If the blazing neon lights of P. Burgos Street in Makati testify to anything, it is the failure of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim's clampdown on prostitution. He may have turned the once notorious Ermita into a virtual ghost town, but the owners of the bars Mr Lim once referred to as 'dens of sleaze and immorality' simply upped shop and decamped to a new venue. If anything, Manila's girlie-bar scene has thrived since Mr Lim's crackdown. Instead of one red-light district, the city now has three. P. Burgos Street, a stone's throw from the glass towers of Makati, is the most popular, closely followed by the 'brothel bars' of Pasay and the upmarket karaoke lounges of Quezon City. According to Mr Lim, it should never have come to this. The Philippines' economic boom, he believed, would spell the end of prostitution. If anything, prostitution is thriving, says Cecilia Hofmann, head of a non-governmental organisation called the Coalition Against the Trafficking of Women. It has become one of the Philippines' boom businesses, protected, she alleges, by corrupt police officers, military personnel, bent immigration officials and a tourism industry that needs quick dollars, even if they come from the pockets of sex tourists. 'Too many important people are making too much money from the sex industry to want to close it down,' Ms Hofmann says. 'The government pays lip-service to doing something about it but only because it is worried about the country's image abroad. The truth is, prostitution is one of this country's greatest little earners.' Most of Manila's girlie bars are fronts for prostitution. It is the same as in almost every other Asian capital: men buy scantily clad dancers US$7 (about HK$54) 'hostess drinks' before choosing which woman they want to take out for the night. The bar charges a 'bar fine', usually about 2,000 pesos (HK$590). The woman negotiates her own rate. One such bar, Vixens on Roxas Boulevard, was raided last week by agents of the Public Assistance and Reaction Against Crime (PARAC) unit. Twenty-three women were charged with not having work permits. Their male clients cannot be charged because using a prostitute is not a crime. This, says Ms Hofmann, is a major part of the problem. Her coalition, working from offices in the new Manila business district of Ortigas, is calling for legislation to make it an offence for men to use prostitutes. 'There is prostitution because there is a male attitude that women's bodies are there for them to use sexually,' Ms Hofmann says. 'If these men, many of whom are married with families, live in fear of prosecution, of humiliation, prostitution will decline. 'We are against legalisation because it would make men believe that they have a right to use women for prostitution. But we are strongly in favour of decriminalisation for the women.' There are obstacles to decriminalisation, not least of which is the typically patriarchal attitude many Filipino men have towards women. At a recent forum held to discuss the country's prostitution and sex-tourism problem, a popular senator asked Ms Hofmann the following question: 'Surely you are not suggesting that when we raid brothels or massage parlours we arrest all the men and let all the women go scot-free?' She pointed out that for years police had been arresting all the women and letting the men go free. 'No one had ever found anything strange about that,' she said. The extent to which the sex industry thrives in the Philippines can be judged from the horrifying story about eight young provincial women who were trafficked to Nigeria. Some of them came to Ms Hofmann for assistance after they managed to escape and make their way home. Ms Hofmann's coalition offered them shelter, legal advice and medical services. It all began when a German man and his Filipina wife set up what they euphemistically termed a labour-placement agency. The woman used her family connections to find women, offering them jobs in a hotel in Lagos. For eight poor women from Bulacan, the province just outside Metro Manila, it was a dream come true. The dream ended when they found themselves kept under lock and key in a rundown Lagos house. There was no hotel. Instead they were forced to work as bar girls. Their plight only became known when one woman, a little more savvy than the others, attached herself to a long-term Chinese client and persuaded him to buy her a ticket home. 'They had no papers but that didn't matter,' Ms Hofmann explains. 'They were all whisked easily through Ninoy Aquino International Airport because an immigration officer was in on the scam. Same in Nigeria.' One of the eight went missing and has not been heard from. Another was sold by her Lagos bar to a bar in Ghana. She eventually escaped and reached a nearby embassy. The German man and his wife earned US$5,000 per woman, a sum the buyer in Lagos would easily recoup by charging bar fines to clients. 'The girls got no pay and sometimes they went hungry,' Ms Hofmann says. This is a microcosm of the horror of trafficking in humans. Ms Hofmann believes there are 'millions, simply millions' of women and children involved worldwide. 'Nepal trafficks 7,000 women to Indian brothels every year,' she says. 'In Thailand, an average government-employed male will visit a brothel three or four times a week. In the Philippines, we estimate that 300,000 women and children are involved in the sex industry.' And if those figures make grim reading, note this from a recent survey: in Asia, during any given five-day period, one million children will be used for sex by 10 million men. For many reasons there is not much being done to remedy the problem, Ms Hofmann says. 'In the Philippines lots of police and military men are involved in prostitution rings,' she says. 'And the tourism industry brings men out here in huge numbers. If sex-tourism and prostitution became illegal, as we are asking, the tourism industry would suffer.' What is needed, apart from new legislation, is a change in male attitudes. Prostitution, says Ms Hoffman, is not about women. It is about men. 'The women tell us time and time again that they need the money but they do not need the sex,' she says. 'They use many tricks, from getting the man too drunk to pretending they are very ill, to avoid the sex.' Yet men went on thinking the women were enjoying the sex, that they were doing it because they wanted to. 'The whole problem is connected to other abuse of women issues, such as incest, rape and battery,' Ms Hofmann says. 'It's going to be a long, long job of re-education for both men and women.' Police in the Philippines use the vagrancy law to arrest prostitutes. This, argues Ms Hofmann's coalition, is unconstitutional. The law states that people without means of gainful employment or income can be charged with vagrancy. 'Of course what this really means,' she says, 'is that people can be arrested for being poor.' In any case, the occasional police clampdowns - like the raid at Vixens - do nothing to deter the men. 'We want the clients to be liable and the women to be totally untouched by the law,' Ms Hofmann says. 'Of course any new legislation like this would have to be backed by more economic opportunities for women, training and support.' The law's unfairness towards women is also glaringly evident in the Philippines' concubinage laws, which state that a married woman who has an affair - defined as a single sexual act - can be jailed while a man cannot. He must be charged with the lesser offence of concubinage, and only then if he has set up his mistress in a house and is supporting her. In 1981, the Philippine government signed and ratified the United Nations Womens' Convention, which obliges all signatories to modify laws so they do not discriminate against women. 'The concubinage law is clearly discriminatory, so the Government is in flagrant contravention of its own promise,' Ms Hofmann says. 'It is typical of the attitude here that it's okay for men to misbehave, but not women.' Meanwhile, in the girlie bars of P. Burgos Street, business is booming. These clubs, most of them owned by an American, are packed seven days a week with well-heeled professional men. It is the same story in the luxury clubs of Quezon City, where foreigners and locals pay thousands of pesos to sing karaoke songs in the company of attractive 'guest-relations officers', or GROs as they are known. Ms Hoffman estimates that in Quezon City there are 600 girlie bars or 'health clubs'. In Angeles City there are at least 200. 'So much for Mr Lim's clampdown,' she says. 'This is big business earning lots of foreign currency. 'There is prostitution because there is a male attitude that there should be an availability of bodies to be used sexually. Until men change their way of thinking, and until governments penalise them for using prostitutes, women will always be the victims.'