PROSTITUTION IN THE PHILIPPINES

PROSTITUTION IN THE PHILIPPINES

Even though it is widely practiced, prostitution is illegal in the Philippines. There is an organized movement to make prostitution a legal activity in the Philippines. By one estimate a half a million women prostitute themselves.

There are basically three kinds of prostitutes in the Philippines: 1) those that work out of “casas,” or brothels, and are employed by pimps or brothel owners: 2) those who work in bars, karaokes and hotels, who are usually controlled by the owners of the establishment where they work; and 3) freelancers, who work the streets. Brothels are often disguised as restaurants.

Most of the men who use prostitutes in the Philippines are locals not foreigners. You would not get this impression by visiting one of the better known red light districts. Local tend to use community-, neighborhood- and town- based brotherl and sex workers. In Angeles City, near Clark Air base, there is one street with bars for foreigners on one side, and bars for locals on the other.

Many prostitutes work for pimps. One Filipinos social worker in Cebu told the Japan Times, “There are two type of pimps. The Amou, or maintainers, who recruit and take care of the girls, and make sure they do not run away. They also push drugs on the girls. The Iti, or wild ducks, chase customers, and bring them to the girls.”

Former prostitute Liza Gonzales told the Philippines Inquirer, “Women in this field are often looked at as sinners and home wreckers. “But we are not criminals … We are actually victims,” Gonzales said. “Some are victims of rape or incest. Some are girls from rural areas who were fooled by illegal recruiters … We are victims of different circumstances, but we all fell into prostitution,” she said. [Source: Rima Jessamine M. Granali, Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 26, 2011 /*\]

The police arguably do more to abet prostitution than stop it. One sex worker told the Philippine Inquirer: “When cops like the apprehended woman, she is forced to have sex with them.” Nowadays, “kotong” (bribe) ranges from P3,000 to P4,500, and transactions begin even before they reach the precinct, she said. /*\

Transvestites also participate in prostitution, especially with unwary foreigners. Male homosexuals and child prostitutes who created Asia’s reputation for sex tourism are concentrated in major metropolitan cities.

Early History of Prostitution in the Philippines

Dr. Jose Florante J. Leyson wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Tribal wars between the aborigines in the Philippine islands turned the vanquished into slaves for labor or cannibalism, but not sexual slaves. When Chinese merchants started trading with the inhabitants of the archipelago in 960 C.E., they intermarried with native women, but did not sexually exploit the women. With the advent of Spanish colonists in the late 1500s, a flourishing slave trade was established between the Philippines, the Caribbean, and Spain. Anecdotal reports revealed that some Filipina slaves were sold as “exotic sex objects” or prostitutes to European brothels. When Pope Gregory XIV abolished slavery in the Philippines in 1591, middle-class Europeans started to immigrate to the archipelago, but the sexual exploitation of Filipinas by the Spanish colonists continued. [Source: Jose Florante J. Leyson, M.D., Encyclopedia of Sexuality www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology, 2001 |~|]

During World War 11 (1941-1944), the Japanese Imperial Army forced Philippine women from Manila and surrounding towns to serve as “comfort girls” (military prostitutes) to provide sexual favors to all Japanese soldiers serving in the Philippines and in the Pacific region. In the 1990s, with international (legal) backing, these comfort girls were partially compensated for their humiliation and moral sufferings. When the American troops liberated the Philippines from Japanese imperialism in October 1945, many American soldiers left illegitimate Amerasian children behind. The mothers of these children and their Amerasian children were social outcasts. In order for these mothers to survive, they became part-time prostitutes in the rural areas for single laborers and traveling salesmen and in the cities with all kinds of customers. |~|

Impact of the U.S. Military and the Vietnam War on the Sex Trade in the Philippines

According to government figures, more than 10.4 million Filipinos live and work overseas, taking jobs ranging from low-skill domestic work in the Middle East and Hong Kong to jobs as emergency-room nurses in Canada and Europe. Most Filipinos who go overseas for work are sent to Middle Eastern countries, often laboring in difficult and dangerous conditions in order to send money to their families in the Philippines.

