Prostitution and the Bases: A Continuing Saga of Exploitation

Prostitution and the Bases:
A Continuing Saga of Exploitation

by Aida F. Santos and Cecilia T. Hofmann
with assistance by Alma Bulawan , May 1998

I Introduction and Background

The present paper outlines the brief history of the US military bases in the Philippines and provides a sweep of the impact both during the long presence of the bases and in the aftermath of the bases closure in 1991. In this connection, it is essential to note that the withdrawal of the US bases did not necessarily mean improved lives for those living in and around the former baselands. Moreover, the question of militarism continues as a concern of the Filipino people. In more ways than one, the US bases’ presence and their closure provided an environment that demanded a closer look at the question of human rights and how this interweaves with issues of security.

Brief history of the US bases

In the Philippines

IN 1947, a year after the US occupation of the Philippines officially ended, the Philippine and US governments signed the RP-US Military Agreement (MBA) which allowed the latter’s unhampered use of Philippine territory for military bases and facilities for the next 44 years. But this was not the first time that foreign troops made their home in the country. Subic Naval Base, for example, was put up by the Spanish colonial government and used from 1896 to 1898, then ceded by the Hispanic government to the US. When Japanese overrun the country in a brief but intense period, beginning January 1942, the new colonizers occupied Subic, until the end of the Second World War when it lost to the Americans. The base proper and related sites occupied some 24,415 hectares. Subic was the main port, training and logistics support for the US Seventh Fleet. The Clark Air Base, on the other hand, was originally called Fort Stotsenberg and had its history as a US Army Cavalry station until 1898, the end of the Spanish-American war. Clark occupied 63,103 hectares, and served as the tactical operational US airforce installation in the entire Southeast Asian region that had the capacity to accommodate the US military transport planes which served the entire Western Pacific.


Paper submitted to the International Planning Meeting on WOMEN AND CHILDREN, MILITARISM AND HUMAN RIGHTS, held on May 1- 4, 1997, at Naha, Okinawa.

The MBA was seen by the progressive sectors of Philippine society as one of the most blatant symbol of neo-colonial relations between the US and the Philippines. Despite the so-called independence of the country in 1945, the Philippine economcy, politics and security was heavily and substantially tied up with that of its former colonial master.

Clark and Subic also served for many long years a symbol of the Filipino women’s commercialization as “entertainers” and “hospitality girls” — euphemisms for prostitution, as many women from a number of depressed regions in the country were enticed, duped or seduced into the glamour that foreign cultures in foreign-oriented cities brought along with the US bases and facilities.

Closure of the US military bases

In 1992, after long and acrimonious campaigns waged by supporters and opponents of the renewal of the treaty between the United States and the Philippine governments that would allow the continued presence of US military bases on Philippine soil, the Philippine Senate voted to reject the treaty renewal. It is important to note, however, that a majority of senators opposed the proposed new treaty on grounds that it did not contain more favorable economic terms for the Philippines. Only a small number of oppositors raised issues of sovereignty and US hegemony in the Philippines and the region. To a significant degree, the rejection by the legislative body was built on the many years of struggles of a militant anti-bases movement in the country. In November of the same year, the last US military base personnel left the country.

However, the impact of the presence of the US bases in the country which began in the 1900s is deep and continuing, particularly in the base communities and on the women and children.

Continued entry of military vessels

Since 1992, US military vessels continue to call at Philippine ports, to hold joint military exercises basing on existing Mutual Defense Treaty, and for “rest and recreation” shore leave for US servicemen. There have been reports of negotiations for US access rights to Philippine ports that will take the guise of commercial arrangements for repairs and maintenance work, refueling and the like. The free port project, for example, in Subic, one of the former baselands, opens the opportunity for such access to happen, in the guise of commercial arrangements.

It is not clear at what point the secretly held “ACSA” (acquisition and cross-servicing agreement) discussions are that would allow US troops and facilities to be deployed in the Philippines. The Philippine Constitution requires that any military agreement be approved by the Philippine Senate. The attempts to give a “commercial” or temporary character to US military entry into the country seeks to circumvent the provisions of the Philippine Constitution.

