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philippine team study 2

SHADOWS OF PLEASURE

(PROSTITUTION & TOURISM IN MANILA)

by A. Lin Neuman

 

"Good evening sir, please come inside". The tone is alluring and the woman beautiful, but the scene, repeated thousands of times nightly in the crowded nest of nightclubs in Ermita, the tourist 'belt' of Manila, is indicative of the clash that often occurs when the people of a poor nation come face to face with the influx of dollars associated with tourism. It is a multitiered system in the Philippines; the procurement of women for pleasure, and the open invitation to the mysteries of a "hospitality girl" is only the most visible manifestation of a prostitution phenomenon which grows larger with every percentage growth in tourist arrivals.

 

Director Lucina Alday of the Bureau of Women and Minors of the Ministry of Labor estimates that there are as many as 100,000 women employed in the hospitality industry, as she calls it, in Manila . The industry includes, in addition to hostesses who dispense their favors in cocktail lounges and nightclubs, waitresses (an often ambiguous term), go-go dancers, and sauna bath attendants. Hospitality is generally taken to be a loose euphemism for prostitution as the wages paid by club owners are scarcely liveable and the desire of tourists and leisure-class Filipinos for available women is well-known. The 100,000 figure may even be misleadingly

 

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low as applied to prostitution per se. Father Toru Nishimoto, a Redemptorist priest who counsels Japanese tourists and has followed the prostitution problem for years, identifies several categories of the business in Manila ranging from high-priced call girls, often models and film actresses, and descending a scale which ends with streetwalkers. Prices range from as high as $200 to about  50 (?7 = $1) for women desperate enough to be walking the streets Government statistics account for only those women employed in licensed establishments who must obtain health permits and undergo periodic venereal disease checks. Call girls, brothels, and others, of course do not obtain such permits.

 

Prostitution in the Philippines has always flourished in places where there is a heavy concentration of foreigners. The rows of clubs adjacent to the United States military bases in Angeles and Olongapo give long standing testament to that fact. The current situation is traceable to the influx of Japanese and other tourists since the imposition of Martial Law in 1972. In addition, former havens for male relaxation, like Taipei and Seoul, have become less accessible due to political attitudes and stricter enforcement of anti-prostitution codes after years of exploitation by Japanese sex tour operators. It has become a familiar sight in Manila to see bus loads of Japanese men pull up outside a club, disembark, and go inside to choose a partner for the evening. This rather indelicate tendency tc conduct their business in large groups is a source of both irritation and humor among Manila residents The girls, however, are more frank, "We love the Japanese," said Malou, an employee of Le Beau, a club which caters to the Japanese trade, "for their money."

 

And there is undoubtedly a lot of money. Philippine Ministry of Tourism figures indicate that the Japanese are the biggest spenders of all nationalities who visit the country within 1977 the over 200,000 Japanese visitors spending an average of nearly $55 a day on food, drink, shopping, and lodging. Nearly 85% of the Japanese tourists are male and a healthy number of them double the per capita figure with un-reported Yen spent on the girls. Of course, this astounding market has been captured and organized by the tour operators, both foreign and local. Since the banning of prostitution in Japan in 1958 the men have had to look to their poorer Asian neighbors for the pleasures of the flesh. After working through Korea, Taiwan, and to some extent Thailand they have come to roost in the open arms of Manila. The cli-

 

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mate could not be better. Tourism is a major governmental priority here and it has grown from a negligible dollar earner in the 1960s to the number 4 spot in foreign exchange earnings in the late 1970s with a 1977 figure in excess of $300 million (an increase of $262 million since 1972).

 

In examining the tour operations, glaring evidence is found of the routine exploitation of women by operators who see them as commodities to be assigned and dispensed with in as efficient a manner as possible. Typically, a large operator, like Japan Travel Bureau in Tokyo, will advertise a 'package tour' to the Philippines in cooperation with a large Manila agent like Baron Travel Corporation or Friendship Tours. The deal includes everything from shopping to hotel to women, who are either chosen from picture books in Japan or selected in person in one of the large clubs, some employing over 200 women, during the 'night life' tour.

 

Sources in the business report that the men on tour pay an average of $60 for one night with the women of their short lived dreams. Very little of the figure arrives in the hands of the girls. A rough breakdown looks like this:.

 

club owner…

$15

tour operator…

15

local guide…

10

Japanese guide…

10

hotel joiner pass…

10

total…

$60

 

 

The girls receive between P30 and P40 from the owner's share. The girls report that often they do not even get that much because there are numerous fines imposed by the club management for improper dress, smoking, drinking, tardiness, and other arbitrary infractions.

