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Women's Movements and the Filipina1986-2008$

Mina Roces

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780824834999

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824834999.001.0001

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Prostitution, Women’s Movements, and the Victim Narrative

Prostitution, Women’s Movements, and the Victim Narrative

(p.52) 2 Prostitution, Women’s Movements, and the Victim Narrative
Women's Movements and the Filipina

Mina Roces

University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on how the women's movements represented prostitutes in their campaign for the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003. The activism over prostitution as a feminist issue captured much of the experiences and complex challenges encountered by these activists. In presenting these issues, the chapter introduces the double narrative of prostitution as a feminist issue: on the one hand, deployment of the victim narrative was successful in advocating laws on behalf of prostitutes; on the other hand, feminists were not keen on encouraging women to wear the badge of “victim” permanently in everyday practice. This chapter focuses largely on the former narrative, taken into context within existing cultural constructions of the feminine that idealized the woman as martyr.

Keywords:   prostitution, anti-trafficking campaigns, women's movements, victim narratives, prostitution laws, cultural constructions

In the international context, the activism over prostitution as a feminist issue has the protagonists divided over the interpretation of whether prostitution is violence against women (VAW) or sex work. The former defines prostitutes as victims of male violence and patriarchy while the latter sees prostitution as a kind of work making it a labor issue.1 I am not going to revisit these arguments here; my intention instead is to note the international context of this fiery debate that continues to haunt the specter of international feminists everywhere.

Although the supporters for either camp could be found among Filipina activists, the prevailing position has been the view that prostitution is VAW. Feminists have cited the peculiar conditions of the Philippines as a developing country—especially the acute and continuing problems of poverty and unemployment, the historical presence of American bases, and the lack of social protection for families—as reasons for opposing the legitimization of prostitution as a profession, because in their opinion women’s choices were severely constrained.2

In this book I use the term “prostitute” rather than “sex worker” (which implies prostitution as work), or “prostituted women” (which implies prostitution as VAW) to make the point that I am not taking the position of either camp in the international feminist debate on prostitution. The word “entertainer” is used to refer to the Filipina OCWs in Japan who may or may not be involved in prostitution.

(p.53) My reading of the Philippine context is that existing cultural constructions of the feminine that idealized the woman as martyr introduced another complexity to those grappling with prostitution as a feminist issue. Feminists hoped to alter constructions of the feminine to remove the symbolic capital given to the woman as martyr, but this strategy contradicted the position that prostitutes were victims of violence. How feminists negotiated this conundrum is one of the major themes of this book. The activism over prostitution as a feminist issue captured much of the experiences and complex challenges encountered by activists. On the one hand, deployment of the victim narrative was successful in advocating laws on behalf of prostitutes; on the other hand, feminists were not keen on encouraging women to wear the badge of “victim” permanently in everyday practice. This chapter focuses on one side of the double narrative—the use of the victim narrative in the battle to decriminalize prostitution and shift the discursive blame onto the traffickers, pimps, and clients. Representing prostitutes as victims has largely been a successful effort, winning the passage of progressive legislation such as the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003. But since activists wanted to fashion women into advocates and empowered agents, and not victims, they also directed their attention to the transformation of women’s consciousness and self-esteem. The latter project will be discussed in more detail in Part II of this book (Practices: Fashioning Women) in Chapter 7. Empirical data for the arguments made above will be taken from the materials of three women’s organizations that focus on prostitution as a feminist issue.

Three Women’s Organizations

The Development Action for Women Network (DAWN) is an NGO “devoted to assisting Filipino women migrants in Japan and their Japanese Filipino children in the promotion and protection of their human rights and welfare.”3 Formed in 1996, it focused on the lives of the women who went to Japan to entertain Japanese men in bars, but who all too often ended up in prostitution.4 A number of them return to the Philippines pregnant and abandoned by their Japanese customers-turned-partners. DAWN not only gave them the opportunities for an alternative livelihood through their Sikhay business (weaving and sewing clothes for export to Japan), but it also helped the Filipino-Japanese children by locating their fathers and pressuring those men to send financial support to their children. DAWN brought these women and their children together as a new “family” through activities such as socials, theater, (p.54) dance, and seminars on human rights. DAWN is superbly organized; it has published two books and has produced a quarterly newsletter (Sinag, literally translated as Dawn or Daybreak) since January 1997.5 In addition, DAWN has transnational links with DAWN-Japan run by Japanese women who sell Sikhay products in Japan and assist in the task of locating the Japanese fathers of the Filipino-Japanese children.