II Socio-cultural and economic impact of the US bases

The specific impact on the women and their communities in the former US bases is contained in WEDPRO’s study conducted in January-June 1990 when it was commissioned by the Legislative-Executive Bases Council (LEBC) along with 13 other consulting groups to study the possible ways to convert the baselands into economically productive areas sans the bases, and to determine the needs of the women in the “entertainment” industry. The comprehensive conversion program proposed by WEDPRO in 1990 to the LEBC is contained in a publication called From Carriers to Communities which is the popular version of the Technical Report submitted by WEDPRO to the LEBC.

The conversion program proposed by WEDPRO and the other consulting groups which addressed the urban poor sector, indigenous communities of the Aetas and the base workers, were deemed the “human face” of the conversion program and was approved by the government of then President Corazon Aquino as priority projects for immediate implementation as soon as it was submitted to the Office of the President. Between July 1990 up to 1991, intense lobbying and advocacy were done by the “human face” groups. To date, the local and national governments have implemented nothing out of those studies.

The WEDPRO study focused on two major baselands, Clark Air Base in Angeles, Pampanga and Subic Naval Base in Olongapo, Zambales. These areas at the time of the study had around 55,000-60,000 women and girls in the “entertainment” industry; the other base facilities also had prostitution as an industry but Angeles and Olongapo exhibited the most dramatic impact from and dependency on the US bases.

Socio-cultural impact

One of the most enduring impact of the long years of the Philippines’ hosting of the US bases in its territory is seen and felt in the socio-cultural sphere. The bases’ presence held the Filipinos particularly those in the former baselands captive to the ideological frame that Filipinos needed the bases not just for security but also as an economic resource. This mindset deeply affected Filipinos who continued to believe of the idea of the benevolent Americans who, in turn, regarded them as “brown Americans.”

The bases’ presence contributed and continues to contribute to the perpetuation of neo-colonial relations between the US and the Philippines at both the macro and individual levels. At present, nearly five years after the American troops and personnel left, women who were in prostitution prior to 1991-1992, still pine for the great American dream, that is, marrying a foreigner if not an American man who will take them to live in foreign lands. In Angeles City, among the women WEDPRO works with, some of the women still continue to communicate or keep in touch with their American boyfriends. Marrying a foreigner is the only “salvation, ” as some women put it, for them to get out of poverty and “forget” their past, hoping that in the US they could live a life which would erase their years in prostitution.

Amerasian children

The phenomenon of Amerasian children, now estimated at 30,000 is another consequence of the US bases presence in the country. These children receive no assistance from the US and Philippine governments, save for the very minimal and oftentimes difficult to access educational grants from one American organization. Ingrained in the culture of colonialism are racist attitudes so that particularly the children of Afro American fathers and Filipino women are ostracized and seen more negatively than the light-skinned, light-haired counterparts.

In a study conducted by Task Force on Amerasian children, the mean age of Amerasians was 12 years in 1994. Nine out of ten children were born out of wedlock, while 60 percent of them were properly registered in the office of the civil registrar oftentimes by their mothers.

Two-thirds of Amerasians live with and are being cared for by their natural mothers in single-headed households; 13 percent are under the care of surrogate parents who often are relatives of the women; 15 percent are with non-relatives; five percent live on their own and one percent are in institutions. This means that on the whole Filipino women and their relatives eventually end up single-handedly providing for all the needs of the Amerasian child, with no support from the American fathers. Nearly 100 perent of those mothers of Amerasians interviewed for the Task Force study said that they had no jobs or were employed minimally.

One third of Amerasians are out of school, and those who are in schools are oftentimes able to do so only because of some educational support from institutions. Once these institutions face financial problems, the schooling of the child is jeopardized.

The top six needs of the Amerasian children identified during the interviews were:
US citizenship
skills development

This hierarchy of needs point to the reality that the children find going abroad with their fathers or paternal relatives a more desirable option that finding local employment which is admittedly difficult, thus, the American dream of their mothers is sustained by that of the children. What the interviews did not surface as clearly were psycho-social needs for identity, an end to discrimination, basic physical and emotional health, and integration into communities that in NGOs’ work with this population are also keenly felt.