 

When asked how they survive, the girls at Le Beau said that they depend on tips. "Usually the Japanese will give us money or gifts but sometimes," laughed Selya, 18, "TY only." (TY is thank you and a common slang in Manila.)

 

The item under joiner pass is indicative of the interface between local capitalists and the industry. In 1976, the Philippine government financed the construction of several new first class hotels in Manila. The construction was spurred by the IMF

 

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convention held here but it has been widely criticized as in appropriate and the hotels have been plagued with occupancy problems. Statistics reveal that none of the new hotels managed any better than 60% occupancy for 1977 and many fell considerably below that figure. Prostitution and the joiner pass have therefore become reliable income boosters.

 

One hotel, the Manila Midtown Ramada, owned by Chinese industrialist John Gokongwei, has a typical, if somewhat more extensive procedure for handling the girls. To begin with, the hotel passes out sheets printed in Japanese and addressed, 'To our Japanese guests with ladies.' The sheet lays out the system: the girls are to be admitted after 5pm through the employee's entrance; they are to leave by 8:00 the next morning; they are not to be taken to any of the public areas of the hotel and all food and drink orders must be by room service. Finally, the hotel charges a 'joiner's fee' of $10 for the right to take the woman into the room. One source reported that the Ramada management has admitted to making 40% of its gross income from the joiner system.

 

There is no attempt to hide the business from prying eyes and apparently the hotel operates with complete protection. It is important to add that this is not a cheap waterfront dive but a respectable, first-class, government financed accommodation. That the Manila police are involved is obvious when one observes the exodus of women in the morning and the presence of several uniformed officers accepting bribes. Girls who are taken frequently to the Ramada and other hotels report that they have to pay P10 each per evening to the police for protection.

 

Of course, the Ramada is not the only hotel active in the industry. Even the Manila Hotel, the most luxurious in the city, owned by the Government Service Insurance System, is said, according to a source, to yield to the tour groups who bring girls into the hotel. (A group of Italian tourists recently threatened to move their business away from the hotel in a tiff with the management over the presence of prostitutes. The hotel gave in.) The source reported that nearly all hotels acquiesce in the trade. "They don't want to," said a woman, a marketing specialist in one of the hotels, "but they have to survive." "Often, the staff of the hotel acts as procurers for the guests and many times a tourist will be blocked from bringing a girl to his room only because he did not secure her through

 

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hotel channels.

 

A Philippine tourism expert, Francisco Quesada, is quoted as saying, "Now we have no less than 13,000 brand new hotel tourist rooms gathering dust.... A beguiling room boon snowballed into a quite fashionable gold rush which created a bloated room demand. An over generous offer of credit and investment by the government lured almost all the noted chain managements all over the world." The result is a ready supply of personnel ready to cater to the whims of the tourist for sex and hotel management which turns the other cheek and counts the cash receipts from the joiner system.

 

The Japanese are not the only nationality lured to the Philippines for the beauty and availability of its women but they are the largest, accounting for 29% of all arrivals, and the most visible. Father Nishimoto explains that the Japanese travel in groups because they want to bring their culture with them to a foreign country, they feel secure because groups are an important facet of Japanese society. "Physically they leave Japan, but mentally they stay home," he said. Nishimoto is concerned with the effect of his countrymen's presence abroad and his office, located in the Pope Pius XII Center in Manila, counsels’ visitors  and often the prostitutes with whom they become involved.

 

Grouping makes it easier to track the activities of the Japanese whereas other visitors American, British, Australian - satisfy their, desires on their own or in smaller numbers. They are seen haunting the cocktail lounges of Ermita or being approached by hotel employees or taxi drivers. The lounges are typically small dingy bars where the beer is cheap and the girls plentiful. A man will enter the establishment and then either choose or be approached by a girl at his table. If she stays to keep him company he buys her a 'ladies drink ' for about P12 and if he wants to take her out of the club he pays a 'bar fine' of between P100 and 150. The girls generally get half the price of the ladies' drinks and half the bar fine. There is no other wage. This explains the often desperate scene of elaborately costumed women shouting and grabbing foreigners along the streets of the tourist district to invite them inside for a drink. The girls in these establishments work long hours and are dependent on luck and beauty for their income. Although they do not have to become prostitutes there is usually no other alternative. "I didn't want to go," said Ching, 26, recounting her first

 

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days in the bars, "but my child needed money and the owner urged me.... Now I like the money."

