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From the Editor

About sex work (and prostitution) among Filipinos at the time of Covid-19

Various Facebook GCs (group chats) highlight how Covid-19 may have pushed many Filipinos into the sex industry. And yet – except in these GCs – this is largely ignored.

Facebook just prompted me to “join” three GCs (group chats) related to sex work (and even prostitution). One is for “mga lalaking bayaran“, another for masseurs with ES (extra service; the extra being the sexual favor), and another for “for hire daks Pinoys”.

These aren’t exclusive GCs, actually; and they aren’t new, either. Many others like them abound in Facebook (among other social networking sites).

But upon checking, what struck me with these GCs this time around is Covid-19’s effect/s on the (current) memberships. So many are in this because of desperation. For instance, it is not uncommon to see comments like: “Nawalan lang ng trabaho; sino gusto tumulong para may ipa-Pasko kaming mag-aama“; or “Para tulong lang sa online classes.”

This is another facet of the sex industry (and even prostitution) as exacerbated by the pandemic.

And this face – while at least tackled overseas – isn’t really openly discussed in the Philippines…

IN THE SHADOWS

Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, this is worth stressing. Penalties vary, up to life imprisonment for those involved in trafficking (covered by the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003).

No, the country doesn’t distinguish between sex work and prostitution; here, those in the sex industry are largely considered as in need of being “saved”. Not just the body, too; but also the “soul”.

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But – get this – prostitution is actually openly tolerated – e.g. let’s stop pretending we don’t know what many GROs actually do; what masseurs offer when they say “E.S.”; and that there are local government units that give workers (of bars, spas, massage parlors, KTV bars, and so on) “pink cards” to guarantee that they are STI-free and are “sexually clean/safe”.

And really, except for the occasional “saving” of trafficked people (who are then turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development) we see in TV, the deafening silence on this is what’s remarkable.

TRANSACTIONAL SEX

This silence is… worrisome.

Particularly because this continues to happen; and yes (yet again), exacerbated by Covid-19.

What the GC members I’ve come across in Facebook are doing aren’t new, actually. The Philippines – dearies – isn’t excluded from the “oldest profession in the world.” This, obviously, includes male sex workers (befitting the handling of this topic here).

Consider that in 2003, the University of the Philippines’ Population Institute and Demographic Research and Development Foundation released the 2002 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS3) that noted that about 11% of sexually active young people aged 15-24 did it with someone of the same sex. Of this figure, 87% are men who have sex with men (MSM; meaning they may not self-identify as gay or bi, but have sex with other men).

Here’s what’s worth stressing in UP’s study: Almost half of those who had same-sex encounters also engaged in commercial sex. Approximately 19% paid for sex, while 11% received payment for sexual favors.

At that time, Dr. Corazon Raymundo, project coordinator of YAFS3, stated that it appears that in a fast changing world, the “usual norms and expectations do not hold true anymore.”

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REVISIT… EVERYTHING

There are too many interconnected issues that should be considered here…

There’s poverty; and how this forces people to do things they may not otherwise do.

There’s the continuing lack of government support for its people; otherwise, those who do not want to sell themselves wouldn’t be forced to do so – e.g. selling oneself for “online classes”; because of loss of employment; etc.

There’s the pervasive ignorance re the sex industry; this is what leads to the abuse of those involved in it because – since they are considered illegal to begin with – they can’t even access State support if they are abused, etc.

There’s the impact of tech on the industry.

There’s the ongoing hypocrisy re this – e.g. church people want to “save” sex workers; but ask them to give these same people job in the church, and start counting how many reasons they can come up with just to (basically) say “No way!”.

There’s the continuing “punishment” of those in the sex industry; and yet… look at how the patrons get away with “buying” (e.g. the GCs in Facebook blatantly haggle with the service providers, demanding for the absurd while asking to lower the prices).

There’s the continuing ignoring of the sexual and reproductive health concerns of Filipinos.

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There’s the silence re this; it’s staring us in the face, and we don’t even talk about this.

And on, and on, and on we go…

In the end, this needs to be tackled. No matter your angle” – e.g. because it inadvertently signifies the adverse effects of Covid-19 on poorer sectors of society; because it highlights government inaction/misaction; because it needs to be monitored as a health issue; because you’re self-righteous and you want to “save” them all; etc. – this shouldn’t, couldn’t be ignored. Covid-19 is re-emphasizing what was already there; and so please… just address this already…

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. He grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City), but he "really came out in Sydney" so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing, and a developed world". Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).

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