Sexual exploitation

Due to the pervasiveness of prostitution in the baselands, prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation were seen as normal in those communities, highlighted by the establishment of red-light districts known as the “entertainment” section of the communities. During the survey period, WEDPRO found that of the total number of those in prostitution in Angeles City, 70 percent were in prostitution well before they were 18 years old. Among those working in tightly guarded casa or brothels, 50 percent of those interviewed had never worked in similar situations before they were brought into the casa.

Other forms of prostitution-related establishments such as hotels and motels became a part of the normal social and economic landscape of the cities or towns where the bases were situated, thereby effectively normalizing prostitution and the concept of “R and R” by personnel on shore leave as well as ground-based staff. Prostitution and sexual exploitation became acceptable to the local population. In such a scenario, all forms of injustices against the women were generally taken lightly by the community as if their mere presence in the whole prostitution chain was enough justification for these crimes and injustices.

Through this phenomenon, women’s subordinated status further became entrenched, as female sexual service for male needs was normalized in the paid-sex setting. The good versus bad women dichotomy pitted women against each other and provided a scapegoat for many social problems. In 1992, in a focus group discussion with women who did not work in the bars, WEDPRO encountered a prevalent thinking among local women of Angeles City that prostitution allows them to be “freed” from the sexual services that their husbands demand of them, and these included sexual acts which the wives felt were only done by “bad” women, the prostitutes. One woman emphatically said that she allowed her husband to “use” a prostituted woman because to her, his sexual practices were perversities meant only to be done to “pigs.”

Consumerism and colonial values

The consumerist lifestyle in the baselands also was a strong impact of the many years of US bases in the country. Imported goods were the standard and the “stateside” mentality pervaded these communities. This mentality continues to be reinforced as duty-free stores in the economic zones of the former baselands perpetuate the PX culture. In a country where 80 percent live in abject poverty, the presence of big PX shops is an obscenity and a cultural domination which continue to entrap ordinary Filipinos in a one-sided and irrationally consumerist environment which does not promote pride in national identity.

Health concerns

The pervasiveness of reproductive tract infections which included sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV and AIDS haunted the lives of the women. One woman tells of her experiences with a US military who had barfined her for a month. One day she started itching badly and asked the man if he was too. She found crab lice in his genitalia and tried to persuade him to get treated. She demanded money for treatment and suggested that he too see a doctor. He found this suggestion insulting and threw her out of the house, along with her clothes which were scattered in the road.

In one discussion conducted by WEDPRO in 1995 for a project in Angeles City, the participants who worked in the bars during the base period openly discussed the various RTIs and STDs which they had when they were active in the industry, and almost all the usual types of STDs had been experienced by them.

The women learned various ways to treat their STDs if they had no means or were ashamed to get proper medical treatment. Abuse of antibiotics through self-medication was prevalent. Douching using various chemicals and concoctions were also used by the women which posed risks.

Abortions were common. A woman who worked the bars of both Olongapo and Angeles, after unsuccesful attempts using Cytotec, an anti-ulcer medication with an abortifacient effect, had her abdomen massaged to induce abortion but there was no effect until her seventh month. Then she took a drug which induced labor and alone, she pulled out a dead foetus, which she did not realize had by then badly deteriorated in her womb. The scalp of the foetus was torn off in the process. She was saved from bleeding to death when her landlord found her slumped in her room and got help.

Many forms of drug-induced abortion attempts as well as traditional methods were employed by the women who could not afford to go to a doctor for safe abortion procedures. Abortion is illegal in the Philippines, apart from being too costly, inaccessible and risky. As clients rarely used condoms, repeated abortions were usual and exposed especially younger women to health complications. The fatalistic psyche of Filipinos, oftentimes attributed to the ideological content of Hispanic colonization, contributed to putting women in vulnerable circumstances such as those in prostitution, at risk of unwanted pregnancies.

