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- Dr. Jose Florante J. Leyson, author of the Encyclopedia of Sexuality, pinpointed the start of sex trade in the Philippines with the colonisation of the Spaniards where Filipinas were sold off as sex slaves. Sexual exploitation became worse during the Japanese occupancy, with Filipinas being forced to provide sexual favours to Japanese soldiers. However, the origin of modern sex trade started with the Vietnam War and the establishment of Air Force Bases in the country. In fact, Angeles City which is located near Clark Air Force Base remains to this day the “Mecca of Sex Trade” in the Philippines.
- A study by the Psychological Trauma Program of the University of the Philippines notes that prostitution may now be the country’s fourth largest source of GNP
With hundreds of beautiful and breathtaking attractions, the Philippines is a vacation paradise for thousands of every year. It is also a sex haven for thousands of sex tourists whose primary reason for visiting is to avail young girls for a price.
Annie (not her real name), is a seventeen-year old dancer in a red-light club in EDSA that caters to foreigners. She dances three sets of songs each night, from fully clothed to fully nude. For this she only earns the measly sum of 5,000 pesos, approximately ten USD.
According to Annie, being a dancer is not easy. It’s not the dancing part that’s hard (clients don’t usually care what you do on stage as long as you have a rocking body; the difficult piece is swallowing your pride and going onstage to strip for men with deep pockets. It’s not what she originally wanted for herself, but with little to no available jobs in the country and her being a minor, she wasn’t left with much choice. Her parents are unemployed with eight children to feed, the youngest being only two-years old. They live in the slums and can barely afford to eat once a day, much less provide medicine if anyone gets sick.
No, it’s not an easy job, but it pays the bills and puts her and her siblings through school. Her sibling’s education is Annie’s number one priority. Nothing is more important than their future and escaping the slums. “My siblings are smart and they love studying. My sister just finished 5th grade with honors, and that makes my sacrifices worth it. I’m doing this for all of them, so that they don’t have to sacrifice when they grow up.”
Aside from dancing, she also earns cash by drinking with customers, and yes, sleeping with them. Depending on the agreed demands and duration of the sexual activity, she can earn anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 ($20-100 USD) pesos per session. Every kind of activity has a different rate, and costs more if she is asked to stay overnight.
“On slow nights I would go with a client to his hotel and immediately leave after we finished. I would then head back to the club to pick up another client. Our club is better than others because there’s no bar fine. As long as I’m done performing. I get to keep all my earnings to myself.”
On average, Annie sleeps with three men per night.
- The average rate for prostitutes in the Philippines is 1500 pesos (35$) for bar girls, although street girls and freelancers go way cheaper at $10-$15.
A huge chunk of sex workers succumb to prostitution because of poverty, but there are those who are involved because they are illegally recruited or forced to. For Annie, it was the former.
She started her journey in the sex trade when her youngest brother got sick and started having convulsions. He had a fever for days but the family had no money to bring him to a hospital. She kept hoping that the fever would go down. When it didn’t, she knew what she had to do. Annie went to a known ‘mamasan’ (pimp) in their area who immediately arranged everything.
“I was a virgin, so it didn’t take long to get a ‘buyer’. I sold my virginity to a Pinoy executive for 30,000 pesos,” she said. “The mamasan advised me to wait for a higher offer from foreigners – offers for virgins could get very high especially with really young girls, but I needed the money ASAP.”
Two hours Annie’s parents admitted her brother into a hospital. Turns out he had dengue, which wasn’t uncommon in the slums. Annie spent the next three days crying herself to sleep, but it didn’t matter because her brother was there, sleeping beside her.
“I don’t regret it. In fact, I’ll do it all over again. I’ll do it as much as I have to if it means keeping my family alive.”
Annie’s parents knew what she did but didn’t confront her. In fact, in some ways they encouraged her to do it. “They asked me if I could do something about it, and I knew what they meant. I’m just thankful that they asked; I know some girls who were forced into this job. I wasn’t, I chose it.”
Right now, Annie is the breadwinner of the family. “After the first night, it didn’t take very long until we needed more money. I went to the mamasan several times before deciding to just make it a regular job. That’s how I started working as a dancer.
“It wasn’t hard to make that decision either. I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, even before my brother got sick. Some of my friends started way younger than me, and they have much better lives now. One even moved to US with a client who became her boyfriend.”
Sex tourism have undeniably flourished in the Philippines. The availability of girls and the tolerance of the government and Filipino society for the act has brought a huge influx of sex travelers.