The Third World Movement Against Trafficking in Women (TWMAE-W)is an organization founded on Human Rights Day December 10, 1980, by Good Shepherd nun Soledad Perpiñan, an activist during the martial law regime of President Marcos. It was the sex tourism in the 1970s and military prostitution that inspired her to work with prostitutes in Metro-Manila and to build shelters for them, while giving them the training for alternative employment. Due to its prominence, it was given consultative status in the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1985. TW-MAE-W built “drop-in centers” called “Belens” where prostitutes were given counseling, and training for alternative employment that included leading gender-sensitizing workshops. TW-MAE-W has since expanded its scope to include issues on the sexual exploitation of women, marriage brokers (the so-called “mail-order bride” phenomenon), migrant workers, ethnic rights, child prostitution, and the religious oppression of women.6

Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Asia-Pacific (CATW-AP) was formed in May 1993 in Manila as part of the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights. It focuses on trafficking and prostitution, framing these issues in the context of human rights and VAW.7 A branch of the international organization founded by Kathleen Barry (Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, International; CATW-International) in 1988, CATW-AP’s perspectives dovetailed with its parent organization, whose goals included “to challenge acceptance of the sex industry, normalization of prostitution as work, and to deromanticize legalization initiatives in various countries.”8 In the Philippines, CATW-AP campaigned for more than eight years for the passage of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 that decriminalized prostitutes and punished the traffickers and syndicates.9

Prostitution in the Philippine National and Transnational Context

Prostitution is a huge dollar-earning industry in the Philippines. Not only does it bring in tourist dollars, some OCWs who become prostitutes (p.55) sent remittances to the Philippines; the income they sent formed part of the PHP110 billion pesos (US$12.8 billion) total of all money sent home by OCWs (including domestic helpers, and so on) in 2003.10 In the 1970s, during the authoritarian regime of President Ferdinand Marcos, international tourism was promoted heavily, making it the forerunner of the Philippine economy as Manila developed a reputation as an “international sex city” or as the “sex capital of Asia.”11 One consequence of this campaign was the commodification of the Filipino woman—often marketed as one of the country’s main tourist attractions.12 When international tourism dropped to fourth place in foreign exchange earnings in the 1990s, a continuing male bias in foreign tourist compositions persisted as 83 percent of visitors traveling for pleasure (on holiday).13 Even though prostitution is illegal, the government had a history of unofficially promoting rather than discouraging the industry by encouraging representations of the Philippines as peopled by beautiful women available to foreigners, and by granting visas to overseas-bound entertainers (some of whom became drawn into prostitution) and calling them overseas performing artists (OPAs). In this sense, the government was a major adversary of the women’s movement who saw it as willing to “sacrifice” its women for economic gain. In addition, women activists blamed the presence of U.S. military bases and regular visits of the American Seventh Fleet as responsible for the growth of the prostitution industry.14

Prostitution conflated the Filipina with “sex object” and reinforced Orientalist imaginings of the Filipina Other as exotic and erotic sex slave, a commodity that could be purchased cheaply by the men of the First World. American-based feminist scholar Neferti Xina M. Tadiar showed acute insight when she identified prostitution and prostituted Filipinas as synecdoche for the prostitution of the country to global capital.15 The Philippines sent around forty thousand women to Japan as entertainers every six months. For example, in 2002 there were 69,989 women OPAs in Japan.16 The ubiquitous presence of the Filipina as prostitute partly explained why the issue of prostitution has such high priority in the agenda of the women’s movements.