Drug use and alcohol consumption dominated the lives of the women. Most of them regard these practices as part of their trade, and a number said that consuming drugs and alcohol made them less shy and able to do the sexual acts required by their clients. In the bars of Angeles and Olongapo, the women earned their income by enticing clients to buy ladies drinks from which they got commissions. The more they drank, the more they earned was the philosophy. Drugs, on the other hand, were pushed by their clients, boyfriends and colleagues. The most commonly used were tranquilizers, marijuana, cough syrup and shabu.

Anemia and respiratory infections as well as stress-induced illnesses plagued many women. Their life and work style aggravated their malnutrition and general ill health.

Violence against women and girls

Sexual harassment, abuse and rape were normal parts of women’s lives in the baselands. The popular notion prevailed that women in prostitution could not be raped, and when it did happen, they were blamed for inviting the violence. In the WEDPRO study of 1990, a number of the respondents pointed to abusive childhood and sexual abuse from male relatives. Some of them in fact were sold to the casa by their own kin.

Verbal and psychological abuse and economic deprivations characterized the lives of women and girls in prostitution.

The ways in which women experienced abortions also included various ways in which they had internalized the violence against them. The ill treatment they received from their boyfriends, families and the medical workers all constitute violence as well.

All the violence that the women experienced during the period of the US bases in the Philippines has not been documented. Moreover, women victims and survivors of violence did not receive any form of support or benefit from crisis intervention programs addressing the negative impact of all their experiences, after the bases withdrew from the country.

Economic impact

For the cities of Olongapo and Angeles, the economic activity generated by the presence of the bases and the movement of the US military was the main motor that sustained the city and the surrounding areas. A local economy centered on providing for the needs of the military stunted the development of a sound economic base for the Filipino population. A complicit local government regulated the entertainment, including prostitution industry, and a large part of the retail trade and even housing sector was geared towards US military clientele.

Angeles, it was said, had an edge over Olongapo. At the time of the study done by WEDPRO in 1990, Angeles boasted of an alive furniture industry, plus other crafts, including homemade delicacies for which Pampanga is known. Yet admittedly Angeles just like Olongapo

The disparity in strength of the US and Philippine currencies created an artificial if modest and precarious prosperity for the owners of clubs and resorts, the peddlers of women and children, the souvenir and fast food sectors. A trade in PX goods constituted a large part of market activities and created wants and needs among the local population that took a toll on their already difficult personal economic situations.

For the women working in the clubs, meager and irregular earnings that depended on the number and size of ships calling, life could be an economic see-saw of brief periods when money flowed and longer lean periods when debts would accumulate in order to pay the rent, children’ schooling and other such basic needs.

This dependency on the bases became dramatically felt when a long-dormant volcano, Mount Pinatubo exploded and wiped out the cities and the outlying areas. Some parts of Pampanga and Zambales, where Angeles and Olongapo are, respectively, were badly hit and the agricultural lands as well as other businesses were covered by tons of lahar. Then it became clear that the base cities, when squeezed, had nothing muc to offer than their women and girls in the “entertainment” industry. To date, resettlement areas still pockmarked the urban blight of Angeles, right outside the former glamorous Clark. Aetas, the indigenous people who lived in the Pampanga and Zambales area, had been forced into the not-so-gentle Manila, most of the living off their meager income from begging.

Environmental damage

In both cities, the issue of toxic wastes remain, and the organizations cited above, together with CATW and other people’s organizations continue to expose the environmental damage wrought by the presence of the bases in those areas, as well as demand of the US and Philippine governments to be responsible for the ecological disaster that the bases left behind. Accounts of injuries, illnesses and even deaths have been reported in the former baselands.

III Experiences of women in Olongapo bars, 1972-92

The following report is a result of a focus group discussion conducted by BUKLOD in April 1997.

Background of the women

Five of the six women from different provinces, mostly from the Visayas in the central part of the Philippines. Three had come to Olongapo in the early 1970s, three in the 1980s, to work as waitresses or household help but eventually ended up in bar work. One woman was an Amerasian herself whose father was an African American. One woman had been married to a serviceman who divorced her when he was back in the US. All of the women without exception had Amerasian children.

