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Photo: AFP

Rise of Chinese-only prostitution catches Philippines by surprise

  • Hundreds of Chinese sex workers and brothel managers rounded up in raids described by the authorities as a ‘new development’
  • Rising vice cases are being linked to the online gambling companies that employ hundreds of thousands of often-undocumented Chinese workers
Prostitution: supposedly, it is the oldest profession in the world, yet a sudden new development in the sex trade has left Philippine law enforcers scratching their heads: the rise of Chinese prostitutes catering exclusively to Chinese customers.
Nearly 300 Chinese sex workers and their clients were rounded up in raids by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police on 12 brothels in six cities in the second half of last year, the Philippine media company ABS-CBN reported this week. Agents believe all the raided premises were being run by mainland Chinese, for Chinese clients.

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An NBI source who took part in one of the raids described the brothels – whose customers, prostitutes, managers and owners are all thought to come from mainland China – to This Week in Asia as a “new development”.

He said the managers were jailed and would be charged with human trafficking, “a non-bailable offence”, and that cases would be filed against the owners, who were not caught “because they are outside the country”.

The authorities in the Philippines have been caught off guard by the rise in exclusively Chinese prostitution. Photo: AFP

The Chinese women, whom he described as “young, maybe 18 to 30 years”, were sent to shelters, their passports confiscated and referred to the immigration bureau. The customers were not arrested, but their passport details were also sent to the immigration bureau.


The source said several government agencies had been taking action against Chinese prostitution rings.

A Chinese crime wave hits Duterte’s Philippines as Pogos grow unchecked

He described the brothel his team raided as a “huge” establishment that had a permit to operate as a karaoke bar.

“We didn’t know there was prostitution happening there,” he added, saying a tip-off had been received from Chinese and Filipino informants. “There were concerned Chinese nationals who came to us and told us, ‘you should check this out’,” he said.


The sudden proliferation of Chinese prostitution is tied to the explosive growth of Philippine offshore gaming operators, or Pogos, online gambling companies based in the Philippines that cater to players in China, where gambling is illegal.

Since coming to power in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte has bet heavily on Pogos as a lucrative income source for the Philippines. Scores of Pogos have set up shop in Manila and other cities, but most are unregistered and pay no taxes. The authorities have already shut nearly 200 such centres.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has bet heavily on the offshore gambling industry. Photo: AP

Not only does the government appear to be struggling to control the industry, but officials have also been caught unprepared by the knock-on effects the Pogos are having. Alongside the companies, hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens have streamed into the Philippines seeking employment with them, many as undocumented workers.


“Prostitution is increasing because the increasing number of [Pogo] workers … require this kind of service,” said Teresita Ang-See, chair of the anti-crime group Movement for the Restoration of Peace and Order.

Ang-See said many of the sex workers were themselves victims of the illegal gambling trade. “They’re enticed to gamble, they lose a lot of money, then they’re forced to turn in their passports and become prostitutes [to pay their debts].”

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She said her group had talked to the family of a Chinese woman in Manila who tried to kill herself “because she lost money and was being forced into prostitution”.


Some of the Chinese sex rings in the Philippines use WeChat to advertise their services.

One price list, sent to This Week in Asia by a source, offers “Chinese and Vietnamese beauties” at a plush high-rise condominium complex in the Makati district.

A 60-minute session is priced at 12,000 Philippine pesos (US$240), while a “package night” goes for 28,000 pesos. Two Philippine mobile phone numbers are provided.

A gambling website in the Philippines, with a live platform for customers to interact with the young, female Chinese dealers. Photo: Tory Ho

The source said one advertisement offered the “services” of a virgin for three months for one million pesos.


Some adverts also feature Russian and Czech women.

Sex is not the only service on offer. Some adverts offer to help Chinese customers with other problems they might encounter in the Philippines: a Chinese person detained at the airport can be released for 50,000 pesos; a Chinese national on an immigration blacklist can allegedly be removed from the list for 200,000 pesos “depending on the case”, while “facilitation agents” at the airport offer arriving Chinese nationals help in “breezing through immigration”.

“There’s a fee for everything, one advert offers a Philippine passport. There’s even a ‘court facilitation’ fee in case a Chinese national is caught,” said the source, who provided the adverts.


The Philippine authorities only learned of the use of WeChat, WeChat Wallet and QR codes after the recent raids on brothels.

Brigadier-General Dennis Agustin, head of the Philippine National Police Cyber Fraud Division, said a “China desk” would soon be set up to help Philippine police address the rising number of crimes involving Chinese nationals.

Ang-See said that “the tentacles [of Chinese crime] are reaching everywhere because of the illegal aliens, the majority of whom are in the Pogos”.

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