Prostitution as VAW, Prostituted Women as Victims

Women’s movements in the Philippines are by no means united over the issue of prostitution, but the dominant narrative is that prostitution is identified as VAW and not sex work.17 In the words of the CATW-AP, (p.56) “prostitution is unwanted sex for women and therefore ‘paid rape.’”18 Introducing an anthology of life stories of trafficked women, Aida F. Santos declared, “the sex that often is found in prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation is basically torture, except that one is ‘paid’ to endure it.”19 Furthermore, “a place rife with violence and exploitation ought not to be considered a ‘workplace.’”20 In the issue on prostitution in Piglas Diwa, the journal of CWR, this NGO argued that Article 138 of the Labor Code’s indirect classification of prostitution as work made “the selling of flesh socially acceptable.” From their perspective, the view that prostitution was “sex work” denied that it was a form of VAW, and this denial “abuses, exploits and ruins the dignity of women.”21 Activists believed the use of the term “commercial sex worker” glamorized prostitution and decontextualized it from the violence, abuse, and exploitation while exempting the perpetuators from responsibility.22 According to Perpiñan (RGS), speaking for TW-MAE-W, prostitutes were “victims and survivors of a social evil which has been allowed to grow and thrive.”23

Hence, activists claimed that the right term was “prostituted women” to emphasize their victimization. In radio talk show program XY-Zone’s episode on the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, a program presented soon after the law’s passage, resource person and CATW-AP chair Aurora Javate de Dios corrected anchor Lily Malasa’s use of the term “sex work.” In response to the query, “What can you say about sex work?,” de Dios answered, “We don’t use the term ‘sex work’” because the use of that term gave dignity to the type of work that victimized women. When Malasa asked, “What is the right term?,” de Dios replied, “prostituted women” (a term introduced by Raquel Tiglao), because poverty forced women to become involved in a transaction in which they were clearly the victims.24 In another radio talk show, Okay Ka, Mare! (You are okay, sister!, hereafter Okay Ka) the resource person from the CWR also told audiences that the correct word was “prostituted women,” to emphasize their victimization and lack of choice.25

In this discourse, prostitutes are not just victims of male violence and male desire, but also victims of poverty. Here, the Philippine government was blamed because it was unable to provide them with adequate or alternative employment. According to CATW-AP, “Prostitution is not a choice. … It is an attempt to survive.”26 In a developing country, women who do not have educational qualifications only had the limited options of factory worker, domestic helper, or prostitute. Of those three poor choices, prostitution was the most lucrative. According to Aida F. Santos, speaking of trafficked women, “choice was never really a part of their lives.”27

(p.57) Prostitutes also have been represented as social victims of a culture that glorified women’s suffering for the family as “dutiful daughters” and “self-sacrificing mothers” who put their kinship group above personal fulfillment. Quoting from Dr. Christina Gates, psychologist and secretary general of the Centre for Restorative Justice in Asia (CRJA), DAWN referred to the Filipina entertainers in Japan as “sacrificial lambs” who denied their own personal needs for the benefit of their families.28 The testimonies of the entertainers disclosed that many sent their earnings back to their families.29 In sum, feminists represented prostitutes as victims—as women who were pushed towards a life of prostitution through no fault of their own by the country’s poverty and the government’s inability to provide adequate job choices, and by social norms that idealized the woman as martyr and dutiful daughter.

Prostitutes also were represented by the women’s organizations discussed in this chapter as duped women, lured into the profession by unscrupulous agents. Published accounts of the stories of trafficked women used in feminist advocacy replicated the narrative of naïve women tricked or trapped into prostitution by friends and acquaintances who promised them jobs as servers or entertainers overseas, but who found themselves imprisoned in brothels. Accounts of trafficked women exposed the cruel, dark, seedy, inhumane side of the agents who thrived on women’s naïvete, taking women as far away as Cyprus, Nigeria, and Japan.30

