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E-mail-order brides

By Gilbert E. Lumantao

The problem is staring at our faces.

In a legal query to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the executive director of the
Commission on Filipino Overseas (CFO) of the Department of Foreign Affairs asked if a
certain foreigner can be made "liable for violating Republic Act 6955 or the Anti-Mail-Order
Bride Law when he advertised his search for a Filipino bride via the Internet?" He also asked
who may file a case against the foreigner "if the evidence warrants the filing of such a
violation of RA 6955?" The controversy arose when the wife of the foreigner died in a
vehicular accident abroad and her mother suspected foul play.

The DOJ declined to render an opinion on the questions raised on the ground that its
resolution would "depend upon a finding on questions of facts not discernible from the
query." The DOJ opinion (Opinion No. 050, s. 2000) stated that "any opinion/comments that
the Secretary of Justice might render on the query would be purely hypothetical and
anticipatory and not determinative of the question."

While we cannot fault the DOJ for the opinion (more like a non-opinion) it issued, the query
of the CFO executive director illustrates the problems facing us with regards to the
implementation and enforcement of RA 6955. How do we apply the law to websites engaged
in mail-order bride activities? Who is tasked to enforce this law? These same problems have
prompted Senate Majority Leader Loren Leviste-Legarda to file Senate Bill 1971 which seeks
to amend the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law.

The law and the proposed amendment

RA 6955 makes it illegal for a "person, natural or juridical, association, club or any other
entity" to "establish or carry on a business which has for its purpose the matching of Filipino
women for marriage to foreign nationals either on a mail-order basis or through personal
introduction."

The law also makes it illegal for anyone "to advertise, publish, print or distribute or cause
the advertisement, publication, printing or distribution of any brochure, flier, or any
propaganda material calculated to promote the prohibited acts" earlier mentioned.

Last Jan. 16, Legarda, in response to a Networks exposé on e-mail-order bride websites on
Filipino women, filed SB 1971 to amend RA 6955 and make it expressly applicable to mail-
order bride schemes using "e-mails or websites in the Internet."

SB 1971 also mandates the DFA, the Department of Transportation and Communications
(DOTC) and the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW), together with
three representatives of non-governmental organizations, to draft the implementing rules
and regulations of the Act if and when it gets enacted.

The bill was referred to the Senate committee on youth, women and family relations and
the committee on public information and mass media.
In a press statement, Legarda explained her proposed amendments by saying that "new
ways of marriage matching using cyberspace and other forms of communication
technology are beyond the reach of the law," referring to RA 6955. She also said that "the
law is flawed because of its failure to designate a specific agency that would monitor and
ensure enforcement."

Extent of the problem

NetWorks reported the existence of websites engaged in mail-order bride schemes. The
websites, namely filipina.com, filipinalady.com and filipinawife.com, are all based in Florida,
USA. This fact seems to make the websites beyond the reach of RA 6955.

One does not have to look far to see the extent of the problem. The same search on "mail-
order brides" in google.com which lists the mail-order bride websites also lists a paper
written by Robert J. Scholes, Ph.D., for the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the
US Department of Justice
(http://ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/aboutins/repsstudies/Mobapp.htm).

According to the paper, based on a scanning of the services "in which foreign women
advertise for husbands" and information provided by agencies involved in these services
themselves, "we may estimate that between 100,000 and 150,000 women from a variety of
countries annually advertise themselves as available for marriage." The paper noted that
the "Philippines provides a large number of the Asian listings, despite the fact that ‘mail-
order bride’ activities have been illegal since 1986."

The paper reports that in Cherry Blossoms, one of the largest and oldest mail-order bride
firms which has been in operation since 1974, of the 6,000 women listed at any one time,
4,600 are from Asia, of whom 3,050 are from the Philippines.

Scholes said "an analysis of the listings in recent issues of five popular catalogs featuring
1,400 Asian women found that 70 percent were Filipino (despite the fact that RA 6955
makes such listings illegal)."

Lest you don’t trust these statistics, the paper also quotes a report from the Commission on
Filipinos Overseas (Paredes-Maceda 1995) which says that mail-order brides constitute 10
percent of marriages between Filipinos and foreign nationals.

