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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