KASAMA Vol. 16 No. 4 / October-November-December 2002 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Investigative Reports on Filipino Women in the 1990s

Edited by Cecile C. A. Balgos
Published by Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (1999)
202 pages, ISBN 971-8686-21-5

THIS COLLECTION of investigative reports published in major Philippine newspapers from 1995 to 1999 chronicles the travails and triumphs of Filipino women in the last decade of the 20th century. During this decade, the country's first female president ended her term, more women were elected to the legislature, and several laws recognizing the rights of women were passed. At the same time, there was also a 'feminization' of some of the Philippines's most serious problems: poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, and the social consequences brought about by large-scale overseas migration.

PCIJ journalists in this anthology paint a portrait of the Filipina in the 1990s: challenged by poverty and need, often overlooked by policy makers, but also surviving and prevailing despite the odds. Her Stories shows that even in the direst circumstances, women refuse to give up. This book tells the story of these women's suffering but also shows how women remain undaunted, and how they have managed to pull through, guided by the conviction that they deserve better.

To purchase a copy of Her Stories send an email to or write to:

PCIJ, P.O. Box 2653, Quezon City Central Post Office, Quezon City, Philippines.

Price: PhP 250 or US$6.25 (exclusive of mailing cost)

For more incisive stories visit the PCIJ web site at

by Luz Rimban

ANGELES CITY - ON the late afternoon of June 22, l995 a group of women - 13 of them from Australia and New Zealand - checked in at the Bonanza Hotel in this city. The group was investigating sex tourism and trafficking in women.

An hour later, as most of the women were resting in their rooms, the hotel owners threw them out. "You are up to no good and we don't want you here," said Rosenda Griffin, as she handed them back their money. She said she had received calls from two other Angeles Hotels, Oasis and Chicago, warning her against accepting any Australian women. Rosenda's husband, Gary, called the women troublemakers and ordered them to leave the hotel immediately. It wasn't until midnight that the women, including this reporter, found a place to stay: a small, Filipino-owned motel. Going out to Fields Avenue, the city's red light district, they noticed that bars had posted "No Unescorted Ladies Allowed" signs.

The women had just felt the clout of the industry they were investigating in this former military base city (pop. 236,000). That the sex industry should have so much power, however, is no surprise for a place that has no scenic attractions to speak of, but nevertheless seems to have no problem attracting hordes of visitors, most of them men. Why this is so obviously lies in the 600 "entertainment establishments and eateries" concentrated in the city's red light district. Indeed, four years after the last U.S. serviceman left the Clark Air Base, Angeles continues to be the prostitution capital of the Philippines. Foreign bar-owners, some of them driven out of Manila's Ermita district by Mayor Alfredo Lim, have given the city's sex trade industry a second wind - bringing back social problems like AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases.

Australians, however, dominate the hotel and entertainment industries here. According to the City Planning Office, they own 152 cocktail lounges and establishments in Angeles. Their names do not appear on official documents, though. Because they are prohibited by Philippine law from owning local businesses, Australians use Filipina wives or girlfriends as fronts. Rosenda Griffin's husband, Gary, is an Australian national who has settled here.

Angeles City Licensing Officer Marcial Bondoc says it is common practice for foreigners to get women as "dummies." He adds that it is the women who come to City Hall to file the business papers that bear their names and signatures. Of the 55 hotels and lodging inns in Angeles accredited by the Department of Tourism, Tourism Officer Ramon Macarayo says most are financed by Australians but are, on paper, owned by Filipinos. These include the nine biggest hotels in the city.

"Australians usually marry a Filipina and put the business in her name. Australians run the businesses, but they don't own them," says an Australian retiree living in Angeles who calls himself Dan. A former bargirl, Anita, says, "Kahit hindi asawa, kahit girlfriend lang, basta meron silang kasunduan" (The woman doesn't have to be a wife, she can be a girlfriend with whom the Australian has an agreement).

The Regional Office of the Department of Tourism reports that of the nearly 120,000 tourists who visited Central Luzon in l994, Australians made up the largest number of visitors coming from a particular country. Most also listed Angeles as their preferred destination.

The Australian business community here is a close-knit group. According to Max Ross, a retired U.S. serviceman and president of the Angeles City Tourism and Business Persons Association, Inc., "they have a very good networking system." His wife Luz Ross, who owns the Platinum Bar, likens the Australians to the Chinese in the way they have banded together, unlike Americans who, she says, are very individualistic. She says this is "a cultural thing."

The couple, however, says the incident at the Bonanza Hotel was "unfortunate." They point out that Bonanza is not a member of the association, which they describe as the largest grouping of business establishments in Angeles, having 54 hotels, restaurants, bars and travel agencies as members. They say the incident could not have happened to a member of the association. "I can't justify it, it's silly," says Max Ross, asked to comment about the women having been kicked out of the hotel. But he says he can only guess that the publicity that preceded the women's visit to Angeles may have caused the reaction.

A few weeks before the women arrived in Manila, a news article that came out in a leading newspaper had been circulated in the bars and hotels around Angeles. "The article said the women are coming to confront the Australian clubs and try to prove that they were engaged in illegal sexual activity," says Max Ross. "The Australians might have felt that with the negative publicity that accompanied the women's visit, why will they cooperate?"