In 1947, President Roxas signed a military agreement granting twenty-two military bases to the United States. In the following year, the two largest U.S. military bases in the Far East, the Naval Subic Bay and Clark Air Force Base, were established north of Manila. Angeles City, located near Clark Air Force Base, later became the “Mecca of Sex Trade,” the military adult-entertainment capital of the Philippines, with every variety of prostitution, exotic bars, pornography, and sex tourism conceivable. [Source: Jose Florante J. Leyson, M.D., Encyclopedia of Sexuality www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology, 2001 |~|]

The origin of the sex trade in Thailand and the Philippines as it exits today has origins in the Vietnam War when soldiers and navy men, that before this period had a reputation of being gentlemen, found themselves in an unwinnable war and needed a release from the stress. In their time off they caroused bars in Bangkok, Saigon and Manila and girls attracted by money came to meet the demand.

In his book Fall From Glory, Gregory L Vistica wrote, "respect for women was pretty much non-existent at Subic Bay. The girls working bars in the pasties and G-strings were 'hostitutes' and 'L.B.F.M.'s (little Brown F------- Machines). The Navy tacitly sanctioned this trade. Commanding officers used a formula to decide when to order troops to stop having sex with local prostitutes: 30 days—the normal course of treatment for venereal disease—before they arrived home."

"In the mid-'70s, the brass prepared a film called "Sex and the Naval Aviator," to explain to wives the intense pressure on pilots, to rationalize their need for physical release after they had endured so much under fire. But the production was deemed to embarrassing and was never released."

Book: Fall From Glory by Gregory L Vistica (Simon & Schuster, 1996)

Modern Prostitution in the Philippines

Dr. Jose Florante J. Leyson wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “With the advent of information technology and global travel, the old part-time prostitutes have moved to the big cities. Prostitution survives because of poverty, the commercialization of human relations, and the sustained carnal demand. Although for different reasons, all social classes made their contributions to the trade in sexual services. The rich are looking for entertainment and diversity of sexual practices that they would never dare to ask from their wives. These respectable matrons are assigned by society only to bear and raise children, manage households (sometimes businesses), and organize social activities. The out-of-town students, immigrant workers, and wayward youths may be looking for their first sexual experiences and to combat the loneliness of being separated from their family for the first time. The poor frequent the brothels to affirm their masculinity by using many women or to relieve their loneliness. [Source: Jose Florante J. Leyson, M.D., Encyclopedia of Sexuality www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology, 2001 |~|]

As in most other countries, there are three types of prostitutes or sex working girls in the Philippines: streetwalkers, entertainment girls (hostitutes), and call girls or high-class prostitutes. Streetwalkers are not common, are usually self-employed, and many have pimps. Their safety is at jeopardy on the streets. The majority of the prostitutes fall under the category of entertainment girls. These hostitutes include bar girls, nightclub hostesses (waitresses), masseuses, exotic dancers, and those that work in brothels. They are usually business employees and have contact managers (sophisticated pimps). Their safety is secure because they work inside an establishment. However, they cannot refuse clients who are produced by agencies and their managers. They cannot set the prices for their services. Some massage parlors are commercial fronts for prostitutes who offer their services from oral sex to regular intercourse ($25 to $65 US). |~|

Call girls comprise approximate about a third of the female sex-worker population. Self-employed or autonomous, they usually do not have managers. They advertise their services in specialized magazines disguised as escort services for sophisticated gentlemen and sometimes ladies. Hostitutes and call girls advertise their services through word of mouth, by taxi drivers, bar bouncers, club managers/owners, and hotel bell captains. These agents receive part of the price in exchange for referring clients. In the large sophisticated hotels, the bell captain may have an album with pictures of different prostitutes from which guests may choose. In 1997, a new phenomenon emerged, the Japosakis, Filipina hostitutes who return home from sex work in Japan and continue serving their Japanese special clientele or sugar daddies on their periodic “business” trips to the archipelago. Recently, there are also reports of an increasing number of gigallos or toy boys who provide escort services and pleasures for lonely matrons and wealthy widows. |~|

Government Monitoring of Prostitute in the Philippines

Dr. Jose Florante J. Leyson wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Although prostitution is still illegal, Filipino society believes that some regulation is always needed, based on the premise that prostitution is regulated in order to minimize the damage to society. Local city councils may require filing an application with the city to establish a brothel, indicating the location for legal reasons and/or tax purposes. Local authorities may also restrict brothels to certain areas and regulate any signs that would identify it as a brothel. Prostitutes cannot reside anywhere other than at the brothel itself, which is her official domicile. Brothels also have to have a bedroom for each working woman. The women cannot show themselves at the balconies or in a window, nor can they solicit in the streets. In order to work in a brothel, a woman has to register with the sanitaryhealth authorities (Bureau of Health). The authorities will check whether she is a victim of deceit or coercion and advise her that help and assistance is available from legal authorities. [Source: Jose Florante J. Leyson, M.D., Encyclopedia of Sexuality www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology, 2001 |~|]

