Asia and the Pacific

Gemini News Service
21 March 1997

Sex Case Focuses Concern on Domestic Paedophilia

Authorities in the Philippines have been trying to shed the national
image of being a haven for foreigners who sexually abuse children. But
now, a case involving a politician has highlighted a home-grown problem

by Abby Tan

MANILA -- The prosecution of a Philippine congressman for the alleged rape of an 11-year-old girl has heightened public concern over a disturbing new trend of domestic child abuse.

Manila has taken steps recently to clean up the nation's reputation as a haven for foreign paedophiles. But recent studies indicate an increasing Filipino problem, often involving incest.

Some people have linked the problem to the weakening of the Philippine family unit and the trend for poorer parents to spend long periods abroad as migrant labour.

Intense public interest in the case of Congressman Romeo Jalosjos is putting pressure on the authorities to tackle the problem.

Jalosjos, a wealthy resort owner, disappeared when police issued a warrant for his arrest. He was detained three weeks later by the personal security officers of President Fidel Ramos in a beach area north of Manila.

Ramos sent in his own team after police failed to find Jalosjos. At least one senior officer is under investigation for allegedly trying to mislead the public about the legislator's whereabouts.

In court, Jalosjos claimed innocence, but refused to plead. The judge entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf, and he was remanded in custody to appear in court again on 12 March. He faces two rape charges and 12 other sex counts involving a schoolgirl, who says he paid her to have sex with him and that her stepfather acted as a pimp.

It is rare for the powerful and wealthy in the Philippines to face criminal charges. One other congressman is serving a life term for gun-running, while former First Lady Imelda Marcos won a seat in Congress while on bail appealing against an 18-year jail sentence for corruption. That appeal is three years' old and still pending.

Jalosjos is the first elected official to be charged with child sex abuse in a country trying to shed its image as a paedophiles' playground.

The authorities have been cracking down on sex tourists who visit the country because of the easy availability of child sex. A dozen foreigners have been arrested for paedophilia. Three - an Australian and two Britons - are serving 16 to 18 years in jail.

Britain has been cooperating in the clean-up, sending detectives to assist in police training, advising on judicial procedures and setting up intelligence links to help track paedophiles.

The British Ambassador to Manila, Adrian Thorpe, says several other European countries are keenly following the developments of the joint approach and may contribute to it. "We all have the same domestic problem that we are trying to grapple with," says Thorpe, referring to increases in child sex abuse in Europe.

The Philippines is not the only Asian nation with a paedophilia problem. Other countries badly affected include Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, as poverty and tourism promotion have combined to create a thriving marketplace.

In the Philippines alone, welfare officials have estimated there are more than 60,000 child prostitutes - many of them street children in the cities.

Despite the national reputation for sex tourism, many people have been shocked by the growing trend of domestic child abuse. Newspapers carry stories of rape and incest every day.

A recent joint study by the United Nations Children's Fund and the University of the Philippines Centre for Women's Studies Foundation, found that the culprits in a third of cases of child sex abuse were relatives - usually the father or uncle.

Research indicated that 70 per cent of children did not report the abuse - they suffered in silence.

In a report to Congress, Social Welfare Secretary Lina Laigo disclosed that "62.5 per cent of child-abuse cases reported in the last years were not filed in court by the children's families because of loss of interest in the case."

The term "loss of interest" usually suggests that the families were either bribed or pressured into withdrawing their complaints.

There has been little research into the causes of this social phenomenon. Speculation has centred on the breakdown of the Filipino family unit. Children from poor backgrounds often have one or both parents working abroad. Many youngsters are left in the care of relatives.

Congress has been under pressure to strengthen laws against child abuse, with some legislators even calling for the death penalty for incest and rape of children under 10. Tougher anti-incest and anti-rape laws are currently in the parliamentary pipeline.

However, the current legislative agenda is full up with tax measures and economic reforms that the current administration is eager to pass before attention is diverted to next year's presidential and congressional elections. Public interest in the Jalosjos case may serve as pressure to speed up the sex Bills. - GEMINI NEWS

About the Author: ABBY TAN is a Singaporean journalist specialising in economic and political affairs. She has been based in Manila since 1977.

Copyright: News-Scan International Ltd (1997) 21/3

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