MISUSING THE INTERNET:
THE CASE OF FILIPINO MAIL-ORDER BRIDES
By Federico V. Magdalena*
University of Hawai’i at Manoa
Filipino diaspora, or the large-scale movement of Filipinos abroad, is a 20th century phenomenon. It compares, although in lesser magnitude, with the biblical migration of the Jewish people when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews dispersed to Babylonia in 587BC. Some 10 million or 12 percent of Filipinos live in over 150 countries, with about 2.5 million residing in the United States. Recently, population movements have become "feminized,"growing in direct proportion to technological changes in travel and communication. According to a Philippine government source, 263,741 Filipino women left the country between 1989 and 2004 as fiancées or spouses of foreigners , under the "mail-order brides" arrangement. The top destinations of such brides are the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada and Germany, in that order as stated, accounting for a hefty 87 percent of this population.
This paper is an attempt to show how the internet and its abiding companion, computers, have greatly facilitated the diasporic movement among Filipino women never before imagined. Focus shall be on the so-called “mail-order brides system,” in which men and women meet one another on the internet for friendship, love, or lifetime companionship. The interaction is computer-mediated and highly selective of target clients. That is, it reaches out only to those who have knowledge of, and access to, use of this facility. Hence, women residing from remote rural areas in the Philippines are filtered out.
Another purpose of the paper is to show the “modus operandi” behind such social exchanges in cyberspace, whereby both brides and grooms willingly hunt their future partners from dozens or hundreds of available and similarly motivated persons who surf the net. Since there is practically no such thing as “mail order groom,” the discussion is undoubtedly biased toward the bride who, in most cases, is “commodified” in this type of transaction. Mail-order brides often meet their soulmates through matchmaking services provided by the internet, almost always for a fee paid for by the “purchasers” – in this case, the prospective grooms.
History of Mail-Order Brides
The mail-order brides (MOB) system is a recent formation that followed the “picture brides” after World War II. The “picture brides” accompanied the initial, large wave of Asian migration to the United States, in which marriage was arranged and facilitated by the exchange of photographs between Japanese or Korean immigrants and ladies back home. If the prospective groom “liked what he saw,” he would then send for the bride to join him in the United States .
In like manner, the MOB is a modernized adaptation of the old “picture brides” concept. But unlike its predecessor, MOB is a more powerful, and far more efficient, method of social exchange. It touches the lives of hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of people around the world in places wired to the internet. However, the nature of exchanges is unequal, and the flow of the consequent population migration one-directional (that is, from poor countries to highly developed countries).
Women, especially from the Philippines, are technically at the losing end because of these factors: lack of resources required to participate in online interactions, and nature of the social exchange itself. Seldom they own computers. Thus, most content themselves by trooping to internet cafes and pay rentals every time they go online. Others use the computer facility of their office where they work, and therefore are on duty when they log in on the internet. Also, many of them stay through the night to make way to the time difference favoring their busier male friends at the other side of the world . Finally, these Filipinas unknowingly find themselves in a bad light as “commodities” pandered to foreign males by the internet.
The Internet as Cyberchannel for MOB
The internet, which came around two decades ago, has been the most common means of matching people for marriage and companionship. Services are arranged and provided for by dedicated websites whose main purpose apparently is to make more money for themselves than make people fall in love. Thus, they generate huge profits at the expense of marriage-minded individuals who are duped into online chatting. In the United States alone, over 200 such sites are now in existence, and a fewer number devote homepages to featuring Filipino MOBs in Canada, Australia, and other developed countries . As the world is wired on the net, increasing numbers of matchmaking sites litter the cyberspace and draw countless people on the move.
Interestingly, the Philippines has been a favorite source of MOBs among Asians, whose popularity is probably matched only by Ukraine and Russia. An analysis of listings in five popular sites reveal some 1,400 Asian women, 70 percent of whom are Filipinas, with Indonesian and Thai women coming as poor second and third at 16 percent and 8 percent, respectively (data from INS, see note #1).
In the Philippines, such matchmaking services are hardly found, or operate covertly, because of the law prohibiting this form of social exchange . Some states in USA are also considering imposition of penalties to website operators who abuse people, particularly women, in light of some experiences in the past. Consider the celebrated case of Susana Remerata, a Filipino MOB, who was murdered by her husband she met online. Her husband, Timothy, abused her within weeks of her arrival in the US, and threatened to have her deported or to kill her if she tried to leave him. He made good on that promise by shooting her dead and her seven-month old fetus and two lady companions during a divorce court hearing on March 1995 .
How does the modus operandi of MOB work?