The servicemen

Most of the servicemen were young white or black Americans. A racial divide marked the establishments in the towns of Olongapo where the area with bars for the black Americans was known as “the jungle.” The women too were known as either for the use of whites or blacks. Officers also frequented the bars, even admirals. Officers were known as choosier clients for whom Madams would select ‘classier” women, sometimes sending them to the officer’s hotel rooms or houses. However, officers would also sit in the bars with their men. One of the women was once taken by an officer to a nearby island where military exercises were being held and after sex with her, asked if she wanted to male extra money by “servicing his boys.” One woman’s regular client was the base chaplain. All the women agreed that the marines were particularly bad clients, prone to rough or violent behavior.

The Vietnam and Gulf War periods

Particularly during those times, men exhibited what the women called “crazy” behavior, using many women a day, some as high as ten women. There was a lot of drug use and the men also made the women take them. The women cited “speed”, “hash”, cocaine. There was the case of the man who, during sex, bit off the woman’s clitoris and who then bled heavily and had to be taken to the hospital.

Health issues

The Social Hygiene Clinic was a joint US Navy and Olongapo City government operation with the US providing drugs, other medical products and testing, including for HIV/AIDS. In 1987, all the women working in the bars were ordered to submit to HIV/AIDS testing. There had been no previous explanation or orientation nor were results later given to the women. As regards STDs, the women knew that the name of any woman found with STD and that of the club would be posted inside the base for the servicemen to avoid. Nevertheless, most of the men refused to use condoms.

All the women had had episodes of STDs and knew of no bar women who hadn’t. Particularly the USS Midway was suspect and women heard that half of the men on the Midway had STDs. After it had been in town, the incidence of STDs often rose sharply and in one bar, all of the women tested positive after Midway men had barfined the women. Some men said to the women that it served them right to be infected by men.

All of the women had had abortions, usually through uterine massage which was very painful and left the stomach black and blue, or through the use of catheters. They knew of women who died as a result of abortions. When women went to the hospital for treatment of complications from abortions, they would often be made to wait and bleed or suffer pain before being attended to.

Acts of violence

When she was very young, one of the women went to visit a Filipino woman friend whose US serviceman boyfriend happened to be visiting with a friend. were also in the house. At some point, the other man began to make physical advances and then went on to rape her as the others looked on. It was her first sexual encounter. She remembered how the men laughed as she left the house.

Women were often hurt, hit or raped if they resisted anal sex or giving blow jobs, clients putting objects in their vaginas or other acts. A client tried to choke a woman, another bought a belt on the way to the hotel room to use on the woman, another shoved a bottle into a woman’s vagina, there was verbal abuse during sex. A woman’s ear had to be sewn in the hospital after a client bit it almost off. He gave her $200 in compensation.

If clients were angry, they falsely accused the woman to the police or to the bar manager of having stolen something from him, or to the Social Hygiene Clinic that she had infected him. For the women, this meant fines and days of no income, or exposed the women to police abuse. In some cases, the client had the woman fired from the club. The men also sometimes refused to pay after sex, one man said he had already bought her three hamburger. Others stole back, while the woman slept or was out of the room, the money that had been paid the woman for sex.

Murders of women

One of the worst murders of a woman was by her steady boyfriend. She was found with part of her uterus scraped out by a broken bottle and with three barbacue sticks stabbed into her vagina. She was the neighbor and friend of one of the women in the discussion group who saw her dead body.The serviceman was arrested and imprisoned for one year.

Another brutal murder was of a streetwalker who had had police protection. She was found killed and dismembered with her breasts cut off. It was thought that the killers were police punishing and making an example of her for having stopped giving them a cut of her earnings.

There were other murders where the men were given into the custody of the Navy and sent away. In one case, the murderer got off by paying the woman’s family about $2000.

How the women felt they were regarded

The men bought women because the women were cheap, because they could make the women do things even if the women didn’t want to., because they were not American women, because the men could hurt and insult them and women could do nothing.

