and deviant clients.
As well as sex tourists who travel to the Philippines in order to visit brothels, there are several thousand European, American and Australian paedophiles living in the country. By bribing local officials, these men are allowed to abuse children free from police intervention. The Sunday Tribune witnessed European men groping patently underage girls in the sex bars of Manila, Angeles and Olongapo.
Madrigal believes that the crackdown will not occur overnight. Furthermore, she warns that one issue above all must be prioritised before Irish, UK and Australian sextourists, and the openly operating brothels that they frequent, can be even adequately targeted.
“Western men who are engaging in the covert sexual exploitation of the very youngest . . . pre-pubescent girls . . . present a major issue in our country today, ” she told the Sunday Tribune. “Tackling the English and Irish and other men who travel here to buy sex with girls working in clubs . . . and many of these ladies are under 18 for certain . . . has to be longer term. In the immediate short-term, we must break the structures that protect the men who prey on pre-pubescents, little children.”
Despite prostitution being illegal, profiteering in sexual deviance is a major business in the Philippines today. Once fourth behind Thailand in the production of paedophilic pornography, the Philippines is now in second place, Madrigal informed a special senate committee hearing a fortnight ago. The senator is certain about what is driving the brothel industry . . . “foreign men who come here looking to buy sex”.
In order to gain employment in the sex bars, girls must be over the age of 18. However, it is estimated that roughly 50% of girls working as prostitutes in sex bars are minors. In many bars, this percentage is far greater. Girls under the age of 18 are told by bar owners to use fake birth certificates in order to work in the bar. One girl who offered the Sunday Tribune sex in a bar in Olongapo admitted to being just 16 years of age, while other girls said that the use of fake ID is widespread.
According to Madrigal, the use of fake identification presents a hidden danger for the underage girls . . . if they fall foul of bad elements, they can simply ‘disappear’. “Being illegal, they don’t exist, ” she warns.
Far from discouraging underage prostitution, bar owners actively seek out underage girls for employment. In the sex bars, virgins are advertised as “cherry girls” and command a higher fee than experienced prostitutes.
Following an undercover investigation by the Sunday Tribune, the anti-child abuse agency Preda is now to investigate the hiring of underage prostitutes in several bars in Olongapo. The charity, which has over 65 full-time agents investigating child prostitution and organised paedophilia, is run by Irish priest Fr Shay Cullen. The Dublin-born cleric faces ongoing threat of jail and death threats for his work in tackling the sexual abuse of young people in the southeast Asian country. Cullen received a commendation from the Filipino senate just a fortnight ago for that work, but he knows there is much, much more to be done.
“We [Preda] met an Irish guy recently who was coming out of the Molly Malone bar in Angeles and he was telling us about all the great sex he was having over here, ” says Cullen. “It is very important that we catch one or two of these guys so as word gets out that it is not safe over here [for sex tourists].”
Cullen likens the Filipino sex industry to a modern form of slavery and says that the battle against child exploitation has been hampered by the corruption of local officials.
“The favour is on the side of the sex tourist, even though they are raping and abusing our children, because the political powers are these rich families who own all the hotels and bars, ” he says. “The politicians give licences and permits to these sex bars, so they are making money out of it.”
After strong lobbying from Preda, the senate recently passed anti-child abuse legislation. However, while a handful of Filipino pimps have been prosecuted under the new law, no foreigner has yet been.
Cases against several highprofile alleged child abusers from Europe have collapsed amid claims that payments to police and officials have been made.
One group of western men the Sunday Tribune met in a bar in Angeles said that one of their friends was forced to pay a substantial amount of money to police after being caught in bed with an underage girl.
In 2003, Irishman Richard Agnew, a former RUC officer from Larne, was arrested and charged with employing underage prostitutes in sex bars in Angeles City. However, charges against Agnew were subsequently dropped. The Sunday Tribune visited the bars linked to Agnew and was offered sex by girls.
