To all you judgmental Filipinos: prostitutes are people too

So what is wrong with prostitution? It is supposedly wrong in the Philippines because the profession has turned its practitioners into some sort of “untouchable” class. Filipinos consider prostitutes to be unclean indecent people who ought to be shunned. As the thinking of the chattering classes goes, prostitution is “dehumanizing” because of this.

Thinking lowly of prostitutes is not too different from the way people who are members of one big organized religious cult or another apply a hateful regard towards the “infidels” who do not subscribe to their beliefs. It is the same as the racism many Filipinos are born into owing to their parents’ routine casual use of slurs like bumbay or pana or chek-hwa or beho or egoy in everyday conversation.

In short, like the way they acquire their famously banal racism and religious zealotry, Filipinos are taught, even instructed, to regard prostitutes in this judgmental way — by their parents, by their educators, by their “elders”, and by their government. It seems to me, therefore, that the question of the humanity of prostitutes is a chicken-and-egg thing. Are prostitutes “dehumanized” (as Pinoy thinking goes) because of their profession? Or are they “dehumanized” because supposedly decent and “well-bred” Filipinos regard them as so?

In my opinion, the way we Filipinos have turned our prostitutes into an untouchable underclass with our perversely judgmental code of ethics is the real cause of prostitutes’ problems. We regard them as criminals first before seeing them as people with human problems like the rest of us. Kung baga we apply a jail-first-reform-later approach to addressing the “issue” of prostitution. The “issue” therefore does not seem to originate from prostitutes per se. The issue, it seems, originates from “decent” people like you and me.

If we digress a bit and examine the long-term effects of this irrational fixation on Church-sanctioned marriages on our collective mental health, we can see how much damage such beliefs cause on the fabric of Philippine society.

Consider what we call “illicit” pre-marital sex. If such sort of sex had been openly and non-judgmentally discussed in many Filipino households, then perhaps many unwanted pregnancies — and, more imporantly, unwanted marriages — could’ve been prevented. Note that I consider unwanted marriages a more imporant issue than unwanted pregnancy. Why? Because from what I have seen, what were unwanted kids at conception in most cases eventually go on to be become immensely loved and cherished parts of the family. Compare that to marriages. Even under the best of circumstances, many well-intentioned marriages turn into lifetime disasters. What more unwanted marriages then? The really disastrous thing about unwanted marriages that were entered into as a result of unwanted pregnancies is that they represent mitigable mistakes turned into immitigable disasters. And all because of what? Simple. All because of our culturally-ingrained inclination to the inconsolably judgmental approach Filipinos take to evaluating their important issues.

In short, we fail to see sex and its commercial trade, prostitution, as a natural aspect of the human condition — more like the essential commodities that should be regulated rather than stigmatized. Our failure to regard it through a clear lens without the color of religious dogma is where the real problems lie.

The fact that prostitution is the “oldest profession in the world” tells us something. Sexual opportunity is a basic resource humans pursue. It is no different from the food and water that we spend much of our time and energy acquiring and storing. Humans eat, drink, and have sex. It’s as simple as that. And in the same way kings and queens rose to power on the back of control over food and water supplies, it seems to me that religious leaders came to dominate civilization on the back of control over sexual opportunity. The most obvious mechanism for controlling sexual opportunity today is the “sacrament” of marriage — a ritual that our priests would like us to believe is the only passport to “moral” sexual activity. Quite a lucrative claim, if you ask me. Filipinos pay big sums of money to priests to marry them and even bigger sums to annul their marriages.

Perhaps we for so long have entrusted regulation of this third essential resource — sexual opportunity — to the wrong bunch of people. This tradition has for so long caused unnecessary and untold grief and waste of life among Filipinos. Maybe the time has come for us to regard the issues surrounding “illicit” and commercial sex from an ethical and logical perspective rather than the “moral” and religious perspective we have traditionally applied.

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24 Comments on “To all you judgmental Filipinos: prostitutes are people too”

  1. Good write-up Kate.

    The question is, how many of those who go into prostitution willingly go into it? It is not unheard of that people go into prostitution because of hard times and lack good opportunities in other lines of work.

    Any approach made by the government in dealing with prostitution must deal first with the reasons why people get into it, which I mentioned above. That is easier said than done in Philippine society, though, due to the double standard that exists here in regarding the prostitute.

    Let me explain it briefly. Males here are enjoined, even encouraged to show off their virility by doing as many women as they can, yes, even prostitutes. Women, on the other hand, are termed as unclean like you mentioned above for even being an alleged prostitute.