Some of the testimonies themselves contradicted this representation as innocent victims. Moving On, an anthology of stories of former Filipina entertainers in Japan published by DAWN as part of their research advocacy, exposed how women went to Japan expecting to work as entertainers, but ended up having sex with customers. Many of these women had their passports confiscated and were later forced to deliver a weekly quota of “dates” with customers or risk paying a hefty fine, or worse—being left outside in the cold without adequate clothing.31 One strategy for coping with these unrealistic demands for “dates” was for women to choose one man to become their “boyfriend.” Inevitably, the “boyfriend” would expect the women to have sex with him, blurring the lines between “entertainer,” “prostitute,” or “lover.”32 Many of the women did not see themselves as selling sex, but rather as falling in love with “boyfriends.” Indeed, DAWN’s statistics reveal that 51 percent of these women ended up marrying or having children with former customers.33Some of the women who sought refuge with DAWN were pregnant women abandoned by their Japanese lovers who had been compelled to return home. By the time the woman accessed DAWN’s (p.58) services, she was quite desperate, suffering discrimination from a family who was happy to take her earnings but not to endure the shame associated with having an unmarried, single mother among them, with a child who was subjected to teasing in school for being fatherless and for being a Japanese-Filipino child of a “Japayuki.”34 The poignant tale of the women’s experiences of eventual prostitution and rejection brought home the message that these women were tragic heroines.

But when I read the stories, I was also struck by another recurring theme. Despite the original experience of exploitation and prostitution, almost all the women returned to Japan six or seven times to fulfill six-month contracts at different clubs. Did this not make their representation as victims problematic? After all, the first time they signed up for a Japan stint one could argue that they were innocent victims, but the next time they presumably knew what sort of job they were getting into. Why would women return to a situation where they knew they could once again be dehumanized, exploited, and abused?

DAWN’s answer to this puzzling and complex question was that these patterns of renewing contracts to Japan was further evidence of women’s commodification (in this case, self-commodification), because they measured their value only as breadwinners:

The impact of the local economy on the lives of the poor is more evident when the OPAs return and in spite of the indignities and disappointments they suffered in Japan, many OPAs opt to return to their jobs there.

Dr. Gates refers to this as the “commodification” of OPAs. Those who decide to return to Japan have become commodified, equating themselves to the money they are able to earn.

In their struggle for survival, the women also go through a process of depersonalization. They forget their own needs and become sacrificial lambs for the benefit of their families. …

Thus, the women respondents measure their success in terms of the investments they are able to make from their earnings and not their negative experiences as OPAs in Japan. (emphasisadded)35

Activists therefore treated this tendency to return to the source of their abuse as another evidence of victimization. This time, women were victims of a society that measured their worth in terms of how they could provide for their family’s financial difficulties despite the dehumanized (p.59) conditions of work. To “correct” this tendency to see themselves only as breadwinners, DAWN director Carmelita Nuqui stressed that DAWN’s orientation included a lecture on their rights as human beings and a “values” seminar, where the women were told that the amount of money earned was not the only form of symbolic capital, if earning it was at the cost of suffering personal indignities and human rights violations.36

As I will illustrate in the next section of this chapter, the activists’ use of the victim narrative had a definite purpose for their advocacy. But such a narrative elided the possibility that the women might have chosen to return to Japan. Activists focused on the women who sought the service of the NGOs. But despite the horror stories sensationalized in the press involving the torture, rape, and violence inflicted on Filipino entertainers in Japan, interviews with the entertainers themselves conducted by one researcher revealed that they were reluctant to support a government ban against overseas deployment of female entertainers.37 In fact, several thousand of these entertainers demonstrated against the ban in 1991. This group of women (labeled “winners” or panalo by this one study) felt a sense of achievement because they contributed to the family’s financial improvement. Though holding low status in Japan, they acquired some new status as returnees because they came back with material trappings of success: televisions, video recorders, Walkmans, jewelery, CD recorders, electrical appliances, iPods, money, and other “gifts.”38 They had simply sublimated how their new status or income was earned.