Amerasian children

Sometimes, if men acknowledged that a child was theirs, they might send money for a few months or even a year, but the time would come when the money would syop coming and the child would be forgotten.

IV Responses of women’s organizations

Some few women’s organizations have taken up the issues of military prostitution and the impact of US military presence on women and children: Women’s Education, Development, Productivity and Research Organization (WEDPRO), GABRIELA, BUKLOD, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW). They have taken part in press conferences, rallies and demonstrations as well as implemented in the case of WEDPRO and BUKLOD, concrete projects on the ground to assist the women who worked in the “entertainment” industry and their families who had been economically dislocated due to the bases closure.

Socio-economic programs

WEDPRO in particular was involved in the post-bases conversion study. To date, only WEDPRO with its women’s cooperative whose membership are from former bar women in Angeles and BUKLOD in Olongapo are the ones working on the ground to address the continuing impact of the US presence in the country and to assist the women from their base-dependent lives to lives of autonomy and sense of self-dignity. While there are many non-government organizations in the Philippines, work with women in the “entertainment” sector towards alternative life and work style remains a marginal concern as the understanding of sexual exploitation in prostitution from the human rights perspective needs more advocacy. Other women’s NGOs operating outside the former baselands serve as a support network, providing assistance in medical, crisis/counseling and legal needs of the women and their families. These efforts however are small and scattered compared to the deep impact of the US bases presence on women in prostitution and their families.

BUKLOD was established in 1987. BUKLOD has non-formal education and awareness raising and training programs, educational scholarship to some of the Amerasian children of BUKLOD members, livelihood activities and skills training such as sewing. It also conducts research. Beginning last year, in collaboration with a women’s health NGO, BUKLOD set up a community-based clinic and pioneered the skilling of grassroots women as health educators.

At the time of the bases, BUKLOD offered night care services for the children of the bar women, temporary shelter and other crisis interventions It carried out political and feminist education for the women. It also lobbied strongly against the anti-women ordinances and policies that emanated from the local government, and joined forces with the anti-bases movement. BUKLOD’s organizing efforts among bar women at the height of the bases’ presence is commendable and has served as inspiration to women in Angeles City who began organizing around the time when the bases were to be finally closed down.

WEDPRO on the other hand began its involvement with the women of Angeles City as an aftermath of the bases withdrawal. When no programs were forthcoming from the national and local governments despite the promise of then President Aquino, WEDPRO assisted a group of bar women and urban poor women in their cooperative building. This first group has since then evolved to become an autonomous organization. In 1993, WEDPRO assisted once more another group, the Nagkakaisang Kababaihan ng Angeles City (United Women of Angeles City or NAGKA). WEDPRO helped organize NAGKA and just like in the first group, extended support in developing micro enterprises for the women, coupled with micro enterprise training. WEDPRO also has developed micro credit facilities for the women, and trained them in cooperative building. Non-formal education on various women’s issues and advocacy also form part of WEDPRO’s programs in Angeles City. as part of its continuing advocacy, WEDPRO does research on prostitution and sex trafficking and has published information on these topics. WEDPRO, with the help of other women’s NGO, put up a community-based clinic and does health training in reproductive rights, sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.

Advocacy and Networking

CATW and its network have protested to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and have met with DFA officials to demand that the entry of US and other military vessels for “R and R” shore leave be disallowed. These same organizations campaigned for many years for the rights and welfare of Filipino Amerasian children of US military personnel.

On the occasion of the World Congress Against Child Sexual Exploitation, CATW met with the delegation of Pentagon to express its concerns on the practices of sexual exploitation behavior of US servicemen in Asia. CATW and BUKLOD coordinate with the Asia-Pacific Center for Justice and Peace in Washington, DC that lobbies there on the issues of military prostitution in connection with “R and R”, on the rights of Amerasian children, and on issues of toxic wastes left in the Philippines by the military bases.