 

The girls are the real victims in the prostitution expansion. They have come to Manila in much the same way their sisters have gone to the areas around military -bases seeking respite from provincial poverty with the availability of foreign dollars. Most of the girls, although there are no precise figures, come from the southern Philippine provinces of Leyte, Samar, and Cebu, all in the Visayan region and all depressed economically. Karina Constantino-David, a sociologist from the University of the Philippines, said, "For the majority of the prostitutes it is a case of being denied access to the goods of society. They have nowhere else to go." This is true for all but the most highly paid call girls, who are often well-educated, from wealthy families, and enter the business for kicks or to support a luxury life-style.

Elenita, 25, with a daughter and separated from her husband, works at Le Beau. She came to the club because a friend brought her and she needed the money. She didn't intend to become a prostitute, "But the men were already there." She admits to no real plans for the future and says the job, "is OK because I need the money."

 

Felisa is 28 and single, she has been at La Beau for several years. She comes from the Bicol region and is supporting her parents and sending a brother through school with her earnings. She also supports an 'adopted' baby. The adoption, she explained, was actually a purchase from another hostess for P700. "I didn't want to be lonely and I didn't want to ruin my body by getting pregnant," she said.

Olga, 18, was first taken by her mother to work in a bar as a go-go dancer when she was 14. Her beauty was regarded as an asset by a family plagued with poverty in Samar. She lost her virginity the first night of her employment at Le Beau two years ago. "I am ashamed to work in that place but I do because of financial reasons."

 

Gina works on M.H. del Pilar Street in Ermita at the 'Legs' cocktail lounge. She is 16 and has learned how to hustle customers into the lounge whereas girls at Le Beau just wait for the Japanese tour buses to arrive. She works every night from 5pm to 5am. "My boyfriend in the province took me

 

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and then left," she explained, "I was ashamed and we are very poor so I left with a friend and came here. I send some money to my family. They think I am just a waitress."

 

After a time the stories take on a depressing similarity. Poor girls, usually with a tale of being jilted or separated or taken advantage of, feel they have nothing to lose entering the trade. "No, no feelings with the customer, none; I just like the money," explained a girl on the street. Most are fatalistic with no plans for the future and despite the relatively high income they have trouble saving money. Some fall into drugs or just hang on hoping but never finding, something better. I met one woman who is 33 and has a child entering college. Another entertainer at Le Beau is 47.

 

The average income is impossible to determine and, of course, depends on the girl's sexual desirability. "If you are beautiful you have a customer every night," said one of the ladies who is very beautiful indeed. Many of the girls interviewed reported income in the ?1500 to  2000 range. This, in a country where a sales clerk or factory worker makes a minimum wage of P11 a day, is hard to abandon. The prostitutes are usually poorly educated, untrained, and unmarried - "What else is there," asked Felisa, "what else can I do?"

 

In addition to the economic factors which pressure the girls into the sordid life is the framework of Victorian morality which exerts a strong influence in Philippine society. Veronica Pineda works with Catholic Charities of the Philippines with an apostolate for the prostitutes. She says, "The minute they lose their virginity they feel hopeless." Indeed, the tale of lost virtue nearly always accompanies the girl's story. Director Alday cites, "the ostracism of these girls by nearly all sectors of society," as contributing to the problem.

 

On the government side, the response has been both slow and inadequate. The chief institutional agent for the care of women in the hospitality industry is the Bureau of Women and Minors, under Alday. The bureau is primarily concerned with enforcement of Presidential Decree 148 which includes waitresses, hostesses, and sauna bath attendants in the work force and thus entitles them to the protection and benefits of the labor code. Director Alday says that very few of the women enjoy their benefits and her office is attempting to educate them on their legal rights. In addition, the bureau conducts a

 

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seminar for girls applying for license as hospitality girls to protect them from the dangerous possibilities of the occupation. In other words, the seminar is designed to keep them out of the illicit bed. Alday sees her work as falling under the general swell of benefits which accrue to citizens under the New Society of President/Prime Minister Marcos and the First Lady, Imelda Marcos. "In this compassionate society which the First Lady has tried to work for, in this New Society of ours, the improvement of the quality of life for all citizens is our goal," said Alday as she affirmed the First Lady's personal concern for the prostitute.