Matchmaking services are supposedly free for all who are interested. But there is a catch in it. A male member who signs up would soon realize that he could not get in touch with those lady members who signify interest in him unless he pays. A tricky arrangement, indeed! As a motivation for lady members to stay on, they sign up for free and can get in touch with any males online without this restriction. Of course, they pay for the computer rentals or internet pre-paid cards whenever they go online.
Close to half of the matchmaking websites this writer visited are run by husband-and-wife teams, the wife being a Filipino MOB herself to demonstrate that successful marriage can be had through the internet.
All these sites feature Filipinas as kind of “petite ladies, faithful, submissive, charming, culturally adaptable, family oriented, religious, and willing to do their husbands bidding.” At times, these sites range Filipinas against other women, making them appear as lovelier and more docile than, say, their more liberated or freedom-loving American counterparts.
How does one get started online? The pattern of social exchange goes briefly like this.
First, a matchmaking site induces Filipino ladies to sign up for free, writing out their profile and indicating the type of men whom they want to meet and become friends or soulmates. For better effect, beautiful Filipinas can even post their photographs, or show themselves on a webcam during the chat, to enhance their appeal and increase their chances of being selected.
Then, the ladies log in on a dating service site and initiate the social exchange by writing a short message to the men they like, which the latter reciprocate if they have paid for the service. Others, especially those who have appeal and look sexy, would just wait and screen out those they would not like to respond to. A very pretty lady member will surely be very busy screening and responding to, say, over 200 guys who send their interest to her. One cannot imagine writing emails to hundreds of enthusiastic males vying for a lady partner.
Finally, after a few exchanges of emails and chats at Yahoo Messenger, either the woman or the man quits or sticks around, whereupon amorous relationship develops and a new family is conceived to grow by mutual consent. Then, the groom petitions his lady to come to his country as a fiancée or a wife, whichever arrangement they find comfortable.
Down the road, the social exchange may culminate in marriage - good or bad. Ironically, its the good story that gets published the most, while the one with an unhappy ending is either concealed or endured by the Filipina who doesn’t want to be ostracized by her friends and folks back home. Sometimes, a group of battered Filipino wives, like those in Canada, organize themselves for therapy and protection from further abuse and seek support from the government .
Exoticism and Commodification
Many people don’t like to hear this, particularly feminists and organizations. Whether they are conscious of this or not, Filipinas are advertised on the net as “exotic” creatures up for the grabs to normals, sex maniacs, pedophiles, and those who lust for virgins. The truth is, these women are a also party to this global "marketing."
Whether such exoticized ads conform to the expectations of foreign males, they nonetheless conjure up an image of an ideal Filipina honeycoated with these adjectives – “beautiful,” “family centered,” “obedient,” “culturally adaptable,” “religious,” “one-man woman,” “home buddy,” “petite,” “innocent /young,“ and other seductive terms. Such exoticism results in stereotypes that make Filipinas attractive and popular mates ready for the taking. But that’s not everything about it. Its just a prelude to another form of exchange that leads to “export” of warm bodies from this orientalized country and other places now hooked up to capitalized economies.
Like it or not, Filipinas listed in dating services online are literally “sold” to willing “buyers,” the wife hunters abroad. “Commodification” is undoubtedly the name of the game in nearly all matchmaking sites on the internet. It’s akin to what Karl Marx says about the growth of capital and its evils. But instead of products being sold to the market, we now witness human beings being transformed into commodities for sale.
Nearly all existing matchmaking websites this writer has visited advertise Filipino ladies for a fee from prospective grooms. The fee ranged from $4 to $10 per lady whose particulars and contact information are only released upon payment. Some sites give generous discounts for multiple “orders.” The ladies are by no means passive, they also send out their interest in men listed in the site. Depending on appeal, a male member can receive 2-10 emails a day from those looking for a mate (including gays), while a female member tends to receive more than double that number in a single a day.
Another form of payment is covered by term, usually in the range of $15 to $95.00 per month, providing a guarantee of unlimited contacts with lady members . Membership for males is sometimes categorized into “silver,” “gold” and “platinum,” like that in visa credit cards. The latter requires the highest fee but gives out the most benefit in terms of service.
If unlucky in his search, a male member pays something like $100-$200 until he meets his shortlist of ladies by visiting them in the Philippines, one after the other. Then, he decides whom to take as his bride.
Based on the initial information presented, there is reason to believe that the internet has been conveniently used as a medium to pander Filipino ladies to foreign men. On the internet, these Filipinas are exoticized and commodified beyond wildest imagination, making them among the most popular mail-order brides in the world today who line up by the thousands. There, they lay in wait for their prince charming – like knights in shining armor – who descend from nowhere and snatch them out of the Philippines in the hope of seeking relief from economic hardships. Ironically, most of these ladies are willing participants in the globalized exchange of warm bodies that have now become a popular source of the Filipino diaspora. The outmigration usually occurs from a poor country, like the Philippines, to developed countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada and even Europe.