Granted that the accomplishments of entertainers came at a huge price, reading entertainers and prostitutes as “victims” and “sacrificial lambs” effaced their agency, not just in terms of the women’s negotiation for better financial status, but also in the realm of social independence. Not all Filipina feminists advocated the above position on prostitution. As mentioned in endnote 17 of this chapter, Nelia Sancho is one of the few Filipina activists who uses the term “sex worker.”39 Other feminists point to the ways in which prostitutes act as negotiators or to how prostitution enables women to escape from the oppressive ties of the kinship group. Neferti Tadiar’s analysis of feminist fiction writer Fanny Garcia’s short story “Pina, Pina, Where Are You Going?” interprets Pina’s sojourn into the world of prostitution as both a pressure to fulfill kinship obligations of kapwa (defined by her as women’s “syncretic sociability,” or what I would see as fulfilling the construction of woman as dutiful support system of the kinship group) and the desire to escape from family and community.40 A study of streetwalkers in Cubao (Metro-Manila) focused on how they negotiated with customers, police, NGO staff, and families, (p.60) thereby mapping the prostitute as negotiator. Although the study concluded that, despite short-term gains, they were “real losers in the long haul” remaining “in an oppressed, exploited and dehumanized state”), they were discussed as active agents in their stories.41 The story of Pina (short for Pinay, slang for Filipina) illustrates the complexities and ambivalences that prostitution offers to women—linking them to families and also enabling them to escape from the overpowering kinship group.

Finally, the possibility that prostitutes were “selling sex” was conspicuously absent in this discursive narrative; instead, the discourse was that women were being “bought” or “sold,” not that women were “selling sex.” This discourse that effaces women’s agency (read: prostitutes are being bought or sold but are not actively selling sex) was a direct consequence of the victim narrative where the prostitute was an object of male desire but whose own sexuality or sexual expression was denied or at least submerged. This perhaps reflects the history of Filipino feminisms in which women’s sexual desire (including lesbianism) was discussed only very recently—beginning in about the mid-1990s (see Chapter 5).42 At the same time, this particular discourse also locates the position of Filipina feminists as clearly within the “prostitution is VAW” camp in the great feminist divide.

Lobbying for the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003

The victim narrative was crucial to the feminist lobby for the passage of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003. If prostitutes were victims, they could not possibly exude sexuality; instead they were victims of male desire. This interpretation is in sharp contrast to the tourist or First World representations of them as sex objects. As a result, prostitution became a human rights issue, and women’s groups demanded that, rather than focus on prostitutes as the “problem,” society shift the blame on male desire—and society’s notion that women can be bought.43 This was the theoretical position that underlined the campaign to decriminalize prostitutes and punish the perpetuators (the clients, the pimps, the syndicates). If prostitutes were victims, then they should not be treated as criminals since the real criminals were the men who wanted to buy sex. This theoretical position was not unique to the Philippines: it also was embedded in both CATW-International’s primary goals and the United Nations Protocol on Trafficking (hereafter Palermo Protocol) that took effect in 2000.44

Here, women’s movements accomplished a coup d’état by presenting (p.61) an alternative to the patriarchal perspective. Although studies on prostitution focused on the reasons why women were “pushed” into the profession through poverty and family obligations, by the 1990s feminists shifted the analysis to a fundamental criticism of male sexual demand for prostitution or male accountability, which was identified as the culprit perpetuating the subordinate status of women.45 “As has been often pointed out, ‘sex work’ only exists because of the demand from men. And that male demand has remained unquestioned and unaddressed in national policies or laws or even in public discussions.”46

When the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act was passed in 2003 it became a subject for discussion on radio talk shows where resource persons and anchors from various women’s organizations linked prostitution to the cultural socialization that made it acceptable for men to treat women like commodities so much so that, “natural iyon sa lalaki na bumili sa babae” (it is natural for men to buy women).47 CATW-AP Chairperson Aurora Javate de Dios discussed the campaign to “break the cycle of prostitution” by unpacking and critiquing society’s acceptance of the male prerogative to “buy” women. She explained that the new law that punished clients and traffickers (the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, also known as Republic Act [RA] 9208) hoped to send the message that men should alter their perceptions that women were commodities that could be bought.48 In 2006, CAT-W launched the slogans “women are not for sale” and “real men do not buy women.”49 It was this particular message (that women should not be bought and that real men did not buy women) that women activists wanted to disseminate through a nationwide information campaign.50 The Tinig radio program, produced by the Institute of Women’s Studies of St. Scholastica’s College, agreed with this position when host Arche Ligo pointed out that there would be no prostitutes if there were no men wanting sex, just as there would be no bars if there were no drinkers.51 TW-MAE-W echoed this with a position paper that declared, “[W]ithout the demand provided by men, prostitution will most likely cease to exist, and yet men are not considered, except by feminists, as the problem to be solved.”52

It was this reasoning that lay behind the controversial definition of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 that defined trafficking as

The recruitment, transportation, transfer or harbouring, or receipt of persons with or without the victim’s consent or knowledge, within or across national borders by means of threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, (p.62) abuse of power or of position, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the person, or, the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation which includes at a minimum, the exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery, servitude or the removal and sale of organs.53 (emphasisadded).

