This piece was first published on http://globalnation.inquirer.net/14641/sex-tourism-diplomatic-ouch on October 6, 2011.
SAN FRANCISCO–American Ambassador Harry K. Thomas stepped on something then put his foot in his mouth when he told a group of judges and officials in Manila, “We know that 40 percent of foreign men, including from the U.S., come to the Philippines for sex tourism.”
I’m sure this is wrong; it can’t be more than 38 percent. Anyway, Thomas easily offended some of our morally unimpeachable lawmakers, who went livid and reprimanded him for his statement. (Way to go, Senator Ping Lacson! Rosebuds to you and colleagues Franklin Drilon and Juan Ponce Enrile for apparently defending the honor of Filipino women.)
Where did the U.S. ambassador get his statistics? Hmm. There’s nothing in the disembarkation card for visitors that could lead to his percentage figure. There’s a box to check if the purpose of your visit is “business” or “official” or “transit” or “holiday/vacation.” But there’s none for “boinking,” “boffing,” “schtupping,” “freaking,” “hookup,” “the nasty,” “stank,” “booty call,” “skeet,” “yiff,” or even the scientific term “sexual intercourse.”
Of course, it’s easy to guess what goes on in the swath of nightclubs, bars and hot-sheet motels not very far from the U.S. Embassy. But by not citing any research or survey as the source for his very specific “40 percent,” Thomas opened himself up to criticism. Besides, people might think his assertion was based only on–shall we say–anecdotal proof, gathered perhaps from carrying out things he must do for his country after hours.
Thomas could’ve avoided controversy by citing the International Labor Organization’s 1998 finding that in four Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia and the Philippines, the sex trade accounts for anywhere from 2 to 14 per cent of Gross Domestic Product. No one would have told him “How dare you!” Our senators in shining armor most likely don’t deny that the huge problem of sex tourism exists. They just didn’t like Thomas, a foreigner, saying it in the way that he said it. He’s supposed to be “diplomatic.”
Filipinos realize that dire poverty fuels the sex trade, we just don’t want it rubbed in by outsiders. Many of our commentators like to criticize “what’s wrong with us” to the point of masochism. But when some foreign correspondent writes about our “damaged culture” we’ll go on the warpath. The mind works in mysterious ways.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s response to the U.S. ambassador was truly manly. “There are also many foreigners going to America to have sex with American girls and boys. It works both ways. Even Filipinos go there to enjoy the beauty of American women,” he said. Translation: You say that about our women, I’ll say this about yours. Either way, it’s the women who get the raw deal, which recalls a WWII tale about Nazi officers who used Jewish prisoners as their personal slaves. One Nazi officer beat up the Jewish slave of another Nazi officer. “How dare him disrespect me! That’s my Jew,” cried the latter. So to get even, he shot the other Nazi’s Jew. Even-steven.
Anyway, Enrile responded with such certainty there was no need to ask him for statistical proof. Besides, Hollywood movies show that there’s a lot of casual sex in the U.S., so it must be true. (Americans also won the Vietnam War, by the way.) I’ll now look at Sir Johnny with new eyes whenever he visits the U.S. The same goes for my neighbor’s 80-year-old tatang, who drops in for a couple of months each year. (That’s him across the street, wearing a Black Sabbath T-shirt his grandson gave him.)
But boys, boys, let’s clear the air for the sake of world peace and understanding. Ambassador Thomas should’ve have stated his observation with more delicacy. And Sen. Enrile shouldn’t have generalized about why Filipino men go to America, as he may have been speaking only for himself.
We all should be comforted by the thought that our indignant senators must be doing everything in their power to eradicate the socio-economic conditions that breed the sex trade. They must be trying with all their might to drive pimps and vice lords out of business, and they were offended that Thomas wasn’t giving them enough credit for their efforts. Why else would they be so outraged, right?
In my opinion, if there’s anything the U.S. ambassador should be criticized for, it’s stereotyping the motives of foreign male tourists–including Americans–for saying many go to the Philippines only for sex. My own informal survey at San Francisco International Airport proves Thomas is way off base.
For example, a very large guy at the China Airlines check-in, Mel Orderbride of Lonesome, Nevada, said he was going to the Philippines for only one thing: “Buko juice. Why settle for the crap in a carton over here when you can have the real thang right off a tree over there. It’s good for you, if you know what I mean (wink).”
“No kidding,” said Peter Phyle, of Twisted, Utah, who’s also waiting in line. “Me I’m going to do charity work there, helping all them poor children who run around nekkid all the time. Maybe I can build a big house where we can all live together.” Why bless his soul. Sometimes you forget that altruism and kindness still exist in this world.
A psychologist who studies human behavior in his sealed up basement in Brussels was on his way to Manila, hoping to find proper subjects for his research. “I recherché specialment ze love emotion, with men, women, dead people, animals, shoes, dolls, whips. I find good hospitalite there perhaps, yes?,” said Pierre Vert, who had done field work in Bangkok and Tijuana. One day, we’ll hear of his breakthroughs.
So, Ambassador Harry Thomas, before you send conclusive reports in your diplomatic pouch to the U.S. state department, go out and do a little legwork like I did. You’ll find that most foreign males go to the Philippines for health reasons, charitable missions and even scientific research.