There are just two types of men who come to the bars: tourists and those who have settled in the Philippines . . . many of the latter being ex-US servicemen.
Madrigal notes that there is a sad irony to the girls’ own attitude to the men who frequent the bars, in particular towards the tourists, as opposed to the longer-term residents who tend to be older than the visitors.
“In Thailand, the [prostitutes] are more conscious that they are working in a business, ” she said. “In the Philippines, many of the girls are romantic; they somehow hope to actually meet a nice man and fall in love.”
Girls who work in Filipino sex bars are expected to work 10hour days, seven days a week. One 18-year-old prostitute working in a club in Angeles City explained how the previous club she worked in . . . a now-closed venue called My Bar . . . demanded she work 364 days a year. Her only scheduled day off was Christmas Day. Girls in other bars claimed that they had not had a day off in several months.
The country’s lucrative vice industry is complex and several of the girls working in the many brothels in all three cities told the Sunday Tribune how they were forced into prostitution after coming to large cities such as Manila from poorer villages in rural Philippines, where half the population lives below the poverty line.
Coming from traditional Roman Catholic communities perhaps explains their hope of finding a caring husband among the western patrons of the clubs. A number of the girls interviewed by the Sunday Tribune told how they took up work in the clubs as waitresses, only to be told when they started work that they were expected to ‘perform’.
According to the Commission Against the Trafficking of Women-Asia Pacific (CATW), there are 300,000 prostituted women in the Philippines. Estimates from the International Labor Organization (ILO) go as high as 400,000-500,000.
Figures reveal that the 75,000 prostituted children in the Philippines in the early 1990s had increased to over 100,000 just a few years later, according to Salinlahi, a Philippine NGO for children.
The long-term psychological damage suffered by girls working in the clubs is profound, considering that many work in the industry unbeknownst to their devoutly Catholic parents.
One survey conducted by the ILO revealed that, in the experience of most of the girls surveyed, prostitution was one of the most alienating forms of labour. Over 50% of the women surveyed in Filipino massage parlours said they carried out their work “with a heavy heart”, and 20% said they were “conscience-stricken because they still considered sex with customers a sin”.
Interviews with Filipino bar girls revealed that more than half of them felt “nothing” when they had sex with a client, while the remainder said the experience saddened them.
Impoverishment is a major reason behind the decision by girls to remain in a job they hate. Surveys of women working as masseuses indicated that over 30% of them explained their choice of work as necessary to support poor parents.
Ninety-eight percent said they took no enjoyment from the work. Shockingly, over one-third said that they had been subject to physical violence, including sexual assault and harassment.
The sources of this abuse were clients, corrupt police and gangsters.
When asked by the Sunday Tribune if they have sex with customers without protection, a significant number of the girls working in the brothels said they do.
Studies compiled by doctors at the Filipino national epidemiology centre (NEC) show a high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among sex workers, with the prevalence rate of selected infections reaching more than 40% (predominantly chlamydial infections).
Behavioral surveillance by the NEC indicates that the girls are exposed to a “high prevalence of risky sexual behaviours, such as multiple sex partners [and] non-condom use”.
Crucially, while the NEC has no monthly or annual figures on the number of young girls working in the sex industry who die as a result of poorlytreated STIs, the doctors acknowledge it is a “major cause of morbidity”.
Although prostitution is illegal under the tenets of several strict penal codes, Filipino health officials make some attempt to manage the rate of STIs among prostitutes.
This includes insisting that to be allowed work as ‘entertainers’, female workers must have a certificate of health stamped on their employment permit. NEC experts believe, however, that this requirement has driven many girls who are afraid of losing their only source of income to selfmedicate or to seek potentially ineffective private medical treatment rather than report the contraction of a sexual infection.
Despite these dangers, hundreds of thousands of women enter the Filipino sex industry out of desperation for money. In all the bars along Fields Avenue, they dance expressionless on stage, wearing nothing but a bikini, paid a pittance for their bodies to entertain rich, western tourists.
By John Burke, Eoghan Rice