- Former U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas stated that 40% of foreign men who travel to the Philippines, including Americans, do so for sexual tourism. He later apologized for not having proper statistics to back up his remarks, but the point remains the same – too many foreigners visit the country for illicit sex.
Annie says she prefers sexpats (foreign clients) since they’re the ones who visit more frequently, and they’re more generous than locals. “If they liked your performance you will get a tip. If you allow bareback (sex without a condom), threesome, or any other fetish, you earn more. I’m already selling my body so I might as well get a decent amount out of it. The Filipinos clients are cheapskates who would keep bargaining with your rates. Very few gives tips.
“Plus, the foreigners really like me because I can speak better English than the other girls. I get chosen quickly. They want to brag about all the money they have to someone who could understand them, even though they’ll only give me a very small part of it. I just mostly smile, nod, and agree to whatever they say.”
Annie estimates the number of dancers in the bar to be between 50-80 girls, a handful of whom are minors like her. “We work in shifts. It all depends on who’s available. I always work weekends because I have school, but almost all of the girls here work daily.”
- According to Talikala, a non-government organization that looks after the welfare of prostituted women, said 2,198 are unregistered while an estimated 4,000 women and children are also engaged in prostitution. About 20% are believed to be minors whose ages range from 12 to 17 years old.
- In the 1998 study by the International Labor Organization (ILO), it was estimated that there were at least half a million prostituted persons in the Philippines.1 In 2004, the number of those exploited in prostitution alone reached 600,000 which ballooned to 800,000 in in 2005. In a 2009 study entitled “Philippines: Women Struggling to Achieve Sexual Equality”2, there were around 800,000 prostituted persons in the Philippines.
Foreigners who visit in groups is not uncommon. In fact, Annie has had clients whose primary reason for visiting the Philippines was to experience the hookers. “I had five clients together once and they were telling me about their exploits in the Philippines. They were on a sex tour for the best prostitutes in Asia, and said that so far Filipinas are the sweetest. Their only complaint is that we’re more expensive than Thai girls.”
Health and Safety
When asked about her safety, Annie admits that it’s not the safest job in the book. Since starting a year ago, she’s already been in multiple shady situations. There was one time where a customer tried to force her into doing more than she agreed to, and another who tried to sneak in a few videos while doing the deed.
“It terrifies me that there might be a photo or video of me floating around on the internet or that my friends or teachers might find out what I do and I’d get kicked out of school and never finish my education.”
She’s also constantly on the lookout for cops, although she’s had a few customers from that profession. “I’m scared of getting caught and having to bribe them because I really need the money, but I’m more scared of being asked to have sex with multiple officers for free. Some girls here have nasty stories about that.”
- Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines. Republic Act No. 9208 or Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 strictly prohibits prostitution, trafficking, sex tourism, and any other form of sexual exploitation especially of women and children. Penalties range up to life imprisonment and a fine of not less than 3 million pesos.
It’s not very different health wise, either. Annie didn’t have a sex education class in school and doesn’t know that allowing unprotected sex has made her more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases. She also hasn’t been to any testing centers and doesn’t know her current health status, nor was she advised by the management of the bar she’s working in that she is required to be tested.
- Each prostitute is supposed to be 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. They have to undergo mandatory monthly medical examinations for sexually transmitted diseases. 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 must report immediately to the sanitary authorities whenever a prostitute is ill, be this an STD or non-sexual disease.
Annie thinks that her age is the reason why she wasn’t given a sanitary notebook. It isn’t legal to hire her, and she wasn’t officially employed. The management is also very strict about making sure that no one finds out about her real age.
“When clients ask my age, I’m supposed to say I’m 20. Although they don’t really care about your age. Some clients even want the girls to be as young as 14.”
Even after learning about the health risks, Annie doubts she’ll even visit a clinic in the near future because they are expensive. “Instead of getting checked, I’ll just buy food for my family. I think I would notice if there’s something wrong with me. That’s when I’ll seek medical help.”
When does it end
“I’m not stopping anytime soon,” Annie said when asked about her plans. “It’s easy and big money. Where else can you earn 5000 pesos per night? If I want to go to college, I have to keep doing this.”
She believes it would take some time for her to finally be free from this job, if she ever breaks free from it at all. “It’s hard to give it up, because I know how much it helped me and my family. I think as long as there are still people who want my services, as long as there’s still a demand, I’ll be willing to serve.”
Written by Julinda Gallego