    1. Well, like any kind of work, the level of hardship workers tolerate depends on level of desperation. Desperate laborers, for example, can tolerate long hours with few breaks, less safety measures, and unreasonable bosses, while those who are less desperate can choose their work and negotiate with their bosses.

      Same I guess with prostis. The really desperate ones sleep with even the most disgusting men, while those who can afford to are able to pick and choose.

      My point is, whether it is prostitution or manual labor, the working conditions and the level of “victimization” is the same — both functions of degree of desperation. It just so happens that prostitution occupies a special place in the perverted “morality” of Filipinos, which is why it seems to be the object of more melodrama in media and literature…

      1. I still think prostitution is better done away with, though the way they are doing it now is not effective. I still have the impression that a prostitute (or even a querida) can be a “family-destroyer.” That’s how most conservatives see prostitution, I believe.

        Also, I would respect the person, but not the profession.

  2. @ Kate

    Religion, not prostitution, is the oldest profession in the world. Religion is the mother of all evil. It created prostitution, corruption, confusion through false teachings, war and all evil things mankind are experiencing today.

    Prostitution as a social concern has become extinct. The subject is dead. Local or national governments, the church, media and social advocates don’t talk about it anymore people would think prostitution has been eradicated. Because there are no recent info whether new school prostitutes still do it the old school way or have they gone via the internet and cutting the middlemen is anybody’s guess. I think media would have no answer to this question until a celebrity or a big name politician is caught in the act.

    1. Hmmm, come to think of it, acquiring food and water (whether it be through farming, hunting, or gathering) is the oldest profession in the world. Maybe prostitution comes in a close second. You can easily imagine a female of the species trading sexual favors for food even in the earliest times…

      1. I’m pretty sure that while men were out gathering and hunting, women were sitting around the campfire contemplating the idea of God, the cosmos, and the best way to draw representations of bison on cave walls for the next generation.

        And they didn’t trade sexual favors for food. They got the men to go out in the morning during pillow-talk to go look for it. When the men got back, they told them about how they figured out how the world worked and then they proceeded to conduct rituals for food preparation.

    2. “Religion is the root of all evil.”

      I’m pretty sure I’ve read a similar argument somewhere… It had something to do, IIRC, with millions being killed in a span of 12 years.

  3. I read a post in GRP that goes something like this: Most Filipinos are Christians but not by heart.
    It is undeniable that religion in our country has a big influence on setting the standard of what should be referred as good moral and right conduct. People seek verses from the Holy Bible and try to apply them in their daily lives and take them literary as the absolute code of ethics to be strictly followed. The most famous being the Ten Commandments, which I think is the prime reason why most Filipinos regard prostitutes as “sinners” and therefore should be “dehumanized.”
    But the same Holy Bible speaks about how to be “humane” and can be found in the New Testament. One example is the Gospel of John that talks about an adulterous woman and by the law on those days, she should be stoned. But Jesus said “He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone at her.” You pretty much know what happened next. Correct me if I wrong, but isn’t it amongst Christianity’s aim is to “recover lost sheep” and not to shun or condemn them.
    I agree with your write up Kate.
    What we need to exercise is more compassion and understanding. Most of them don’t want to be involved in prostitution but they need to first and foremost attend to their basic needs, which are food and shelter. And the lack of opportunities in other line of work is pushing them to do so, as FallenAngel mentioned. Others will say “kung gusto maraming paraan,” true that is why they are doing it because other means were already ruled out because of lack of opportunities. So as a fellow human being, instead of judging them how can we help them?

  4. So what is wrong with prostitution? It is supposedly wrong in the Philippines because the profession has turned its practitioners into some sort of “untouchable” class. Filipinos consider prostitutes to be unclean indecent people who ought to be shunned. As the thinking of the chattering classes goes, prostitution is “dehumanizing” because of this.

    While there are some countries that legalizes prostitution it is not merely ‘supposedly wrong’ but it is wrong per se in Pinas and elsewhere. I think singling out Filipinos as people who consider prostitution as unclean is in itself judgmental. Prostitution is unclean and indecent, period. Acknowledgement of what prostitution is greatly differs from understanding the people who are engage in it. We should be clear on that if we are to toss around the term ‘judgmental.’

