Subic: Where the Show Never Stops
Even with the removal of the U.S. Bases, the sex trade never stopped in
Olongapo and Subic. In the 80s, prostitution catered to U.S. servicemen.
Now prostitution caters to businessmen, mostly Chinese, Taiwanese, and
Filipinos, who frequent the casinos inside the former U.S. bases.
By Dabet Castaneda
TWO FACES OF OLONGAPO
BY NIGHT: Prostitution was and still is a thriving "trade" in Olongapo
City, where U.S. soldiers used to frequent the bars for their rest and
recreation. But it's not only done "in the open," as in this KTV bar in
the lower photo; the city has places like the carinderia in the upper
photo, with secret rooms for "privacy". PHOTOS BY DABET
SUBIC, Zambales – It was a little pass
10 a.m. and the teenage girl had just woke up.
After washing her face with tap water,
she broke into a sheepish smile and said, “Sorry ate, kagigising ko
lang. Alam mo na, puyat.” (I am sorry, I just woke up. I slept late.)
The girl then took her mobile phone,
an old Nokia 3315, and started texting some messages. This fair-skinned,
chinky-eyed young lass is Maya (not her real name), an entertainer at a
videoke bar along the streets of Subic in the province of Zambales.
“Ate” is Evelyn Marzan, an organizer
of bar girls from a women’s organization, Buklod Kababaihan (Organize
Women), who assisted this reporter for this interview.
Maya had no idea she was going to be
interviewed and upon realizing it, her smile broke into a giggle. “Reporter
ka?” (Are you a reporter?) she asked.
“Ay, ako din, gusto ko maging ganyan,”
(I also want to be a reporter like you.) she said as her face turned red.
She then covered her face with her hand, stood up, took a hanky and
covered her face again.
“Wag ka na mahiya,” (Don’t be
shy.) Evelyn told her. After a little prodding, Maya took her seat and was
ready for this interview.
Although she insisted she is 19 years
old, Maya’s lanky, underdeveloped body and mannerisms gave away her real
age. She said she was in third year high school when she stopped schooling
this year. Evelyn later confirmed Maya is only 16.
Evelyn also said she had met a 15-year
old girl who just arrived in this bar last week.
In a separate interview, Buklod
president Alma Bulawan said the present generation of bar girls is aged
15-25 years old. “Gusto kasi ng mga customer ngayon mga bata
hindi katulad nuong panahon namin kahit anong edad, pwede,” (Customers
today want young girls, not like in our time when any age will do) she
Bulawan was a prostituted woman during
the 1980s when what is known today as the Subic Bay Freeport was still a
U.S. military base.
The Philippine Senate voted against
the extension of the U.S.-RP Military Bases Treaty when it expired in
1991. But the area continues to serve as a military station for U.S.
warships after the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was approved in 1998.
During the five decades that the U.S.
military base was in Subic and Olongapo City, the area surrounding the
base had long strips of bars, which are actually brothel areas, where
American servicemen spend their “liberty,” a U.S. military term for rest
Prostitution became the most
convenient job for women and children then, Bulawan said.
Provincial officials initiated a
clean-up drive against prostitution after the bases treaty was scrapped.
In fact, the base area was converted into an industrial and recreation
hub, which hosts multi-national corporations, hotels and casinos.
But with or without the bases, Bulawan
said, the sex trade never has stopped in Olongapo and Subic, as it never
did elsewhere. At present, there are about 3,000 Guest Relations Officer (GROs)
in Olongapo alone, she added.
During the time of the bases, she
said, their number rose to about 16,000.
The biggest proof, Bulawan said, is
the girls’ health cards given out by the local government itself.
Precy, a GRO in a videoke bar in
Olongapo, said they are being checked by the city’s health center every
week. “Nagpapa-pap smear kami,” (We undergo pap smear) she said.
They are made to pay P30 per check up and are not allowed to work if they
do not comply.
customer kasi naninigurado din yan. Hinahanapan nila ng
health card yung babae bago nila gamitin,” (The Customers also
want to make sure. They want to see the health card first before sleeping
with them) Bulawan said.
Since then, there have only been a few
changes: sex trade hubs in and out of the Freeport are now known as
videoke bars and bar girls are now called GROs.
A trip around Olongapo City would show
that even the smallest carinderia offers a videoke service and lots of
young girls who look barely out of their teens, some of them just out of
Subic offers a wilder side. According
to Evelyn, she knows young girls here who go dancing “all the way.”