Search engines

Curiously, Philippine-based and -hosted search engines readily list mail-order bride websites
based in the US. Yehey (yehey.com), in a search using the keywords "mail-order brides,"
listed filipina.com on top of a listing of 508. The listing describes the website as follows:
"Mail-order brides from the Philippines. Devoted, cooperative, family-oriented lifetime
partners. Free photos and information." The listing categorizes the site under the "Mail-
Order" category.

Another website listed by Yehey is hymen.com. The listing describes the website as follows:
"The mission of World Class Service is to introduce girls from the Philippines who would like
to correspond with, meet and marry Western men." The listing also categorizes the site
under the "Mail-Order" category.

Still another website listed by Yehey is filipinasingles.net. It is described as follows:
"FilipinaSingles.net offers information, resources and a huge database of Filipina singles or
single Filipino women seeking single men worldwide for friendship and marriage." This time,
the listing categorizes the site under the category "Marriage."

Another Philippine-based and -hosted search engine, edsaworld.com, in a search on the
keywords "mail-order brides" also lists filipinasingles.net. The website was described as
follows: "Welcome to FilipinaSingles.net! FilipinaSingles.net’s mission is to offer valuable
information and good resources leading you to finding your ideal Filipina or Filipino woman
anywhere in the Philippines for friendship, love, romance or marriage."

I wonder if the administrators of these search engines are aware of these listings and of
Section 2(b) of RA 6955. According to this provision, it is unlawful "for a manager or officer-
in-charge or advertising manager of any newspaper, magazine, television or radio station,
or other media, or of an advertising agency, printing company or other similar entities, to
knowingly allow, or consent to, the acts prohibited in the preceding paragraph," referring to
the mail-order bride activities.

Trafficking in women

A Protocol to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime offers us some hope
in the future. The agreement, the "Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in
Persons, Especially Women and Children," seeks to "prevent and combat" trafficking in
persons and facilitate international cooperation against such trafficking.

In the Protocol, "trafficking in persons" is defined as the "recruitment, transportation,
transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other
forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or a position
of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent
of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation."

Exploitation, according to the document, "shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of
the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services,
slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs."

The Protocol requires state parties to "adopt such legislative and other measures as may be
necessary to establish as criminal offenses the conduct set forth in Article 3 of this Protocol,
when committed internationally."

The Protocol now has 101 signatories, including the Philippines and the United States. Four
states have already ratified it and are thus, now considered state parties. According to
Article 17, the Protocol will enter into force after having been ratified by 40 states.

If the Protocol will enter into force, if the Philippines and the United States become state
parties, and if we can prove that these mail-order bride websites are being used for sexual
exploitation, maybe, just maybe, we can use the Protocol to protect our women.
Recommendations

Although I believe that RA 6955 applies to mail-order bride activities using the Internet,
Legarda’s proposed amendments will certainly erase any doubt about this issue. The
language proposed, specifically "e-mails and websites in the Internet," may be improved by
saying "e-mails, websites or any other means using the Internet." Certainly, e-mails and
websites are not all that the Internet can offer.

The senator’s call for government agencies to identify the owners and operators of US-
based mail-order bride websites and their scouts here in the Philippines is sound. The
owners and operators should be barred from entering the country, their scouts arrested for
violating RA 6955.

Administrators of search engines should look into the soundness of their submission
policies. Do they really want continue listing these mail-order bride websites which, even by
just looking at their descriptions, are clearly in violation of the law.

The Philippines should also ratify and enact the necessary legislation for the "Protocol to
Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children." It
should offer additional protection to our women against sexual exploitation, slavery and
other forms of abuse.

Finally, nothing beats education. Our women should know that these mail-order matches
are not exactly safe. In fact, that is the very reason why RA 6955 was enacted. No one is
supposed to make a business out of endangering Filipinas. In the effort of making this
known, the Internet is our ally.

If the problem is on the Internet, the solution might just be on the Internet, too.

(Published by the Philippine Star on February 1, 2002. The author was then a research
assistant at the Institute of International Legal Studies of the University of the Philippines
Law Center. He now works in the private sector and may be reached through the email ad
gilbert@lumantao.com)