Role of the U.S. Military in Growing the Commercial Sex Industry in the Philippines

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Soon after WWII, the Philippines signed an agreement with the US to allow "unhampered use" of 23 military facilities scattered across the country for 99 years.1 During the Vietnam War, the Philippines saw an influx of American servicemen who arrived to spend their “liberty” – a U.S. military term for rest and recreation – on the tropical islands.

In the 1980s, the U.S. Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines was the largest U.S. military base outside of the U.S. with an estimated 500 million USD generated by the brothels surrounding it. The nearby city of Olongapo soon became economically dependent on the prostitution of their women and children to sailors from this naval base. Local traffickers and brothel owners engaged in the business of buying and selling women and girls to meet the demands of the servicemen stationed there.

Even with the removal of the U.S. Bases in 1992, the area continues to serve as a military station for U.S. warships after the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was approved in 1998.2  The entertainment clubs around the former bases slowed down after 1992, but expatriates later revived the industry.3 In 1999 when U.S. forces returned to the Philippines, for example, the number of registered "entertainers" in Angeles City almost doubled, according to a U.S. military newspaper.

Today, the sex industry caters to wealthy businessmen – mostly Chinese, Taiwanese, and Filipinos – who frequent the casinos inside the skeleton of the former U.S. base.4 Additionally, U.S. sex tourists travel there to take advantage of the commercial sex industry entrenched by the once-large U.S. military presence.

Thousands of U.S. servicemen are still deployed in the Philippines where they continue to seek out local women in prostitution despite laws against it.

An estimated 800,000 women are in prostitution in the Philippines, with up to half of them believed to be underage5


1. Samaritana, at http://www.samaritana.org/a-situationer-on-prostitution-trafficking/pros...
2. Butlatlat, at  http://www.bulatlat.com/news/5-42/5-42-subic.htm
3. Newsweek, at http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/postglobal/america/2007/12/child_phil...
4. Supra note 2.
5. Magnolia Yrasuegui and Priya Esselborn, “Philippines: Women struggling to achieve sexual equality,” Deutsche Welle, December 1, 2009.