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Sex at sea: Fil-Am US Navy officer guilty of procuring prostitutes

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – No more buying sex.

In April 2015, the US Justice Department warned government staff against hiring sex workers, even when deployed in countries where prostitution is legal.

The memo comes after a string of sex trade scandals involving federal agents and military personnel.

In January this year, the US Navy made headlines when senior chief officers of the USS Germantown ship were tagged in a “prostitution research ring,” in which Filipino American Command Master Chief Petty Officer Jesus Galura pleaded guilty to conspiring to procure a prostitute.

Together with 4 other officers, Galura scoured the Internet for prostitution services in the Philippines, where they were expected to make a port visit. The online research was conducted while on board the ship.

Galura was also found guilty of sexually harassing a female shipmate, the Stars and Stripes reported in February. The case resurfaced concerns over how women are treated in the military.

Galura, with 25 years of navy service under his belt, was sentenced to a reduction in pay grade, fined $10,000, and reprimanded for his violations. He first joined the Navy in 1989 at Subic Bay, Philippines.

The USS Germantown was on Philippine shores at the same time that the USS Peleliu – the warship that had Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton on board – was. Pemberton figured in the 2014 murder of transgender Jennifer Laude, and was required to remain on board pending the completion of investigations.

The USS Germantown was eventually allowed to leave by the US Pacific Command October last year after it was established that, along with 3 other military sealift command ships, it was no longer part of the investigation.

Military, sex

Galura’s case, however, is not a first. In 2012, US Secret Service agents were suspended for inviting prostitutes to their hotel rooms while on duty in Colombia.

All these, however, only reveal what governments managed to document. Many other cases, advocates say, are left unreported. 

The US military has had a long history with prostitution and rape. Even after wars have ended, military bases around the world continue to be clouded in such accusations.

The Philippines is no stranger to such atrocities. Two cases in particular represent the situation: Laude and the 2009 Subic rape case, which both involved US marines. 

What allowed such cases to happen? Some point fingers at poverty paired with poor governance; others, at the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

The EDCA, signed in 2014, gives US troops wider access to Philippine bases and allows joint activities between the militaries of the two countries. The agreement, however, disallows the US from establishing a permanent military presence or bases in the Philippines. 

Supporters say the arrangement will benefit the Philippines more than the US. Critics, however, question its constitutionality.

In the aftermath of Laude’s murder, advocates urged the government to repeal the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), an agreement between the Philippines and the US which allows the rotation of US troops in the Philippines.

The VFA allows Pemberton to remain in US custody. In 2014, Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Charles Jose said the US decision to deny the Philippines’ request for custody was consistent with the VFA.


Beyond military matters, another question left unanswered is: Should prostitution be legalized?

In 2012, a UN report observed that the criminalization of prostitution “increases vulnerability to HIV by fuelling stigma and discrimination."

"Where sex work has been decriminalized, there is a greater chance for safer sex practices through occupational health and safety standards across the industry," the report said. "Furthermore, there is no evidence that decriminalization has increased sex work."

Some countries follow this model, but these governments can afford the UN's recommendations. How will this translate in the Philippine setting? (READ: Why punish the prostitute, not the customer?)

Galura's case, however, suggests that the legalization of prostitution does not matter. Public servants, including the military, are advised not to engage in such activities at all "because it can lead to extortion and blackmail and can support human trafficking," the US Justice Department said.