    Thinking lowly of prostitutes is not too different from the way people who are members of one big organized religious cult or another apply a hateful regard towards the “infidels” who do not subscribe to their beliefs. It is the same as the racism many Filipinos are born into owing to their parents’ routine casual use of slurs like bumbay or pana or chek-hwa or beho or egoy in everyday conversation.

    In short, like the way they acquire their famously banal racism and religious zealotry, Filipinos are taught, even instructed, to regard prostitutes in this judgmental way — by their parents, by their educators, by their “elders”, and by their government. It seems to me, therefore, that the question of the humanity of prostitutes is a chicken-and-egg thing. Are prostitutes “dehumanized” (as Pinoy thinking goes) because of their profession? Or are they “dehumanized” because supposedly decent and “well-bred” Filipinos regard them as so?

    In my opinion, the way we Filipinos have turned our prostitutes into an untouchable underclass with our perversely judgmental code of ethics is the real cause of prostitutes’ problems. We regard them as criminals first before seeing them as people with human problems like the rest of us. Kung baga we apply a jail-first-reform-later approach to addressing the “issue” of prostitution. The “issue” therefore does not seem to originate from prostitutes per se. The issue, it seems, originates from “decent” people like you and me.

    If the idea is to cast aspersion to people who ‘think lowly’ of prostitutes/tion because of religious or personal reasons, etc., I have to disagree. Religion or racism has nothing to do why people abhor prostitutes/tion. You don’t need religion nor racist complex to understand what it is and it’s brutal and destructive nature. Anybody who is against it should be commended. Like I said, prostitution per se is wrong. It is violence against women. Calling it the oldest profession in the world is not only misleading but also insinuating something that is completely unprofessional. Profession infers qualification and capability under environment of fair play and transparency. We should call prostitution for what it is: the oldest oppression in the world.

  5. So why should the “good” society lay it down on prostitutes when the “good” people won’t do squat to make opportuinities so women don’t have to be prostitutes?

    Most prostitutes I know of (and damn right I get to know them!) come from places where dynasts and oligarchs rule, and where the local priests and nuns won’t even give two turds’ worth of moral advice to said dynasts ans oligarchs.

    And I agree that in this day and age, sex IS a commodity. Some trade in it better than others. And for all the ivory-worship of the clergy and the dynasts and oligarchs getting into public office but not doing anything constructive anyway, I still get a better deal from a prostitute than from a priest or dynast.

  6. Consider what we call “illicit” pre-marital sex. If such sort of sex had been openly and non-judgmentally discussed in many Filipino households, then perhaps many unwanted pregnancies — and, more imporantly, unwanted marriages — could’ve been prevented. Note that I consider unwanted marriages a more imporant issue than unwanted pregnancy. Why? Because from what I have seen, what were unwanted kids at conception in most cases eventually go on to be become immensely loved and cherished parts of the family. Compare that to marriages. Even under the best of circumstances, many well-intentioned marriages turn into lifetime disasters. What more unwanted marriages then? The really disastrous thing about unwanted marriages that were entered into as a result of unwanted pregnancies is that they represent mitigable mistakes turned into immitigable disasters. And all because of what? Simple. All because of our culturally-ingrained inclination to the inconsolably judgmental approach Filipinos take to evaluating their important issues.

    I highly doubt the veracity of the viewpoint that an open or non-judgmental household discussion of pre-marital sex would prevent unwanted pregnancies and marriages. Discussion is no match against abstention.

    Unwanted pregnancies and marriages are practically on the same level in terms of social dysfunction. I don’t see why we have to uphold one from the other. Relationships that ends up with both or either results impacts and undermines the stability of the social system.

  7. @j’-o’-n’a-s’:

    So in your opinion: (1) prostitution is bad in absolute terms, (2) people who are against prostitution should be commended, and (3) pre-marital sex should be abstained from.

    You express your disagreement (in many words) to my points of view but you seemingly fail to effectively articulate WHY you disagree.

    All you come up with are your differing assertions but don’t provide sound arguments to support these assertions.