Each prostitute is given a “sanitary notebook” with her picture, personal data, registration number (if any), and the main articles of the decree that concern her rights as a provider of a service. Her rights include being free to stay or quit the brothel in which she lives and works, debts cannot be used to compel her to stay in a given brothel, and no one can subject her to any abuse. Each prostitute has to undergo mandatory monthly medical examinations for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). If an STD is diagnosed, the brothel pays for medical treatment. The sex worker must show her sanitary notebook to any customer that asks to see it. The manager of the brothel cannot accept any “prostitute-candidate” or applicant who has not first registered and passed a medical examination. The manager also has to report immediately to the sanitary authorities whenever a prostitute is ill, be this an STD or non-sexual disease. |~|

It is easy to imagine the rampant corruption that this naive attempt to protect customers and suppliers of contractual sex alike has produced. Police protection is bought, violations are ignored, and politicians and judges are bribed, often on the pretext of protecting the free practice of a fully consensual sex by the client and sex worker. In reality, this law and its application or lack thereof does little to protect the health of the women and their clients. The women have no protection from customers already infected. The prostitutes can request that their clients wear condoms, but cannot demand the performance of safe sex practices. The clients are not subject to compulsory medical “control,” and many may be infected but not show any symptoms while others suffer in silence and continue practicing unsafe sex with other prostitutes, lovers, and even wives. |~|

Manila's Red Light District

The heart of Manila's red light district is on the Avenue de Pilar, a street lined with karaoke bars and sleazy night clubs catering primarily to Japanese, Korean, American, European and Australian male sex tourists. The hookers and sidewalk touts are ferocious, practically wrestling potential customers into their bars or hotels. Inside the bars, girls in black and red negligees do bored and uninspired dances in front of an audience that looks like humanity's version of toxic waste.

Many of the girls are barely in (not of out) their teens. Some paint their face with garish make-up to look older. Others look scared and as if they be more comfortable playing with dolls than administering oral sex. When asked, most of these girls will say they are 20 even though most likely they are much younger than that. The government has gone through the trouble of issuing identification that indicate the girls don’t have AIDS or venereal diseases. Many of the cards however are counterfeit.

In 1989, I was at one bar on the Avenue de Pilar at closing time. Unleashed from the pretense of their trade, the girls finally got a chance act their age. While they placed chairs on tables and mopped the floor they giggled, danced and sang to sappy Tagalog songs playing on the juke box. My friend and I did a couple of slow dances with the girls standing on our feet. The feeling was more fatherly than sexual. The scene was so wholesome that all that was missing was a pillow fight. The night was like a double feature of "Night of the Living Dead" and "Ozzie and Harriet."

Prostitutes, Strikes and Money in the Philippines

Some prostitutes like their jobs because the money is good. Many bar workers and prostitutes staged protests in 1991 an 1992 against the closing of Subic navy base. A sex worker who worked at the Pussycat Club in Olngapo told Newsweek she began work at a bar where she was paid once cent on each bottle of beer she sold and $8 for each sailor she had sex with. “In the club you pretend. You pretend you’re happy.” She gave birth to an Amerasian son and was back at work 10 days later.”

A typical Filipina prostitute begins working in her teens and usually retires before she reaches her late 20s. If she gets pregnant she has to quit or get an abortion. Most do the latter. Many take antibiotics as a preventative measure against sexually transmitted diseases but take them so long their resistance is reduced and they get sick a lot.

The children of three Filipina prostitutes were given $35 million each because they were fathered by DHL founder Larry Hillblom, who liked to hang out Filipino bars and died in plane crash and left behind a fortune of $550 million. One of the Filipina prostitutes claimed she met Hillblom in a Manila-area nightclub in October 1994 and said the tycoon was drawn to her because she was a virgin and took care of her after she got pregnant. The children of the girls were linked to Hillblom by DNA samples taken from a mole that was his that was removed at a San Francisco hospital.

Sex Tourism in the Philippines

In the 1980s, jets planes full of Japanese men arrived in Thailand and the Philippines on per-paid sex tours that included airfare, accommodations, transfers and a local girl waiting for them in their room. Organized sex tourism doesn't really exist any more. Most sex tourists are individuals, groups of friends or couples.

