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U.S. envoy regrets Philippine sex tourism remarks

MANILA, Philippines >> The U.S. ambassador to the Philippines has apologized for his recent statement that 40 percent of male tourists visit the country for sex, a government spokesman said Saturday.

Ambassador Harry Thomas sent a cellphone text message Friday to Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who was on a visit to Vietnam, expressing regret for his comments, foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said.

“I should not have used the 40 percent statistic without the ability to back it up. I regret any harm that I may have caused,” Thomas said in the text message, which Hernandez forwarded to journalists.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Tina Malone said Saturday that Thomas “offered his deep regret” for his comment. She said the United States would continue to be a “strong and dedicated partner of the Filipino people in combating the global scourges of human trafficking and sexual tourism.”

Thomas’ remark last month angered some officials who questioned its basis and said it tarnished the country’s image.

After addressing a discussion on human trafficking in the Philippines on Sept. 22, Thomas also told journalists that the sex tourists included Americans and that it was “something I’m not proud of.” He urged Philippine authorities to prosecute all foreign sex tourists, including Americans.

The Philippines is trying to revive its tourism industry and erase its 1980s reputation as a major destination for sex tourists.

As a former U.S. colony, the Philippines hosted American bases until the early 1990s, and communities around the military facilities became liberty towns and havens for prostitution that catered to American service members.

Earlier this past week, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima wrote Thomas seeking data to back up his remarks after the ambassador said the Justice Department was the source of his information.

De Lima told reporters such comments from a diplomat were offensive and demeaning since they portrayed the Philippines as a “country of sex workers.”

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