But the visiting women feel that the reaction of the Bonanza Hotel was too drastic, and it has made them suspect the hotel is "hiding something." In a statement, the women - mostly from the Center for Philippine Concerns-Australia - say they were disturbed that an Australian man could easily expel foreign nationals without justification. "This action demonstrates the usurpation of power that properly resides in the hands of the Philippine local government by a foreign national," they say. The women have filed charges of grave coercion against the hotel with the Angeles City Police.

Resty Garcia, executive secretary to Mayor Eduardo Pamintuan, says the mayor is "still studying the matter." The Angeles City Tourism Office has yet to act on the incident. Tourism Officer Sol Medina says Rosenda Griffin came to her office, claiming she turned the women away because they would not show her their passports. Medina says she can act on the matter only when the Griffins file a written complaint. All she has so far, says Medina, is the complaint filed by the women.

Besides, Medina is of the opinion that there is hardly anything she can do about it. Her office still does not have the police powers to enable it to impose sanctions on erring hotels. The city council, she says, will have to pass a resolution vesting those police powers in the tourism office, especially with the anticipated influx of more tourists into Angeles.

"There's a lot (for tourists) to do in Angeles," says Max Ross, unlike in Manila where "Mayor Lim closed everything down." Now, say the Rosses, Manila is a dead city where "there are no more tourists." Max Ross says tourists can go to Angeles where discos, cocktail lounges, and karaoke bars are located in just one area.

Aside from being an "entertainment center," Angeles has also become a jump-off point to other tourist destinations. Bars and hotels here are swamped with brochures offering not just "organized bar hop tours" around Angeles, but also package tours to other places like La Union, Baguio, Puerto Galera or Apuao Island in Bicol. Some tour organizers, however, carry advertisements inviting tourists to visit resort hotels in La Union that offer "Beautiful Ladies" or "Lovely Ladies."

The women who were kicked out of the Bonanza Hotel had actually come to investigate reports that the "tour packages" are really sex tours, reportedly a booming industry in Australia. In a paper presented at the Human Rights Conference on Trafficking in Asian Women, researcher and activist Chat Garcia quotes a group called Network Against Sex Tours in Australia, which says that some 50,000 Australian men join sex tours every year. Because of the increasing ownership by Australians of tourism-related businesses like hotels and travel agencies, they are able to promote package tours that can cost as low as $1,255 or two weeks' wages for a 21-day tour package, says Garcia, who is the Manager of the Resource and Information Program of the women's group Isis.

Women and sex are undoubtedly still one of the major reasons tourists come to Angeles. Says Australian retiree Dan: "It's so easy to get girls here, and that's because they are poor. They need money and usually, their parents and siblings depend on them for survival" It is not uncommon for even some hotels to have their own bars where dancers and "hospitality workers" entertain male foreigners. Aling Inday, an Angeles resident whose daughter used to work as a waitress, says some bars located inside hotels employ women who do not always have hospitality workers' permits and do not undergo social hygiene tests required of women in the trade.

And AIDS is becoming a problem. Last year, the Department of Health reported that there were 18 girls from Angeles who were found to be positive of HIV. A week after the Bonanza Hotel incident, two more were added to the list.

Max Ross denies that prostitution is on the rise in Angeles. "Over 60 percent of girls working in bars don't have sex with their customers. We've even got virgins dancing in the bars," he says. But Ross admits some bars and hotels not affiliated with his association do not follow its guidelines - no drugs, no women under 18, and no pedophiles. There are even some establishments that deal in drugs, says Ross.

The visiting women are not surprised. The day before they got booted out of Bonanza Hotel, they had made reservations in another hotel - which also ended up turning them away. The receptionist asked the women, "Rakit, taga-Nareom ba kayo?" (Why, are you from the Narcotics Command?).

"I'm surprised that they're so sensitive," says Vicki Ponsford, Social Justice Coordinator of the Australian Department of Immigration in Victoria, and first-time visitor to the Philippines who was among those thrown out of Bonanza Hotel. Another woman who was part of the group, Cally Sommerville, says, "In New Zealand, people have a lot more rights. Hotels there wouldn't have any grounds to just kick us out."

First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 3, 1995, and The Philippine Star, The Manila Times, Manila Standard, Ang Pahayagang Malaya, Abante, and Isyu, July 3-4, 1995.

"Angeles Revisited" is one of the 29 stories included in the PCIJ anthology HER STORIES.

Confronting Sexual Exploitation

Published by the Centre for Philippine Concerns-Australia, Brisbane Branch (1996)
ISBN 0-646-29672-8

Organised by the Campaign Against Sex Tourism and Trafficking in Filipino Women, fifteen women travelled to the Philippines from Australia and Aotearoa in June 1995 for a "sex tour with a difference". PCIJ was given exclusive media coverage in the Philippines and Luz Rimban participated in the 16-day tour. CPCA-Brisbane published the Study Tour report.

To purchase Confronting Sexual Exploitation send an email to or write to:

CPCA-Brisbane Branch, Justice Place, 84 Park Road, Woolloongabba Qld 4102 Australia.

Price: Aus $18 (inclusive of mailing cost in Australia)