In the early 2000s, Dr. Jose Florante J. Leyson wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “The Philippines has always been known as the “Pearl of the Orient Seas,” the Land of the Three Ss - Sun, Sand, and Sea. A fourth “S,” Sex, sold in “coolly” wrapped packages, has emerged to the point where it has already warranted the United Nations’ attention: sex tourism involving child prostitutes as young as 6 years old. [Source: Jose Florante J. Leyson, M.D., Encyclopedia of Sexuality www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology, 2001 |~|]

“Angeles City in Pampanga, north of Manila, once home of the mighty Clark U.S. Air Base, is now being developed as an international airport. But the new airport has also become the center of sex tours to the Philippines, openly promoted abroad, arranged by Filipino tour operators and their foreign counterparts, with attractive come-ons for men seeking sexual activities with “virginal” or child prostitutes who they hope are free of STD and HIV infections.|~|

“While the government is making major arrests in this trade, and sex establishments are regularly closed down, the front page of major dailies show bikini-clad young girls being led away by operatives, but never the brothel owners, the tour operators, their cohorts, and pimps. The Philippine Congress is still struggling to pass a law making a customer of a child prostitute criminally liable, even if he does not engage the services of a pimp. An increase of the maximum punishment for child labor and exploitation to twenty years was sought. The 1995 law set the punishment for child prostitution at twenty years in prison; the punishment for pornography and pedophilia, however, remained unchanged. |~|

“Sex tourism is the third-highest money-making industry in the Philippines. But the current penalties and enforcement policies do nothing to have an impact on the business. As in many other countries, the prostitutes are arrested, but not the clients, managers, and others whose enormous profits make this business so attractive. The punishment for committing prostitution is a US$500 fine or twelve years in jail. While this law, in effect for three decades, applies to women dancing in the nude or in scanty bikini tongs, a major element in the prostitution trade, arrests are seldom made because of corruption and bribery. |~|

“In order to reduce the negative moral and economic effects of prostitution, government and some non-government agencies are working together to rehabilitate former prostitutes or entertainment girls who retire or change their “profession.” The government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development has programs to teach these ex-prostitutes other work alternatives and technical skills as a means to a decent living. A civic action and rehabilitation group, Marriage Encounter, is also training married former prostitutes to help them move back into mainstream society and divert single women from the sex trade by improving their personal skills for future relationships and family life. But funds and enthusiasm for such social programs are too limited. |~|

Prostitution Near Subic Bay and Clark Air Base

In Angeles City, a town outside Clark Air Base, U.S. servicemen have been replaced by lonely old men lured by young girls selling sex at very cheap prices. Describing the scene in Angeles, Ages Chan wrote in the Japan Times, “Girls in the go-go bar wear tiny white tops and short skirts. They dance on the tables waiting for customers. Once they sit down with a customer, the customers hands move all over their bodies.”

Describing the scene in the 1990s in Olangapo, a town of 120,000 people outside Subic Bay, Edward Gargan wrote in the New York Times, "When the sunk sinks, the jukeboxes crank, men in T-shirts and jeans straggle the bars, and scantily clad women scan the tables for prospects. More often than not, a young man will sidle up to a newcomer an ask, 'You want a young girl? Fifteen only.'" When the base was open in the 1980s, there were 16,000 prostitutes working in Olangapo. Now there are only around 500.

Reporting from Angeles City, John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “At a club called Koko Yoko, balding men with bulging bellies sit at an outdoor bar, sipping beers and leering at the young girls who pass on the model's runway gone wrong called Fields Avenue. Many of the girls weigh barely 90 pounds, their high heels pushing their almost adolescent bodies at perverse angles. There are cross-dressers fooling no one, calling out to men with tattoos, Popeye forearms and gray hair on their backs. "Lady boy!" they squeal. "Lady boy!" Some men pass by with girls one-third their age, swinging their hands together like a couple on a first date. Others cavort with three girls at once, the women all clutching their client like daughters competing for Daddy's attention. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2009 ***]

“Fields Avenue, the main pedestrian drag in Angeles City, is a legacy of the time when this row of run-down bars was the romping ground of restless young American airmen stationed at Clark Air Base. The U.S. base closed in 1992, and the often-randy airmen have gone with it. But the girls, the sex, the round-the-clock raunchiness remain. Only the customers have changed. A thriving sex tourism trade attracts foreign customers by the thousands in search of something they cannot find back home: girls young enough to be their granddaughters selling sex for the price of a burger and fries. ***

