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

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.
Starting young

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 said.

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 and recreation.

Prostitution became the most convenient job for women and children then, Bulawan said.

New face

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.

‘Yung mga 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 puberty.

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.

Easy money?

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) she said.

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) she said.

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 said.

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 the bar.

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.
Without hope

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 Evelyn.

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 embarrassing.)

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. (

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