Decriminalize, not legalize, prostituted persons

Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), the government’s policy-making body on gender equality and women’s empowerment, calls for the decriminalization of persons in prostitution.

In a statement issued yesterday, PCW Executive Director Emmeline Verzosa cited that the PCW views prostitution as an exploitative system that commodifies and dehumanizes women, men and children who are being victimized within the system. “As a form of sexual exploitation, prostitution violates a person’s human rights and it reinforces the subordinate status of the more vulnerable individuals who are more often than not, women and children,” Verzosa said.

“We are advocating for the decriminalization of prostituted persons so that they will no longer be arrested, treated and fined like criminals, but we are not in favor of legalizing prostitution,” Verzosa added.

According to Verzosa, programs that provide restitution and renewal for an alternative lifestyle and livelihood for the prostituted person should be put in place instead of punishing and treating them as criminals, which lead to further discrimination and abuse. Verzosa added that “[Programs] should go hand in hand with the apprehension and prosecution of agents, recruiters, traffickers, pimps, procurers, establishment owners, customers and others who derive sexual gratification, financial gain and advancement, or any other benefit from the prostitution of others.”

“PCW supports the anti-prostitution bills in Congress which shift the criminal liability from the prostituted persons, to those who “buy” and make profit from such transactions (e.g. pimps and establishments involved in prostitution”, Verzosa said. She stated that since the 12th Congress, PCW has been lobbying for a law that would completely repeal Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code, which criminalizes women in prostitution, as well as strengthen and strictly enforce Article 341 (White Slave Trade).

In the same statement, Director Verzosa urged colleagues in government and the general public to examine the issue of prostitution and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic in a broader context by looking at the two issues from a health or bio-medical and overall human development perspectives.

“We should go beyond looking at prostitution as the reason for the spread of HIV, thereby placing greater risk of discrimination for the prostituted person. Instead, we should prioritize the implementation of existing laws and policies aimed at addressing HIV and AIDS. Funding support should also be given to programs on prevention of HIV as well as treatment, care and support for people living with HIV and AIDS,” Verzosa concluded.