“A young dancer in tight red hip-hugger pants and matching sports bra acknowledges that Fields Avenue may not be pretty, but the money is good. She rolls her eyes at two overweight men who pass by looking like large reptiles dressed in children's clothing. Sure, the sex is disgusting, she says. But at least it's over quickly. Outside Koko Yoko, the doorman, a 33-year-old paraplegic, perches on a wheeled wooden pallet. He says his father was an American who once served at Clark, his mother a local girl. He contracted polio when he was 11 and has worked here ever since. The street, he says, takes care of him. Soon, an idle stripper climbs onto his back, rubbing her crotch into the back of his neck. All along Fields Avenue, the come-on banners with their Web addresses advertise good pay (up to $10 a day) for hostess jobs. But applicants must speak Korean, Japanese or Chinese.” ***

Sex Scene in Angeles City Today

John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Once populated by men in their early 20s who started each day with 100 push-ups, the place is now home to older men who need help pushing themselves out of bed in the morning. Most are bused up from Manila, an hour away, on golf and sex package deals. This is no quasi-innocent boys' night out. Rather, it's a single-minded realm of weary-looking loners on a resolute hunt that smacks of feeding an addiction. Many are ex-military men reliving former glories, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper wannabes, some gathering at the local American Legion post before embarking into the night. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2009 ***]

“There is a one-armed man, a retiree with a walker and another dapper gentleman who strolls along in a dress shirt, twirling an umbrella, whistling a private tune. Many head to the bars with the red-light special called "The Early-Release": Buy your girl 10 drinks and she's yours, no questions asked. Nobody asks questions here. Nobody gives their name. Credit cards are a joke; who wants to leave behind any economic traces that they ever set foot here? ***

“Nearby a saggy-faced Australian lights a cigarette. He's been in Angeles City for about a month, his last stop on a sex circuit from Bangkok to Manila after getting laid off from his electrician's job in Sydney. In Thailand, he says, the girls didn't speak the language. Manila hookers were too streetwise, the bars too spread out. But this is Easy Street. He can sit atop his bar stool and ogle hundreds of passing girls fresh from the countryside who perfect the tricks of their trade before moving on to The Show in Manila. The Australian signals a street vendor and buys some knockoff Viagra. He says he prefers the girls working one street over, who cost only 500 pesos, or about $10, apiece. "Anything goes here," he says, lighting another cigarette. He leans over to offer a bit of Fields Avenue inside information: "You can get a young girl here to do anything if you promise to marry her." ***

“A balding man pulls up on his motorcycle, greeting several other men loudly in German. They already have their catch, and girls jump on the back as the cycles roar off. At the Tourist Assistance Booth, Odysius Garche says the older customers are better behaved than the U.S. airmen were. "I just tell them: 'The girls are inside. Go make your own deal.' " Nearby, a chubby American with glasses eats a hot dog. He says he's a bar manager, but offers no details. He came to Angeles City from California, to follow up on a chat-room hookup. He ended up on Fields Avenue, drinking late with the dancers, hearing their stories. "This is clean fun," he says. "There's no sex shows. These girls are not slaves. They have minds of their own." ***

“Behind him, women call out from the doors of bars with names like the Doll House, Club Lancelot, Treasure Island, Club Cambodia, the Blue Nile and the Amsterdam. Suddenly, a group of twentysomething men storms past, laughing and arm-punching. The news spreads and girls pop their heads out the doorways to catch a glimpse of boys their own age. One calls after them with a deal she hopes they can't refuse: "Free!" she says, laughing. ***

Philippine Diplomats Involved in Prostituting Filipinas in the Middle East

In 2013, the Philippine government said it was investigating allegations that its diplomatic personnel have trafficked Filipino women in the Middle East who were seeking refuge there. Floyd Whaley wrote in the New York Times, “ Philippine diplomatic and labor officials are alleged to have forced distressed Filipino women, in countries like Kuwait and Jordan, into prostitution in return for safe passage back to the Philippines. “There are allegations that this has become institutionalized in terms of the establishment of sex rings and so forth,” the Philippine secretary of foreign affairs, Albert del Rosario, said at a news conference. “Investigations are being conducted to ascertain the validity of these allegations,” he said. [Source: Floyd Whaley, New York Times, June 24, 2013 <^>]

