Like a ‘wet market’: Luxury hotels, condos being used as sex dens
#HappeningNow: Senate Committee Hearing on the link of POGO to the rise of prostitution and trafficking in the country
Posted by Senator Risa Hontiveros on Sunday, February 16, 2020
MANILA, Philippines — Law enforcers have raided prostitution dens operating in several luxury hotels and condominium buildings in Metro Manila — likening them to “wet markets.”
Joel Tovera, chief of NBI’s Anti-Organized and Transnational Crime Division, disclosed this during Monday’s Senate hearing into the purported prostitution and illegal trafficking linked to Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos).
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who led the inquiry as chair of the Senate Committee on Women, asked Tovera of the “tell-tale” signs that a hotel or condominium is being used as a prostitution den.
Based on previous raids conducted by the NBI last year, Tovera said Chinese customers frequently went “in and out” of hotels or condominiums.
“Those who are near the hotels, like taxi drivers, likened the hotels to wet markets because customers would be sent there. After an hour they would come out and other customers would arrive,” Tovera said in Filipino.
Unfortunately, he said, operations of the syndicates “spearheading the prostitution business” have “evolved.”
“What they do is they will make a hotel booking. They will say, ‘Go to the other hotel.’ But actually a booking has already been made,” Tovera explained.
He said that syndicates will often operate through cellphones.
“They will just send the photos of the sex victims, the lady prostitutes, on the cellphones so that the customers can choose from there,” he said. “Once a customer makes his choice, then he will be told to go to this hotel and this room.”
Col. Robin King Sarmiento, acting chief of the Parañaque City Police Station, said customers, mostly Chinese nationals, would usually be brought in by vans to the location where the prostitution den had been set up.
“Usually, a patron will be brought in aboard a van. This information was given to us by security guards and barangay officials,” Sarmiento said. “If they notice that those aboard the vans are different people, they will tip us that such operations of these activities are being carried out.”
Asked whether he thought that hotels and condominiums were aware that their establishments were being used as prostitution dens, Sarmiento said he was not sure.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “But they have security guards and maintenance crews that can inform the management about these kinds of activities.”
Tovera was asked the same question. He said hotels and condominiums deny any knowledge that such activities were happening inside their establishments.
“We conducted a further investigation on the areas we raided, but they denied having knowledge of the prostitution den that is being converted by the syndicate,” Tovera said. “However, I have the opinion that they have knowledge because they have all the means, they have all the time to check what’s going on in their hotels.”
“They are surprised whenever we conduct raids. They deny at first that there is an ongoing prostitution activities there. But the moment we open the door. because our asset is already there, to their surprise that uncooperative head of theirs becomes cooperative — to the point of opening all the doors,” he added.
Tovera further disclosed that they raided a hotel in Makati wherein the syndicate had occupied the whole floor of the establishment.
He said they also conducted an operation in a “condominium-type building” in Las Piñas where the prostitution activities were carried out in two stories.
Raids have also been conducted in KTVs across Metro Manila, Tovera added.
Representatives of the hotels and condominiums included in the list of raided establishments submitted by the NBI to Hontiveros’s committee were also present at the hearing.
The senator asked them if they were aware that such acts were being done in their establishments.
According to Sherwin Celestial, president of Avida Towers Asten Condominium Corp. in Makati, they do not have any knowledge that their building is being used as a prostitution den.
“We don’t have control, especially in the condominium because the owners of the units usually rent them out. So what they submit to us is their lease agreement only,” he said, speaking partly in Filipino.
Celestial assured the Senate committee, however, that they had precautionary measures in place.
“We are implementing RFID [radio frequency identification] and biometrics. And we are also increasing the CCTV visibility in the premises,” he said.
For Go Hotels, area operations manager Cindy Castro said they had no idea that such activities were being done in their establishment, in particular, their branch in Parañaque.
“In the hotel, guests just go in and out and we cater to all nationalities being it near the airport,” Castro said at the hearing.
She said hotel staff members secure documentation, such as passports, from the guests.
Monica Villanueva, Go Hotels corporate secretary, said that “a lot of safeguards” were put in place.
“Every time there’s any guest who checks in, we secure a copy of their passport. We retain it in our records. This is regardless of whether the booking is made by walk-in, by way of a travel agency, or through online booking,” she said.
Villanueva added that RFID cards would be given to guests upon checking in which they use to access their floor.
However, she admitted that in the particular case where their branch in Parañaque was raided, “policy was not strictly followed by our personnel in that particular site.”
“Had they followed policy, the guest or third parties who would enter our hotel would have been more, I guess, tailored,” she said.
“But in terms of our policies and procedures, we have always had them in place and we’ve made sure to supplement our security and our registration procedures,” she added.
Villanueva said they were currently conducting an internal investigation of all their hotel staff members in the branch where the raid was conducted.
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