 

When asked about the structural link between prostitution and tourism Alday conceded, "This makes our work quite difficult." She said there is some tension between her office and the Ministry of Tourism over the issue and added that they are anxious for tourism authorities to intervene in the situation.

 

For their part, officials of the Ministry of Tourism do not admit that there is a problem and they deny any part in the creation of a prostitution industry in Manila. An official of the ministry stated, "I really do not know of any connection between tourism and prostitution. If there is, we do not play it up." While they may not advertise hookers in promotional brochures, they are certainly aware of the situation because the ministry has co-sponsored seminars on venereal disease prevention among club and sauna bath owners in the tourist district. Officials are hesitant to grant interviews, however, and there is a general sense of see no evil, hear no evil in the halls of the ministry.

 

As far as the law of the land is concerned, prostitution is banned in no uncertain terms. Section 86 of the Hotel Code of 1976 specifically requires owners to report prostitutes and 'suspicious characters' to the police. It is an ironic contradiction, therefore, that municipal governments in Metro Manila require all hostesses and waitresses to undergo regular VD checks by government doctors.

 

Clearly, despite Director Alday's assertion that, "The girls turn to prostitution because of neglect from religious and civic groups and general misunderstanding," and despite the personal concern of Imelda Marcos, prostitution in the Philippines is a structural reality caused by the interacting of poverty with leisure dollars from the industrial world. The government wants those dollars and it

 

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is doubtful that any significant efforts will be made to stand in the way of the tourist's pursuit of pleasure.

 

Therefore the Philippines, long noted for having beautiful women, is allowing them to be turned into foreign exchange earners, commodities on the leisure market of Asia. A Japanese, Mr. Yoshihisa Hoya, of the Manila Garden Hotel, said, "The Philippines has many potential tourist attractions, and it is important that these be made known to foreigners, especially my countrymen. What I regret is that they are coming here, not for those attractions but for the girls."

 

Under Martial Law, there is no free press or public discussion of administrative priorities in the country. The big drive for tourism is a relatively new priority, begun with the creation of the Department (now Ministry) of Tourism in 1974 under former Marcos press agent Jose Aspiras. But despite the holy water of official sanction tourism is not necessarily viewed as beneficial for the nation's development. During the parliamentary elections held in April of this year the opposition party was vigorously opposed to foreign penetration in the form of tourism and exploitation of women. Of course, no one from the opposition was elected amid widespread and documented reports of government cheating. A source in the hotel industry reported that Minister Aspiras called all major hotel owners and tour operators together during the campaign and pressured them to instruct their employees to vote for the administration because the opposition would destroy the tourism industry.

 

The Philippines does not have a widespread women's movement and the predominant reaction to prostitution continues to be focused on the girl's fail from a state of social grace. There is, however, a small but growing awareness of women as part of a broader matrix of exploitation in which a male dominated society is more than willing to see women literally sold to the highest bidder. Prostitution is a natural foreign exchange earner here because it is endemic in the national scene as well. Although the focus of this article is tourism, in the course of the background research it became apparent that the moneyed class of Filipinos is heavily involved in the procurement of women for personal pleasure. Extra wives, 'keridas', in Tagalog, for example, have long been a status symbol among the wealthy. Sociologist David said in fact that the majority of high-paid call girls cater to

 

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the upper classes here, that low-priced Streetwalkers exist in the lower strata and that only the middle group (and vast majority in Manila) is for the tourists, 

 

Japanese women's groups have become aware of the image their men project abroad. Father Nishimoto said the anti-sex tour drive of Japanese women in the late 1960s was a factor in the curtailment of the system in Korea and Taiwan. The cut back in those countries, however, was the result of cooperation with local departments of tourism; here the Ministry of Tourism refuses even to acknowledge a problem. The movement in Japan is beginning to focus on the Philippines. A recent full-page advertisement in a Yokohama paper, inserted by the Women's Association of Asia in Japan, was headlined, "Lets Stop the Sex Tours;" and referred specifically to the Philippines.

 

There is no end in sight to the rise of prostitution in this country. Calls to individual reform and acceptance of standard morality miss the mark. It is not a case of girls falling prey to temptation and sin. The crux of the issue is summed up repeatedly in interviews with the women themselves, "I hate it but I just need the money."

 

With the continued expansion of tourism and the government's inability (or lack of desire) to deal with the structural dynamics of prostitution, that money will be there. The girls are poor.. The girls are beautiful. It is a simple equation and the results can be seen in the glaring lights of Ermita, the elaborately appointed hotels, and the beckoning shadows of pleasure.