“The investigation by Mr. del Rosario’s department has involved the recalling of 13 heads of diplomatic missions throughout the Middle East, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. The ambassadors were not implicated in the allegations but were called upon to provide information, he said. The investigation also found three victims who alleged that they were victimized by Filipino diplomatic or labor officials, Mr. del Rosario said. One suspect has been identified and recalled to the Philippines. <^>

“A Philippine congressman, Walden Bello, opened an inquiry into the allegations of abuse in early June after receiving information about officials extorting sex in exchange for flights home. “Our initial investigation into sex for flights revealed something bigger,” Mr. Bello said Monday by telephone. “They were running a prostitution ring out of Philippine embassies in Kuwait and Oman. The information was shocking.” Mr. Bello’s investigation alleged that a Filipino diplomat in Damascus had sex with five distressed Filipino female workers seeking shelter in the embassy, in separate incidents. The congressman also reported that a senior Filipino labor official in Jordan was prostituting Filipino women for $1,000 per night. The investigation found another labor official in Kuwait who is accused of running a similar operation using Filipino workers seeking shelter. <^>

““These criminals parading as officials must be stripped of their positions, recalled to the Philippines and prosecuted,” Mr. Bello said during a June 18 press conference. Mr. del Rosario said that a hot line had been established for other victims to come forward and that it was producing additional information, he said. “We will be able to punish the guilty, and we also will be able to review all the policies and procedures governing our conduct pertaining to cases such as this,” he said.” <^>

58 Arrested in Philippines over Global 'Sextortion'

In May 2014, fifty-eight people were arrested in the Philippines for their involvement in a giant, global Internet "sextortion" network, local police and Interpol said. AFP reported: “Victims in foreign countries have been lured by people in the Philippines into giving sexually explicit photos or videos about themselves online, then blackmailed for many thousands of dollars, the authorities said. "The scale of this extortion network is massive," the director of Interpol's Digital Crime Centre, Sanjay Virmani said. "These crimes are not limited to any one country and nor are the victims. That's why international cooperation in investigating these crimes is essential." [Source: AFP, May 2, 2014]

Philippine police chief Alan Purisima said the 58 people arrested would be charged over a range of crimes, including engaging in child pornography, extortion and using technologies to commit fraud. It was not immediately clear whether all 58 arrested were Filipinos, although authorities initially made no mention of any foreigners who may have been directly involved in the Philippines. However, authorities emphasised the Philippines was not the hub of the global sextortion network, only that the current investigation had focused on the Southeast Asian nation.

Purisima said the scam typically involved someone posing as an attractive, young lady making contact with people overseas via Facebook and other social media, then seeking to establish a relationship with them. "After getting acquainted with the victims… they engage in cybersex, and this will be recorded unknown to the victims," he said. "They then threaten to release it to friends and relatives." He said victims had paid between 500 pesos ($11) and 500,000 pesos ($11,000). While he said elderly men were often targeted, children were also victims. A Scottish police chief who also briefed reporters at the press conference said one boy in Scotland had committed suicide after being extorted. He said the boy was 17 when he killed himself.

In the late 1990s, countries like Guyana, the Philippines, Poland, Netherlands Antilles, Sao Tome and the Dominican Republic earned a large amounts foreign exchange from audiotext service (sex-lines and other pay phone service) who routed their calls through phone companies in these countries. The way the system worked was that an American paid his bill to his American long-distance phone company, who shared the money with the foreign phone company that received the call. The foreign phone companies in turn shared their revenues with the audiotext services that used the exchange for the foreign phone company.

Group of Former Prostitutes Helps Prostitutes in the Philippines

In 2011, the Philippines Inquirer reported: “As the night grows older, this part of the city becomes more alive. Women in low-cut, body-hugging clothes start appearing on the streets of Quezon City’s red light district. Some make their move on potential customers. Also in the area are other women dressed more conservatively in jeans and shirt. They are not around to earn money for the night. Belonging to Bagong Kamalayan Collective Inc. (BKCI), they have come to talk to their scantily clad “sisters” about their rights and to try to inspire them to rebuild their lives.Liza Gonzales, recounting the scene to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, knows what life is like in the red light district. She was once one of those scantily clad women working in that neighborhood. [Source: Rima Jessamine M. Granali, Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 26, 2011 /*\]

