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Life Working In The Red Light District Of Manila

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“We’re almost there,” I say as we turn the corner to Makati Avenue. I can already see the dancing multi-colored lights of the bars and nightclubs signalling the resurrection of an extraordinary nightlife that plays dead during the day.

I continue to walk with my friends. We are heading to P. Burgos St. to try to find a girl who I can ask some questions about the kind of life that’s spent nightly in this part of Makati.  I cannot do this alone so I asked their company. How in the world will I even approach a girl who won’t be interested in me? I obviously do not look like a man. I am not a foreigner and I do not look like I have money to burn for a night of pleasure either. I am worried that this might not be a successful attempt to talk to a hooker. It’s still too early. It’s not even 9:30 pm yet.

We cross to the other side of Buendia Avenue, the street that separates the business district from the red light district. We go straight to the corner of P. Burgos St. I notice Pussycats is still closed. We see a well-dressed but heavily made-up skinny girl across the street posing like she is waiting for someone. We consider approaching her but we hesitate because she might not be one of those girls.

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We continue to saunter along P. Burgos St., where the neon lights are brighter and red doors are guarded by men wearing either barong or the more usual uniform of a security guard. There are no scantily clad pretty girls on the street yet. What I see are girls and gays wearing medical scrubs and giving away cards and flyers for massage service. A question pops in my mind: Are these scrubs used as a guise to hide prostitution?

I used to pass here when I go home late from work. I had seen these people in scrubs before and they kept me wondering. They eye us but we continue to walk. We pass by one red door while it is ajar and for a second I see a woman in a two-piece dancing on the stage.

“I want to go inside,” I tell my friend.

She expresses the same desire. But those closed doors scream exorbitant prices. I cannot afford it.

We reach the end of the street without finding a girl. Weighing our options, we see two tricycles parked at the curb. My friend approaches the tricycle driver then I follow. We ask where we could find a girl or maybe a pimp. He instructs us to go to a drugstore along Makati Avenue and find a man who has long hair, he can help us.

We arrive across the drugstore but we can’t find a man with long hair. We stay and look around trying to figure out what to do next. Not much cash means more difficulty in picking up a girl. We consider going inside a bar.

“There he is! There’s that guy with long hair!” I spot him. We cross to the drugstore to approach him.

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He tells us that the girls will be there a little later but he really doesn’t have anything to do with them. He is not a pimp but he knows the girls. We ask if he can contact a girl for us and he pulls out his cell phone to text somebody.

We find a table at an open-air bar and settle there to wait for the girl. A foreigner is alone at another table having a beer. The waitress comes to give us the menu list.

The street is getting increasingly lively and crowded. It’s a Friday night and the party-goers are getting ready. I want to check out the night market and food hawkers beside the bar so I cross the street and instantly decide to just go back. In a corner I see a gay who looks very much like a woman putting make up on under a lamp post. He is busy patting powder on his face while keeping his legs together to keep his stuff on his lap. He’s wearing a mini skirt. He is attractive. And he got boobs.

I read somewhere that people doing business on the streets are the ones who got kicked out from the bars or are not good or clean enough to get themselves a job inside a club. Picking up somebody on the street may save customers from paying the bar fine sometimes but could be more dangerous too.

Sitting here, just along Makati Avenue feels more comfortable. This street is part of the premier red light district of Makati but this is also a main road heading to a bridge connecting Makati to another city. The street is lined with restaurants. Staying here doesn’t feel so much like you are engulfed in a world of sleaze. P. Burgos gave me a different feeling. Just knowing what the bars are there for gives you a different feeling.

Most of the clubs and bars can be seen along P. Burgos. Once, I saw a girl grab a corpulent white man by the hand, as if forcing him to leave with her. He was resisting so she embraced him instead. Sometimes girls can be seen waving at foreigners across the street to invite them into the bar.

Finally, the man announces the arrival of two girls.

They are not wearing scrubs but they both are in blue polo shirts. Lanyards hang on their necks; they do have ID cards. We tell her we want to have an interview. She appears hesitant and asks what the interview is for and I have to lie: it’s for a thesis in school. She is manifesting hesitation and a worried look on her face so I assure her we will not even ask her name nor take photos. We just want to talk about how it is to be working here.

They leave us again to speak with the long-haired man. They discuss. We wait until they are finished and they approach us again saying she is not allowed to be interviewed. She is going to be reprimanded at work if she does this. Again we convince her that this will not be anything that will get her into trouble so she gives in saying that she’ll only stay shortly. The other woman leaves and this made her worry even more.

She sits beside me. “So where do you work, ate?” I ask.

“In a spa,” she answers, also eager to get started.

I get slightly disappointed. We don’t want somebody who works in a spa. We want to speak with a hooker! But I keep those thoughts in my mind. Only to find out later my friends share the same feeling with me.

She wants ₱500 for this interview, the cost equivalent to an hour of spa massage.