While there are success stories of marriage among mail-order brides, there have also been unsavory experiences of wife battering, abuse and even death. On the horizon, the trend of online dating is expected to continue apace in the future and may accelerate further as the cyberworld is incessantly flooded with exotic ads, and as long as there are men dreaming of “ideal” ladies who will spice up their lives. Nothing much can be done to stem the tide of outmigration of Filipino ladies, but something can still be made to formulate policies responsive to and protective of women’s rights, make culprits pay, and regulate online matchmaking to prevent abuse. That way, it will minimize the damage inflicted on those already vulnerable women and cushion the adverse effects of their continuing commodification and stigmatized image.
 From the data provided by Jennifer O. Gonzales, Deputy Director, Commission on Filipinos Overseas. Also see MaryAnn Syzkowski. “Mail Order Brides,” in http://www.newfilipina.com/members/pngayon/99.01/SNM-MOBresearch.html; "Testimony of Michelle A. Clark," in http://foreign.senate.gov/testimony/2004/ClarkTestimony040713.pdf; "The 'Mail-Order Bride' Industry and its Impact on U.S. Immigration," in http://uscis.gov/graphics/aboutus/repsstudies/Mobappa.htm. Accessed 12/27/04.
Emily Monroy, “Mail Order Brides,” in http://www.webcom.com/intvoice/emily.html. Accessed 12/27/04.
This writer learned about this as a “participant observer,” logging in to two websites and advertised himself to meet “intimate friends online” during the months of November-December 2004. During such period, he met with about 40 ladies in one site and 74 in another. Only a few of them eventually remained. Only those who could carry on the “chat” went down the road because they could afford to stay through the night, own computers, or able to pay for the cost of computer rentals.
A sample list of such websites is provided in this paper to show how Filipinas are advertised.
The Philippines’s Republic Act 6955, known as Mail Order Brides, declares as “unlawful the practice of matching Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals on a mail order basis and other similar practices including the advertisement, publication, printing or distribution of brochures, fliers and other propaganda materials in furtherance thereof” (Approved June 13, 1990). While such acts are not criminalized in the United States, there are statutes that give protection to women who are victims of sex trafficking or sexual abuse (e.g., Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, Violence against Women Act of 1994). The offenders, however, remain scathed-free and unpunished.
Bob Free and Penny Fields, “Representing the Most Vulnerable,” in http://www.wsba.org/media/publications/barnews/2003/dec-03-free-fields.htm. Accessed 12/28/04.
 One site provides unconditional guarantee of payment of $15 until the groom finally finds his ideal lady, which means the search can go on for a long period of time beyond the normal limits.
“Canada:The New Frontier for Filipino Mail-Order Brides” in http://www.swc.cfc.gc.ca/pubs/0662653343/200011_0662653343_12_e.html. It also features six cases of unsuccessful Filipino mail-order brides. Accessed 12/29/04.
Appendix - Sample Matchmaking Websites on Filipinas
http://www.acladies.com - specifically features ladies from Pampanga, Philippines.
http://www.asawa.org – more professional and provides a lot of advice to men seeking Filipina partners; http://www.asawa.org/Mary.html - a story of an abandoned Filipina, who was taken to the US and later deported.
http://www.bestfilipinas.com/p21.htm ($6/address, with discounts for more orders)
http://www.blossoms.com/cgi-bin/htmlos.cgi/27151.2.064231090310014694 - one of the oldest dating service providers on the internet.
Everlasting Love (comes with background & medical checks on women members)
Far Away Pals
Filipina Asian Brides and Asian Personals
Filipina Brides Online
http://www.alovelinksplus.com/search/filipinaladies.htm (owned by a Filipina and an American who met on the internet)
Filipina.com World Class Service (listen to a Filipino pop song)
Filipina Girl for You
Find Some Romance
http://www.findsomeromance.com/ (web of a Filipina from Negros Oriental who is married to an American)
Melinda’s Pen Pals
http://www.melindaspenpals.com/ (another case of Filipina-American couple, rates vary)
Philippine Mail Order Brides
Singles @ Emailgirls.com
US Philippine Connection
*Federico V. Magdalena, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the Institute for Peace and the Department of Sociology, and a faculty specialist at the Center for Philippine Studies at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. He obtained his Ph.D. in Sociology from the same university.
This paper is presented in a roundtable discussion on “Issues in the Filipino Diaspora,” during the 3rd Global Filipino Networking Convention, Cebu City, Philippines, Jan, 20-22, 2005.