“Most of the BKCI staff “used to ‘gimmick’ in Cubao and Quezon Avenue,” Gonzales said in a recent interview. “We want prostituted women to see that they can have a stable livelihood even if they quit,” Gonzales said. Today, BKCI’s original five members have grown to 50. They have found a source of income not just for themselves but for other victims of prostitution. BKCI recently opened a cooperative canteen. “Hopefully our canteen becomes a big, big restaurant so we can help more women,” Gonzales said in Filipino. The place is barely half the size of the other eateries along a street in Quezon City, but BKCI members talk about it with pride. What they have now is a far cry from what they had when the Inquirer first met the group in 2005. /*\

“They had no canteen then. Engaged in food catering, all they had were a few utensils for cooking meals which they delivered to meetings of various other advocacy groups. To reheat the dishes, they would bring along a “super kalan” (liquefied petroleum gas tank with a built-in burner). For a time, they also offered laundry service, washing clothes with bare hands. Having no weighing scale, they would go to a nearby market to weigh their clients’ laundry. They also ventured into small businesses, such as selling homemade soap, but these didn’t bring in much money. Three years ago, their money problems worsened. “We didn’t even have a centavo in the bank,” Gonzales said. /*\

“There were times when they had no money to buy food. “When you have nothing to feed your children, it’s tempting to turn to prostitution for fast money but because of our good foundation, we remained strong. We survived without going back,” Gonzales said. Even as they struggled to live, they still conducted educational seminars and scoured red light districts in Quezon City and elsewhere on the chance they might help other women trapped in prostitution. Support from allied NGOs and their strong belief that “there is life after prostitution” kept them going, Gonzales said. /*\

“Eventually members learned skills from livelihood training seminars. Some even attended baking classes at Miriam College. Initially, they thought of setting up a bakeshop. But they settled for a canteen because the girls found it difficult to make bread, Gonzales said. With their personal savings and donations from CATW-AP and other supporters, the group earlier this year finally managed to open their 9-square-meter canteen. Their profit and donations help them pursue their mission, support their families and send themselves and their children to school. /*\

“Gonzales is the only founder left in the organization. Carrying thermos, packets of instant coffee and bread, BKCI members still pound the streets of red light districts. Over coffee, they would talk with prostitution victims about laws protecting women’s rights and other issues. “Most of them are not aware of their rights. When authorities take them to the precinct, they assume that cases are already filed against them even without any inquest,” Gonzales said. Afraid to stay behind bars, women simply give cash and their cell phones or, worse, give cops sexual favors in exchange for their freedom. /*\

“BKCI and CATW-AP are lobbying for the passage of the antiprostitution bill, which shifts criminal liabilities from prostituted persons to customers, pimps, brothel and nightclub owners and law enforcement officers. The measure has been pending in Congress for 11 years. Gonzales resents calling women in prostitution sex workers or prostitutes. “We call them ‘prostituted women’ because prostitution is not a job but a violation of human rights.” Gonzales said her group did not force women to leave their trade. “They have to reach the point when they no longer want to be there.” “We have healed our wounds,” Gonzales said. “We may not be able to forgive those who abused us, those who raped us. But to be able to heal, to go back to the community and freely express ourselves and fight for our rights, we feel blessed.” /*\

Prostitutes helped by the Former Prostitute Group

The Philippines Inquirer reported: “Gina (not her real name), one of the “survivors” that the BKCI had plucked from the streets, recalled a time when she could not even pay the rent for her family’s apartment and she had beg the landlord not to throw them out into the streets. In those hard times, other members lived in the CATW-AP office. One of them, Rem (also a pseudonym), was attending high school and had to sleep in the director’s office, where CATW-AP employees also worked. [Source: Rima Jessamine M. Granali, Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 26, 2011 /*\]

Gina has five children who are all studying. Her eldest is now in college. Rem, 25, said: “Before, I could not even imagine myself going back to school. It seemed impossible.” She is now pursuing a bachelor degree in cooperatives at Polytechnic University of the Philippines. Her sister, 20-year-old Rose (also not her real name) and also a survivor from prostitution, is now a fourth year high school student at Miriam College for adult education. /*\

“The two sisters want to take up courses on social development so they can better assist victims of sex trafficking. With diplomas and newly acquired skills, some members have left BKCI to focus on their own lives. But others have remained because “we need to continue fighting for the rights of other victims of prostitution and be their voice while they are still in the trade,” Gonzales said. Said Gina: “I am most fulfilled because I am no longer on the streets.” /*\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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