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Child sex trade plagues Filipino resort


But town relies on tourism

Editor's note: The first World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children ended Saturday in Stockholm, Sweden.

August 31, 1996
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EDT (0130 GMT)

From Correspondent Maria Ressa

PAGSANJAN, Philippines (CNN) -- The town of Pagsanjan is known for its towering cliffs and waterfalls. The lush scenery once made it a popular spot for directors filming movies such as "Apocalypse Now." But the resort has acquired a reputation that is attracting a different kind of tourist seeking a different kind of industry -- child prostitution.

A decade ago, Pagsanjan, located about 60 miles south of Manila, became known as a popular location for men seeking homosexual prostitutes.


"In the '80s, Pagsanjan was declared by international gay publications as a paradise for them, a gay paradise, a haven for homosexuals," said Dr. Sonia Zaide, an activist who is particularly concerned by the expansion of the town's sex trade to include minors, mostly young boys.

Paradise for pedophiles

Pagsanjan began to attract an increasing number of pedophiles. One ad in a popular international gay magazine urges readers to visit the town, promising they can "shoot the rapids by day and shoot the boys at night."

Local pimps said tourists increasingly ask them to procure young boys.

"At the beginning, I didn't care what anyone thought," said a former pimp who asked to be identified only as Ben.

He said he told himself, "I wasn't doing anything wrong to anyone but, in the end, I realized what I was doing was against God and that I was bringing these children to harm."

When the Filipino government began a crackdown on the child sex industry in Pagsanjan, 23 people of varying nationalities were arrested.

In the home of a U.S. national, one of those arrested, police found dozens of pornographic pictures of children and 600 index cards. Each card had the name and address of a child -- most of them boys -- along with graphic descriptions of the child's sexual organs, the sexual acts performed by the youngster, fees and the dates of each encounter.


"The evidence proved that the exploitation was tremendous," said Ronnie Velasco of the Council for the Protection of Children.

Tourists needed

The government began a push to deport international visitors who came to the Philippines in search of the child sex trade. But in Pagsanjan, the crackdown posed a dilemma for local residents.

Once the town acquired a reputation as a tropical paradise for pedophiles, other tourists began to avoid it.

Tourism had been the main source of income for local officials and townspeople, many of whom were reluctant to discourage those tourists still flocking to the town -- those in search of child prostitutes.

"Because of the level of poverty still prevailing in the town and the decline of the tourist industry, many families here are still consenting to be victims," Zaide said. "And so the moral decadence that settled on the town is still with us."


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