    I’m waiting…

  8. I shared this post with someone that shall remain anonymous. his reply/reaction to reading the article was thus:
    two opposing views here that i can see.
    to stigmatize or to regularize.
    to cure or to heal.
    to jail (castigate) or to commercialize (institutuionalize.)
    either way both contradict.
    both cause for one to choose
    either or
    neither nor.
    (probably will end up again as a billboard hit song – if we pursue this)
    rather than to solve.
    or resolve.
    to treat them as humans first and foremeost
    -may eventually even be debatable.
    another long drawn discussion can ensue
    while they continue to rot or roll in their quagmire of repentant love with pay.
    everyone with all the greatest intentions
    (or simply just palying god with some semblance of egotistic solomonic purpose)
    seem behooved to always choose to view
    instead of review.

    the clue is “where am i coming from”
    and for what happy and POSITIVE purpose.

    neither and never was there a mention of “compassion”
    to resolve the matter from the core.
    not an iota of focus can be found in Kate’s article
    to focus on the core of the problem: Core Values.
    one need not refer to (or defer) the Church edicts.
    Ssuch maybe for atheists’ early morning cereal munchings.

    it is in truly caring for who these pprostitutes are.
    and why they have come to such edicts
    of placing themselves into the cornered caverns of
    “lowly” economic, moral, ethical and practical terms.
    where lies their dignity and the true concern for this.
    care for this and one will find caring solutions that heal.
    there lies the solution to a real problem.
    to ulpift one’s dignity, raise one’s self-worthiness
    the the level which any government, Institution (be it the Church of just the basic “family”)
    would, should, could and will have been duitibound to uphold, establish, create
    and constantly struggle to happily perfect.

    hit the core and we all will score better in all of these munchings.
    but before we can make others humas
    first we all must begin ourselves to be truly one ourselves.

  9. @Stahlnact
    Wow. Thank you for that. So much truth, so much heart and so moving.
    @Kate. I love all your articles. Their all v brave and v liberating. I wanted your article to go towards that way Stahlnact said so well because your title is so spot on and so true. still i think its part of what your tryin to convey. Thank you for your articles. Also love the ‘sayaw disco’ article you wrote. So true.

  10. This reminds me of the nudist community in Vermont, USA. They have a very open view on sexuality and doesn’t restrain it like a taboo, and in turn they’re not so suppressed when it comes to sex and their teen pregnancy/rape/sexual crime rates are incredibly low.

  11. they should ligalize prostitution ,and go to the clinic for check up and have a license.and pay income tax..help a lonely men and a husband who cannot have sex with the wife because she have a headache.

  12. We might ask ourselves why the Philippines has so many prostitutes.

    On the one hand, girls “sacrificing themselves” to bring an income to their parents and younger siblings, on the other hand single mothers.

    Note the phenomenally high rate of teenage pregnancyin the Philippines – the highest in Asia.

    Ever wondered why – and ever wondered how a single mother who cannot earn enough for a yaya is going to support herself?

    The CBCP do a great job of pimping Filipinas – by making contraception hard to obtain they guarantee the supply of “fallen women” to the vice trade.

  13. Wow, I stumbled across this article by accident (got lost in reading all the other stuff posted) and had to read and re-read it just to make sure I got the point.
    I have so much to say about this but I’ll withhold it. All I can say is
    #1 yes, prostitutes are people FIRST before anything else, and I speak from the viewpoint of someone who greatly respects what they do (as its a service I partake of and compensate them well for)
    #2 I’ve witnessed the hypocrisy of those who one the one hand demean and demonize sex workers but yet will be all to happy to take whatever they have freely, be it sexual or financial in nature.

    Rather than create the sex industry as a monster, regulate it, tax it, establish safety guidelines, and you will find a virtually perennial ongoing and continuous cash flow which would provide a better life for many.

    To jump on the moral high horse when one’s horse is malnourished makes one look extremely stupid indeed.

  14. Prostitution is wrong on all levels. It is immoral and one of the causes why HIV is widespread today in case you’ve no clue.
    And youre wrong about saying we look down on sex workers. We don’t, in fact we take pity on them that they have to do it to get by the day, and that involves their family. Usually theyre the bread winner with younger brothers/sisters that go to school at their stake. Or parents who need financial backing for their medication.
    I live in the slum so i know. Besides, as a highly conservative country influenced by religions, i wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of pinoys have the same view on the subject. Just sayin

  15. Would you want your children engaging in prostitution?

    I am from the USA, and that’s the one thing I never understood about Filipinos involved in the business. The girl is often the bread winner.

    Do you mean to tell me Filipino families would much rather see some fat smelly rotten old foreigner have anal sex with their daughter and then ejaculate on her face, just because they are too lazy to get a job themselves?

    And as a side comment, is a 20 year old girl marrying a 60-70 year old man (for support) any different than prostitution? Nope!!!

    I’m not religious, so putting the church aside, this absolutely disgusts me! No girl dreams of smoking some old man’s wrinkly balls. I’d never wish that on my mother, sister, daughter, or any of my friends.

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