US Ambassador Tomas apologizes to De Lima on sexual tourism


MANILA, Oct. 12 (PNA) -- United States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. has extended his apology to Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila De Lima for his recent declaration that 40 percent or four out of every 10 foreign male tourists visiting the Philippines come here for "sex tourism."


In a one-page letter to De Lima dated October 11, 2011, Thomas said he regrets issuing the statement without any factual basis during his speech at a recent roundtable discussion on "Combating Human Trafficking in the Philippines" with the Philippine Judicial Academy, Court of Appeals (CA), and the U.S. DOJ Criminal Division.


"I deeply regret that my comments regarding human trafficking and sexual tourism in the Philippines have caused angst and misunderstanding. Clearly it was not my intent to insult Filipinos, a people who I have come to admire and respect," Thomas said in his letter.


"I should not have said that '40 percent of American males come to the Philippines for sexual tourism,' without the ability to confirm those statistics," he stressed.


"I want to assure you that the U.S. Embassy Manila will continue to work with your government to combat this modern day form of slavery... Working together with honest and dedicated officials, our two governments can end this global scourge," Thomas said.


The U.S. State Department's 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report released in June this year removed the Philippines from its human trafficking watchlist following 21 convictions from July 2010 to March 2011. The TIP report covered 170 countries.


Had the Philippines remained in the watchlist, some US$ 700-800 million in U.S. humanitarian and non-trade aid would have been lost.


In his letter to De Lima, Thomas highlighted a project already underway between the U.S. 
Embassy and the DOJ for human trafficking victims.


"During our meetings this week, I shared our 2011-2012 Trafficking in Persons Plan and invited representatives from your office to join me during visits to shelters housing children who have been rescued from the horrors of sexual trafficking. Thank you for your support for our approach," Thomas said.


Many politicians and government officials have cried foul with the statement of the U.S. ambassador and they demanded that he explain his basis.


It can be recalled that Thomas claimed that the DOJ could back up his statistic since he is working closely with the DOJ in combating human trafficking.


The DOJ chairs the country's Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) and is the lead agency in monitoring the implementation of Republic Act No. 9208, otherwise known as the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.


Denying the DOJ had any statistic on tourists coming to the Philippines for sex, De Lima wrote a letter to Thomas on October 3, 2011 asking him to explain the basis for his comments.