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The U.S. ambassador to the Philippines created an uproar over his claims that 40 percent of male visitors to the South Asian nation come for illegal sex.

Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. made the comment at a forum in late September and then scrambled to apologize after realizing he got his facts wrong.

“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,” he said in a text message to reporters in Manila this month.

He expressed “deep regret” for his remarks and promised that the United States will continue to work with the “strong and dedicated partner of the Filipino people in combating the global scourges of human trafficking and sexual tourism,” an embassy official told reporters.

Mr. Thomas sent his apology to Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, and a government spokesman called the matter closed.

“We, in fact, thanked the ambassador for his … statement of regret and apology when he learned he could not back up his statement,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters in Manila.

Mr. Thomas said he based his original comments on figures from the Philippines Justice Department, which denied it had compiled such numbers.

The Philippines is trying to combat the illegal sex trade that has earned it a reputation of a destination for so-called sex tourism.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.