She said videoke bars in this area
offer three dance sets every night for their customers.
“Una, nakadamit pa yung mga bata.
Pangalawa, naka-bikini na sila. Sa pangatlo,
all the way na. Ibig sabihin wala na silang damit,” (During the
first set, the girls would still be wearing clothes. In the second set,
they would be in their bikinis. On the third, they go all the way, meaning
they dance in the nude) Evelyn said.
These girls, Evelyn said, get drunk or
even take drugs before doing the dance shows. “Hindi
naman kasi nila magagawang magsayaw ng nakahubad sa harap ng mga tao kung
hindi sila nakainom o naka-drugs,”
(They won’t have the courage to dance nude in front of people if they are
not drunk or stoned) she said.
“Kahit nga dati
din akong bar girl
nung panahon ng base, nagugulat pa rin ako pag nakikita ko yung mga
bata na ganun,” (Even if I were also a bar girl during the bases’
time, I still get shock to see those girls perform) she said.
Maya has in fact admitted to getting
herself drunk by drinking at least seven bottles of beer to be able to
dance and entertain her customer. “Tsaka mas gusto ng customer yung
lasing na kami para magawa nila lahat ng gusto nila. Sinusulit talaga nila
yung bayad nila,” (Our customers also want us drunk so they can do
whatever they want. They really try to get their money’s worth) she said.
Maya started working in the bar only
last September when her father sent her there. “Gusto nya kasi
makapag-asawa daw ako ng Kano dito,” (He wants me to marry an American)
Maya said she had a cousin who also
worked as a GRO here and was able to marry an American serviceman who was
a customer at the bar.
Like many Filipinos, Maya said her
father also has an “American dream”. As the eldest of four children, she
had to sacrifice schooling in exchange for the opportunity to earn dollars
and help augment the family income. Her father is a jeepney driver while
her mother is a vendor.
But money never comes easy for Maya.
She said she is paid a measly P100 a night as a dancer. At first, it was
enough to “just dance and drink.” She said they are encouraged to drink a
lot because they get a commission in every order. Girls are given P40 for
a drink that costs P80 and P50 for a P120 drink.
“Hindi pa ako nagpapa-bar-fine nuon.
Virgin pa kasi ako nung nagpunta ako dito,” (Back then, I would not agree
to be taken out. That’s because I was still a virgin when I arrived here)
To take the girl out for sex, a
customer has to pay a bar fine, Evelyn explained.
After a few weeks, Maya finally agreed
to go out with a customer. “Para mas malaki ang kita,” (To earn more) she
But her father’s American dream could
not materialize, she said while smiling. “Takot kasi ako sa Kano
(shortened version of “Amerikano”, the Filipino term American). Alam mo
na kung bakit,” (I am afraid of Americans. You know why) she said,
referring to the belief that Americans have a large penis.
“Tsaka hindi ako marunong mag-Ingles,”
(And I do not understand English) she added.
Maya said her customers were mostly Filipinos, Chinese and Taiwanese who
come to Subic to gamble at the casinos.
These customers pay a bar fine of
P1,200 but Maya said only P550 is given to the girls, the rest going to
Not knowing anybody in Subic, Maya
decided to live with the other GROs. There are seven of them staying in a
room at the back of the bar where they work. Maya pays P200 a month. They
each have a bed and share the bathroom, wash area and kitchen. They pool
their money together to buy food.
The thought that girls her age should
be in school made Maya reflect for awhile. Her head bowed, she said, “Gusto
ko nga sana mag-aral. Kung mag-working student kaya ako?” (I
would have liked to study. What if I become a working student?) she asked
But before Evelyn could answer, Maya
was quick to add: “Kaya lang baka may makakilala sa akin sa school.
Nakakahiya.” (But someone might recognize me. It would be
Like most girls working in bars, Maya
is trying to look for another job but could not find one. She said she
wanted to apply as a contractual worker in one of the companies inside the
Freeport but is not qualified being an undergraduate.
Thus, like many of the girls in Subic,
Maya is forced to survive by selling her body to earn a few hundred pesos.
At a little before noontime, Maya was
already shifting restlessly on her seat, looking at her mobile phone and
asking her bar mates for the time. She soon excused herself and ended the
interview. By 2pm, she would have to put on her make-up and wear a tiny,
skimpy dress. For Maya, the show begins at 4 p.m. Bulatlat
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© 2005 Bulatlat
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