Intrinsic to this definition was the notion of “consent.” The premise that women’s consent was immaterial was inexorably linked to the construction of the prostituted woman as victim. The passing of the bill with this rider was lauded as one of CATW-AP’s greatest achievements (because the campaign was led by CATW-AP and its allies and the final bill that was passed into law was drafted by CATW-AP).54 Senator Luisa Ejercito, who was responsible for taking the bill to the Senate, was advised by CATW-AP.55 Considering that the majority of the senators (most of whom are men) were not empathetic to this issue and the notion of consent was controversial, the passage of this act was a huge triumph for the women’s movements. This victory could be attributed to the vigorous campaign of CATW-AP and its allies. CATW-AP and its allies used several strategies in the almost decade-long campaign to get this legislation passed. These included disseminating their positions in the media, networking with politicians and legislators (as well as with their allies in the women’s movements), and the use of public protest. Jean Enriquez gave credit to the alliance with government bodies such as the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, individual politicians such as Senators Loren Legarda and Luisa Ejercito, and the senate legislative staff, who recognized CATW-AP as “experts” on the issue. In the end, the alliances with women politicians (particularly Senators Luisa Ejercito and Loren Legarda) served them well, and the bill finally became law in 2003 more or less as CATW-AP had drafted it.56

Because trafficking is with or without the consent of the “trafficked,” the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 absolved the prostitutes of criminal acts and criminalized the perpetuators. Women who sued traffickers were to be given anonymity and protection by the government and other organizations, whereas clients were to be punished with fines and jail terms.57 Since the survivors were women and children and the perpetuators were men (including the customers), the campaign for the passage of this bill educated other women about their rights and the need (p.63) to shift the discussion on prostitution from the prostitutes to the men who were the pimps and customers. The victim narrative (“all prostitutes were victims whether or not they consented to it”) used in the campaign was responsible for the shift in perspective from the perception of prostitutes from women who sold sex for money to women who were victims of violence and male patriarchal attempts to transform them into sex objects. The victim narrative was therefore a very powerful narrative that could be tapped to win feminist victories. Unfortunately, though, it had reaffirmed traditional constructions of the woman as martyr or dutiful woman, the very idealization the women’s movement had hoped to erase. Hence, although it was a discourse that suited the campaigns of the women’s movement at one level—for legislative change, for example—women’s organizations also used alternative strategies aimed at transforming survivors into advocates (see Chapter 7).

Assessing the Victim Narrative

The deployment of the victim narrative had some positive impacts on cultural attitudes. It has drawn public attention to the plight of prostitutes (now seen as victims or sacrificial lambs). The fact that there was a great deal of support for the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 revealed that society was rethinking the category “prostitute.” That consent was immaterial—that is, that prostitutes were victims whether they consented to prostitution or not—effectively favored women, who were absolved of crimes, vis-à-vis men, who were clients and pimps. At face value, it would appear that such a victim narrative denied women agency, but Filipino feminists succeeded in empowering the term “victim” without requiring the women to be “ideal victims” (i.e., only those who were duped or abducted). Japanese feminist theoretician Chizuko Ueno, for instance, has argued that one flaw in the feminist position that turned the “comfort women” from prostitutes to victims of rape was the demand that women conform to a category of “model victim” (only those who were duped).58 By declaring that consent was immaterial, Filipino feminists were able to escape from the pitfall wherein women would have to prove that they were duped in order to be considered a victim of trafficking.

Second, raising the issue of prostitution in the public sphere lifted the cultural ban on what was previously a taboo topic. Rape, sex, sexuality, domestic violence, AIDS/HIV, STDs, incest, and prostitution were included in the list of subjects hidden behind the veil of silence. Women’s activism removed some of the shame attached to women victimized as (p.64) trafficked women, telling them that it was okay to come out and tell their stories. Labeling them “victims” removed the shame and attempted to restore dignity to these women.