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“The spa where you work, does it have other services?” I ask.

She tells us it has a hair salon.

What we really meant was “extra services.”

Wrong wording.

“Ate, does anything happen after you finish the massage?”

Now she understands what we mean and tell us it is really not allowed in the spa.

“No sex?” we ask.

“No, strictly for massage but I do hand job and blow jobs. No sex,” she admits.

“Why?” I ask.

“I don’t want to risk it. I already have 3 kids and I can’t afford to get pregnant anymore. 3 kids are enough. It is so tough,” she said.

“How much do you get from those extra services?” we asked.

“2,000 and I get to keep it, the spa must not know,” she said.

“How about the hookers outside, do you know how much they usually earn?” I asked.

She says she doesn’t know. Weird. 5 years in this business and she doesn’t know? I think that’s far from the truth.

According to my research, rates around the area are ₱2,000 to ₱3,000 depending on the number of hours spent together. Bar fine is not included, that is the payment for the services of the girl alone. Bar fine, or what customers pay to bring out a girl before her work is finished for the night, also ranges from ₱2,000 to ₱3,000. In a bar, ladies drinks must be bought too which cost from ₱300 and up. So if a customer wants to get laid and he can’t wait for the girl to finish work, he has to pay the ladies’ drinks, the bar fine and the services of the girl. How much cash does one customer burn for a night of booze and sex? You do the math. Some men, of course, take more than one girl.

“What if the customer offers you ₱5,000, would you give him sex?” asks my friend.

“No sir, I really don’t want,” she said.

“₱5,000? You still don’t want? What if he offers you a good price?” he asks again.

For a moment she cannot answer. She is thinking, perhaps, weighing things mentally. She never answers the question.

I sense her discomfort, so she gets rescued by another question.

“Do you offer the hand job or the blow job or they ask for it?” I ask.

“They ask for it but sometimes I offer, especially when I am in dire need of money,” she said.

She works in a spa that offers massage services for ₱500 an hour. If there are no customers they don’t have any money to take home. She chose the night shift because, obviously, there are more customers during the night.

She has 3 kids and is the breadwinner of her family. She left home years ago and found a job in the red light district when a friend brought her there. She found the money easy and fast so she stayed. She used to have a foreigner boyfriend who is the father of her eldest child but they never saw each other again. When they were in the relationship, she left for a vacation to her province even if the boyfriend didn’t permit her and then she learned that she was pregnant. When she came back to Manila the guy was nowhere to be found. They never had communication so the guy must be clueless that he has a kid here in Manila. She has two kids with another man whom she is already separated from.

We tell her our impression about working in this part of Makati. She says that she understands if people think all girls working in that area are hookers. She tells us that this is not really the case and that there are a lot of spas in the area that are accredited by the government.

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“So working here, working as a hooker is not always easy money?” we ask.

“No. It’s not. There’s already so much competition,” she answers.

She shares that not all customers who spend money there are extravagant. Some are cheapskates and would even look for a ₱300 massage. She commends Americans and Europeans for being good customers and tippers and complained that it’s the Filipinos that are sometimes mean and looking down at her.

Walking along the streets of the red light district, it may be easy to spot a girl one can ask to be brought to his hotel room as long as cash is not an issue. There are freelancers: go-go girls that a customer can take from the bars, girls who work in the pubs, and these massage girls. There are girls that can be seen in computer shops too where they chat with their foreign boyfriends. There may be some in restaurants too that abound in high quantities in this area.

Along P. Burgos, most men who are seen drinking in pubs have a girl with them. Seeing them makes me curious. A lot of questions pop in my mind. I want to ask if these girls are their girlfriends or are just with them for that night.

“Do you still get attracted to these men? Do you still flirt with your customers?” I ask.

“No, for me it’s not important anymore. What I want is just money,” she says.

“But do you still wish someone, a foreigner would date you and fall in love with you?” I ask.

“Of course ma’am, I am still open to that,” she says.

We are already running out of questions. Luckily my friend remembers a question that has a very telling answer.

“When you are doing the hand job or the blow job, do you allow them to grope you? Do you even take off your clothes?” my friend asks.

“Yes, I allow them to grope me. During the massage I keep my clothes on but I take them off when I do the hand job or the blow job,” she says with a somber face.

The People Of The Philippines Series explores the cultures of the Philippines from the perspective of a local. Join Apol as she meets the people of her country. 

Filed under: Jobs and Professions, Love/ Relationships/ Sex, Philippines

About the Author:

Apol Danganan is a Filipino travel blogger whose biggest dream is to set foot in the Serengeti in Tanzania and witness the amazing wildlife migration — especially of elephants. She started travelling with her husband in 2011 but only began documenting their adventures in 2012. She’s been to Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. She has a cubicle job and writes for Vagabond Journey to fulfill her travel dreams. Read her blog at Wanderful Together and connect with her on Twitter. has written 12 posts on Vagabond Journey.

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