ENACTING AN ANTI-PROSTITUTION LAW: Addressing the System of Prostitution in the Philippines, Imposing Penalties on Perpetrators, and Providing Protective Measures and Support Services for Victims; Repealing Articles 202 and 341 of the Revised Penal Code
Prostitution is an exploitative system that commodities and dehumanizes women, men and children who are being sold within the system. As a form of sexual exploitation, prostitution violates a person’s human rights. It reinforces the subordinate status of the more vulnerable individuals who are more often, women and children; as it serves the instant sexual gratification of the more privileged “clientele” who are mostly male.
Consider the following figures:
- The Philippines ranks 4th among nine nations with the most number of children in prostitution (60,000 to 100,000 as of 1997), with Metro Manila, Angeles City, Puerto Galera in Mindoro Province, Davao and Cebu as the top five areas for child prostitution and sex tourism.(source: UNICEF and non-governmental organizations, Sol. F. Juvida, “Philippines – Children: Scourge of Child Prostitution,” IPS, 12 October 1997)
- There are around 400,000 to 500,000 prostituted persons in the country that include women, some male, transvestites and children.(source: Coalition Against Trafficking of Women Asia-Pacific (http://www.catwinternational.org/factbook/philippines.php))
Poverty is the oft-cited factor that led to the burgeoning number of prostituted persons. More often than not, women and children trapped into prostitution are poor, uneducated, and sometimes sexually abused. They have been trafficked — recruited, usually through deception, force or intimidation, and forced and kept into prostitution through threats or actual acts of violence, until such time when the victims start believing that there is no other life for them outside of prostitution.
Our existing law, specifically Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) penalizes and defines “prostitutes” as “WOMEN who, for money or profit, habitually indulge in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct.” Republic Act No. 10158 (March 27, 2012) which amended RPC Article 202, repealed only the provisions that pertain to vagrancy thus leaving behind the provision that penalizes prostitutes, notwithstanding their exploitation within the system of prostitution.
BENEFITS OF TAKING ACTION
Addressing the system of prostitution through legislation is an initial step for the Philippine Government to fulfill its national and international mandates, like:
The Philippine Plan for Gender Responsive Development (PPGD) – set the government’s policy framework on prostitution by viewing prostitution as a human rights violation and identifying the decriminalization of women in prostitution as a starting point in addressing the problem. According to the PPGD, “the desired effect of such legislation is that women and children should no longer be arrested or fined like criminals.”
Republic Act 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women (MCW) – Section 12 of this law provides for the amendment or repeal of laws that are discriminatory to women which, among others, include Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – Concluding Comments on the 5th and 6th Philippine Country Report (2006) – called on the Philippine Government to take appropriate measures to suppress the exploitation of prostituted women, including through the discouragement of the demand for prostitution.
WHAT MUST BE DONE?
We need to enact an anti-prostitution law that addresses the system of prostitution through the shifting of criminal liability from the prostituted persons, to those who “buy” people exploited in prostitution and those who make profit from such transactions (e.g. pimps and establishments involved in prostitution).
Redefine prostitution – as “any act, transaction, scheme or design involving the use or exploitation of another person, whether woman, man or child for the sexual gratification or pleasure of another in exchange for cash profit or other consideration.”
Target the demand side; criminalize those who exploit people in prostitution – The problem of prostitution will be effectively addressed if those who fuel its demand are penalized. Putting in place a national law which explicitly identifies those who buy persons in prostitution and other people and businesses involved in such activities will eventually reduce its demand.
Decriminalize women in prostitution; regard them as victims NOT criminals – RPC Article 202 which penalizes women in prostitution, should be amended. An effective Anti-Prostitution Law should recognize that prostitutes are not criminals but victims of the system of prostitution thus, they should be free from criminal liability. This, however, does not automatically exempt prostituted persons who themselves commit any of the prohibited acts of prostitution (such as pimping other people) from criminal liability.
Define person exploited in prostitution or a prostituted person – to refer to “a woman, man or child used, employed, or exploited for another person’s sexual gratification or pleasure, and for the monetary gain or profit of others.”
Establish support mechanisms for prostituted persons to get out of the system of prostitution – recognize that the road to recovery for survivors of prostitution is long and arduous. The government shall facilitate the provision of support services to victims such as psychosocial counseling for to help them in their healing process; legal assistance in order to seek redress against the perpetrators; and referral to appropriate training and other government programs that will open for them doors to economic opportunities.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
The 12th Congress became the springboard for bills that seek to address prostitution by shifting from a definition of prostitution as a crime committed by prostitutes; to a crime committed by recruiters, pimps, bar owners and customers. A number of bills were also filed in the subsequent Congresses.
In the 15th Congress, three (3) bills addressing the system of prostitution were filed in the Senate: SBN 711 by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, SBN 1131 by Sen. Manny Villar and SBN 2341 by Sen. Pia Cayetano. The bills were referred to the Committees on Justice and Human Rights, and Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws which conducted a joint public hearing and technical working group meeting on December 14, 2010 and January 19, 2011 respectively. The said Committees have put together a draft substitute bill on Anti-Prostitution. In the Lower House, HBN 1656 by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and HBN 1706 by Rep. Susan Yap were filed. The bills werereferred to the Committee on Justice, which convened a technical working group meeting on January 19, 2011.