The narrative that entertainers have been social victims affixed blame not only on the perpetuators of violence, rape, or sexual desire, but also on society either for commodifying women (as DAWN argued in the case of entertainers) or for ostracizing them. This narrative compelled audiences to examine their complicity in the continuing trauma and victimization of these women.

Achieving the larger goals of all organizations, however, seem elusive. CATW-AP and TW-MAE-W both aimed for “a world without prostitution” and “an end to prostitution and trafficking.”59 The Japanese-Filipino children dreamt of being reunited with their Japanese fathers. Although DAWN was often successful in contacting the Japanese father to pressure him to provide financial support for the children, the support inevitably trickled down to nothing after a couple of years, making victory temporary.60

If audiences refused to engage with the victim narrative or chose to ignore it, activists could find themselves in a dead-end situation. At this point, the mission to refashion women into advocates became more important. If feminists were unable to change governments or cultural attitudes, they could still transform women followers. In addition, the fundamental project of empowering women implied the renunciation of their representation as victims as well as the symbolic capital associated with the woman as martyr. Hence, feminist women’s organizations have been proactive in forging alliances with the former prostitutes and giving them a feminist education through participation in gender workshops and by co-opting them in some activist campaigns. In fact, one could argue that the organizations discussed here could not carry out their advocacy without the direct participation of former prostitutes who are essential subjects in the project of increasing public awareness through strategies using oral testimonies and theater as advocacy. The co-optation of former prostitutes into the women’s movements reveals the genuine desire of activists to have a mass following while legitimizing their organization’s claim to speak for prostitutes. In fact survivors’ groups in the Philippines formed a national network that initiated its own programs. Buklod in Olongapo City, Bagong Kamalayan in Quezon City, and Lawig Bubai in Davao City for example, organized their own services and livelihood programs, revealing not only the diversity, but also the national and geographical scope of the survivor’s activist bases.61


(1.) This recent polarization of the debate has been given an excellent in-depth discussion by Elaine Jeffreys. Elaine Jeffreys, China, Sex and Prostitution (London: Routledge, 2004), 70–95.

(2.) Mananzan, ed., Essays on Women, 196–208; “Prostitution Profits from Women’s Bodies,” Piglas-Diwa, 9, no. 1 (1999); Cynthia Enloe, Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (London: Pandora, 1989); interview with Aurora Javate de Dios, CATW-AP, Quezon City, January 26, 2008.

(3.) DAWN Brochure, 2005, Manila.

(4.) These women sometimes are referred to as “Japayuki,” but this term is pejorative so I prefer to use the term “entertainers.” Japayuki-san is a pun on Karayuki-san, which refers to the nineteenth-century Japanese women who traveled to Southeast Asia as prostitutes.

(p.222) (5.) Montañez with Sicam and Nuqui, eds., Pains and Gains; and Nuqui and Montañez, eds., Moving On.

(6.) Primer on TW-MAE-W, Quezon City, 2003.

(7.) CATW-AP, Second Board of Trustees Meeting, 1996, from the Papers of CATW-AP, Quezon City.

(9.) Syndicates in this context are underground coalitions of groups involved in prostitution as a business.

(10.) Entertainers composed part of the overseas contract workforce whose remittances totaled 110 billion pesos or US$12.8 billion. See “2007 Survey on Overseas Filipinos” in http://www.census.gov.ph/data/sectordata/sr08353tx.html, accessed August 8, 2008; “Philippine 2006 Overseas Remittances Hit Record 12.8 Billion Dollars,” Yahoo! News Asia, http://asia.news-yahoo.com/070215/afp/070215073037eco.html, accessed August 8, 2008; and “Philippines’ Reliance on Foreign Remittances Carries Significant Costs,” The Nation, http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2007/05/01/opinion/opinion_300330988.php, accessed August 8, 2008. The Philippines by the year 2002 was sending forty thousand entertainers to Japan every six months. This prompted journalists to refer to this regular ‘export’ of overseas performing artists as the “vaginal economy.”

