‘Palit-Bigas’ Prostitution

Or how rural women are trading sex for rice due to hunger

The Philippines observed World Food Day this year amid an atmosphere of increasing hunger. Amid worsening hunger, a number of women in the rural areas – where food crops are grown – have been turning to what is called palit-bigas prostitution.


More and more Filipino rural women are driven to prostitution due to hunger.

This stark reality has come about as the Philippines joined other nations on Oct. 16 to observe the 25th World Food Day and as thousands of farmers from provinces south and north of Manila marched several kilometers last week to Metro Manila for a big protest rally near the gates of the presidential palace.

A national federation of peasant women, Amihan, estimates the number of prostituted women in the country at 800,000. This is 200,000 more than the 600,000 estimate given by Gabriela, the national women’s alliance, last year. Both groups state that many prostituted women come from the provinces.

The Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP), represented in Congress by Liza Largoza-Maza, had warned even last year of the rise of palit-bigas prostitution. The phenomenon of palit-bigas (or selling bodies for rice) was first documented by Gabriela following the 1992 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in Central Luzon, said Maza. She also said that in some cases these sexual “favors” were done in exchange for a cup of coffee.

How have Filipino women been coping so far with increasing hunger? Are the cases of women like Julie Ann and Gina indicators?

Julie Ann (not her real name), 18, works as a “guest relations officer” (euphemism for bargirl) in Nasugbu, Batangas, some three hours south of Manila. She hails from a family of corn farmers in Quezon province.

Her family, Julie Ann told Bulatlat, earns some P200 ($3.61) for every sack of corn sold. While she could not recall how much they would earn after every corn harvest season, she did say that it was never enough to feed all of them, and she recalls several instances when they would have only one meal for a whole day.

From her job as a bargirl, Julie Ann says, she could earn as much as P1,500 ($27.05) just by letting customers take her out for a night. “That’s certainly more than half of what our family earns by selling sacks of corn,” she said.

Residents of nearby Calatagan town, also in Batangas, interviewed by Bulatlat told of women in a number of villages there resorting to palit-bigas prostitution. In some cases, they said, the kilogram of rice which they get for trading sex would come with a few cans of sardines.

Julie Ann’s case is similar to that of Gina, 26, who comes from a family of rice farmers in Montalban, Rizal (about an hour north of Manila). She appeared in a recent press conference sponsored by Amihan.

Gina recently went back to the job she left seven years ago, that of a dancer at a nightclub in Caloocan City, so she could buy medicines for a daughter sick of urinary tract infection.

From that job she earned some P700 ($12.62), a far cry from the five kilograms of rice for each week that she earns in Montalban’s upland rice farms, and the additional two kilograms she gets from hiring herself out as a laundrywoman. She also chops wood for charcoal and gets some P15 ($0.27) for every 100 pieces of chopped wood. Most of the time her family has only one meal a day, she said.

Hunger where the food is

An October 2004 study by Jose Ramon Albert and Paula Monina Collado of the government Statistical Research and Training Center (SRTC) noted that seven out of every 10 poor Filipinos live in the countryside. Data from the socio-economic think tank IBON Foundation for the same year place the number of poor Filipinos at 88 percent of the then 81-million population, which is reported to have grown to 84 million.

It is disturbing that women in the rural areas, where food crops are planted and grown, are increasingly turning to prostitution to cope with hunger. Based on the October 2004 SRTC study, seven out of ten poor Filipinos come from the rural areas. The same study shows that half of all rural dwellers are poor.

“The overwhelming numerical importance of the rural poor means that poverty programs must be concentrated in improving…(people’s) living standards in rural areas and that we ought to promote policies on rural development, which include support for rural entrepreneurial activities and rural competitiveness, as well as enabling the improvement of farmers’ access to markets through infrastructure development and the creation of farmers’ markets in the cities (to ensure that less middle men reap the fruits of farmers’ labors),” Albert and Collado said in their study.

Based on 2004 data from Amihan, 68 percent of people in rural areas are poor.

The high and increasing incidence of poverty in the countryside is blamed by peasant groups on landlessness and globalization.

Amihan reveals that eight out of ten farmers in the Philippines are landless. More than 13 million hectares of agricultural land in the Philippines, Amihan further discloses, is controlled by big landlords and comprador businessmen, while multinational corporations also control vast tracts of land.

State of hunger

The Philippines observed World Food Day this year amid an atmosphere of increasing hunger.

Last month, the results of the Social Weather Stations’ Social Survey for the third quarter of 2005 showed 15.5 percent of household heads reporting that their families experienced hunger, without having anything to eat at least once during the said period. This is equivalent to some 2.6 million families or nearly 16 million individuals experiencing hunger in this year’s third quarter.

The hunger percentage for this year’s third quarter is higher than that registered for the same period last year, which stood at 15.1 percent. The SWS reports that this is also the highest national hunger percentage since March 2001.

The results of the SWS surveys on hunger from 1998 to the third quarter of 2005 also show that hunger incidences for the third quarter of every year since then have always been the lowest compared to other parts of the year – until 2004, when it recorded a 15.1-percent hunger incidence for the year’s third quarter, as compared to 7.4 percent for the first quarter, 13 percent for the second quarter, and 11.5 percent for the last quarter.

It was in the third quarter of 2004 that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo admitted that the country was mired in a fiscal crisis.

For this year, the SWS reported a hunger incidence of 13 percent for the first quarter and 12 percent for the second quarter. (Bulatlat.com)

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