Philippines ensnared in sex scandal

Plastic surgeon accused of leaking recordings

Hayden Kho
HONG KONG -- The Philippines has been gripped by a monthlong celebrity sex scandal that has touched the film industry, disgraced politicians and driven up TV ratings.

Breaking in mid-May, the scandal involves a well-known plastic surgeon, Hayden Kho, and at least four female patients. Video footage of their trysts has appeared on the Internet and bootleg DVDs and VCDs that are openly being sold on the streets of Manila. Actress Katrina Halili has identified herself as one of the victims and is suing Kho.

The case has many echoes of the Edison Chen scandal that last year rocked Hong Kong. Kho has issued a public apology and suspended his medical activities. But, while he admits that he filmed the trysts, he denies having leaked them into the public domain.

Last year, up and coming actor Chen saw more than 1,300 photos that he shot of himself in action with a dozen girlfriends appear on the Internet. The shock waves seriously damaged the careers of at least two top Hong Kong actresses and caused an outcry that was felt in Legco, the territory's parliament.

"In our culture, this will stigmatize me for life," said Halili, who insists she did not know she was being videotaped by Kho. Her picture already has been removed from billboards, and there are reports she has lost endorsement, modeling and film offers.

Last week, Kho and Halili made to explain themselves to a Senate committee considering legislation to strengthen laws against pornography and exploitation of women and children.

"Every time we saw each other, there was no conversation. It was all drugs and sex," said the handsome doctor, who claims Halili introduced him to Ecstasy. Adding to the drama, the hearing, which was carried live on TV and radio to huge audiences, was interrupted when a member of the public threw water at Kho.

As in Hong Kong, the case has caused legislators to look again at the adequacy of the laws defining obscenity and publishing and protecting intellectual property. The Philippines 2003 Optical Media Act, for example, only protects copyright in disc format, not on the Internet.

In another parallel, the Kho case has been tinged with the shady presence of organized crime. There have been reports of substantial sums offered for other sex tapes involving Kho's sometime lover (and another celebrity surgeon) Vicki Belo. There have been suggestions by Sen. Maria Ana Consuelo Madrigal that the syndicate believed to be responsible for distribution of the sex videos may be the same group supplying drugs to some entertainment luminaries.

A report this week ranked the Philippines' porn industry as the eighth largest in the world, worth at least $1 billion. The report by the Top Ten Reviews Web site suggests that because pornography and prostitution are illegal in the Philippines, the industry thrives underground instead.

Despite death threats and the menace of mutilation by triads, Chen last week abandoned his yearlong, self imposed exile and returned to Hong Kong. Chen said he is able to talk about the incident now that a trial concerning the uploading of photos from his computer has come to a conclusion.

Dicky Sze Ho-chun, a 24-year-old computer technician, was last month found guilty of three counts of theft from Chen's laptop, which was being repaired, and of burning a computer disc with the images. Although the court did not hear evidence which linked him to the uploading of the images to the Internet, Sze is now serving an 8 1/2-month jail sentence.

Chen, who refused to travel to Hong Kong in February for the Sze trial and instead forced a panel of magistrates to fly to him in Vancouver, is not returning quietly. Camped out in the territory's newest celebrity hotel, the W in Kowloon, Chen will make an appearance on CNN's Talk Asia this week. He describes the ordeal of locking himself away in a darkened room for a week and of traveling around the city in the trunks of taxis. "I have a lot to say," he told the TV news network.
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