(14.) Cynthia Enloe, Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (London: Pandora, 1989); “Prostitution Profits from Women’s Bodies”; “Exploitation of Women in Olongapo and Angeles,” Coalition Asia-Pacific Report (March 2002): 8–9; and Chant and McIlwaine, Women of a Lesser Cost, 1–81, 211–212.

(17.) Nelia Sancho, who heads an organization of “comfort women” (Lolas Kampanyera), is one of the few Filipina activists who use the term “sex work,” refusing to classify these women as simply victims. Interview with Nelia Sancho, Manila, September 27, 2006.

(19.) Aida F. Santos, “Introduction to the 1st Edition: From the Shadows Into the Light,” in Halfway Through the Circle, ed. Amilbangsa et al., ix–xii.

(22.) Aurora Javate de Dios, “Challenging International Instruments to Address Trafficking in Women and Children,” 1997, in the archived papers of CATW-AP, Quezon City.

(23.) Soledad Perpiñan, “The Bought, the Buyer and the Business,” from the papers of TW-MAE-W, Quezon City, late 1990s, 2.

(24.) “Anti-Trafficking Law,” Broadcast 157, XYZone, May 31, 2003.

(25.) “Sex Trafficking,” Okay Ka, Mare! [You are okay, sister!], May 9, 1999.

(29.) Nuqui and Montañez, eds., Moving On.

(30.) Amilbangsa et al., eds., Halfway Through the Circle; and David, Nightmare Journeys.

(31.) Nuqui and Montañez, eds., Moving On.

(32.) Interview with Carmelita Nuqui, Manila, January 22, 2005.

(35.) Ibid., 30.

(36.) Interview with Nuqui, January 22, 2005.

(38.) Ibid., 101–107.

(43.) Cecilia Hofman, “The Pros and Cons of Pink Cards,” Coalition Asia-Pacific Report 5, no. 1 (January–March 2000), 10–11.

(44.) www.catwinternational.org/campaigns.php, accessed April 2008; Palermo Protocol, Article 9, www.catwinternational.org/campaigns.php, accessed April 2008.

(45.) Editorial, “Legitimizing Prostitution as a Sector,” Coalition Asia-Pacific Report 4, no. 2 (November 1998): 6.

(46.) Cecilia Hofman, “The Pros and Cons of Pink Cards,” Coalition Asia-Pacific Report 5, no. 1 (January–March 2000), 11.

(47.) CATW-AP Chairperson Aurora Javate de Dios discussed the campaign to “break the cycle of prostitution” by unpacking and critiquing society’s acceptance of the male prerogative to “buy” women. “Anti-Trafficking Law,” Broadcast 157.

(48.) “Anti-Trafficking Law,” Broadcast 157.

(49.) Ang babae ay hindi binibili and Ang tunay na lalaki ay hindi bumibili ng babae! Interview with Aurora Javate de Dios, Quezon City, October 6, 2006.

(50.) “Anti-Trafficking Law,” Broadcast 157.

(51.) “Prostitution,” Tinig, December 4, 1995.

(52.) Soledad Perpiñan, “The Bought, the Buyer and the Business,” from the papers of TW-MAE-W, Quezon City, late 1990s.

(53.) “Republic Act No. 9208: An Act to Institute Policies to Eliminate Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, Establishing the Necessary Institutional Mechanisms for the Protection and Support of Trafficked Persons, Providing Penalties for its Violations and for Other Purposes,” reprinted in Montañez with Sicam and Nuqui, eds., Pains and Gains, 162–173.

(54.) Interview with Jean Enriquez, CATW-AP, Quezon City, August 11, 2003.

(p.224) (55.) Ibid. and interview with de Dios, August 8, 2003.

(57.) “Republic Act 9208,” 162–173.

(58.) Chizuko Ueno, Nationalism and Gender, Trans Beverley Yamamoto (Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press, 2004), 89.

(59.) Interview with Enriquez; interview with de Dios August 8, 2003; and interview with Perpiñan, July 28, 2003.

(60.) See various articles in Sinag.

(61.) “Empowering Survivors and Beijing Plus Ten,” Coalition Asia-Pacific Report 8, no. 1 (February 2005): 1.