It is nearly five years since the US bases and facilities left the territory of the Philippines, yet the lives of the women and their communities who intimately encountered the daily realities and indignities of living and working in the baselands offer rich lessons for those who still have the US bases in their national territories.

V Conclusion

The US bases in the Philippines had gone, but for all intents and purposes, the politics of dependency between the two governments continue. Militarism has taken new shapes, and the various trade agreements, e.g., GATT and organizations, e.g., World Trade Organization, which globalizes economies and therefore societies, is another form of conquest. Security which is often tied up with the concept of national defense, is now being used to describe “food security” and “ecological security.”

It must also be said that militarism does not happen only in the case of the presence of foreign troops in a national territory. In the Philippines, especially during the Marcos rule of martial law, militarism took on a very local, indigensous face — with not a little help of course from his US friends. This militarism has also characterized the subsequent governments of Corazon Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos

Lessons of the bases conversion in the Philippines

The bases conversion program, or what seemed to be that, in the Philippines offers rich lessons for other countries, wanting to rid of foreign bases and facilities within their national territories. After the Legislative-Executive Bases Council (LEBC), the body convened under the Office of the President in 1990, submitted its recommendations to how best to convert the former baselands into productive, humane communities for the peoples affected. The volumes of reports gathered dust somewhere in some offices.

WEDPRO’s bases conversion program was approved as a priority program, along with the reports on the base workers, indigenous peoples and urban poor communities, by President Aquino, but received no concrete support from that government or the Ramos administration. Instead of allocating resources for the implementation of the programs, particularly the group called the “human resource development” consulting firms, the local and national governments and the business sector proceeded to open the baselands to foreign multinationals and enticed foreign capital to partake of the incentives offered by the local governments.

Now, the conversion programs are but a series of industrial complexes dominated by Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese business groups; in Angeles and Olongapo, duty free shops offering US products are the main attractions, together with plans to build a Disneyland, a retirement village for foreign old men whose pension will certainly enable them to live like kings in these areas, perhaps complete with women as their sexual and domestic slaves. Clark will host another international airport, and Olongapo will have a Hong Kong-style free port. As one woman said, “before it used to be either black or white Americans, now, we’ll have children of different colors, ala-UN!” In Angeles City, Fields Avenue which was the “redlight” district of the city and located just outside the gate of the former airbase, continues to breathe a new type of “entertainment, ” this time with Australina and European pubs and clubs and now, Japanese karaoke bars. Prostitution and trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation continues, even as the ashes of Mount Pinatubo linger in the streets and in resettlement areas. HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections are a reality, and many forms of violence against women and children still inhabit the lives of many.

The bases are gone,, but militarism, this time in the name of industrialization and progress, under an era of “peace” and in more subtle but insidious cultural invasion, continues.

When the struggle to oust the bases gained victory in 1991, few of those progressive social movements continued their vigilance to monitor the development in the baselands. One of the lessons that WEDPRO and BUKLOD, for example, learned from the our experiences, is that it is not enough to remove the bases from our territory. A fundamental responsibility is our continued vigilance to insist on people’s participation in bases conversion program and the responsibility for social movements to ensure that these programs are suited to the needs and aspirations of the people especially the women who suffered such exploitation during the presence of the bases. These needs and aspirations must be anchored on a development strategy that makes the country a self-reliant society where dignity and sovereignty are essential components of long-term transformation.

The necessity of continuing and sustained struggles and advocacy and building linkages across the region and elsewhere are important steps to ensure that the US bases once and for all leave our territories, but more than that, to ensure a global world where women’s bodies are respected and the lives of communities sustained beyond the glitz of shops and malls and clubs and resorts.



Lee, Lynn and WEDPRO. From Carriers to Communities, Alternative Employment, Economic Livelihood and Human Resource Development — The NGO Version of the Bases Conversion Program for Women. WEDPRO, Quezon City, Philippines, March 1992.

Pearl S. Buck Foundation and Task Force on Amerasians. Agencies Collaborating Together with Amerasians, their Families and Communities A Project Proposal. Manila, Philippines, 1996.

Miralao, Virginia A., Celia O. Carlos and Aida Fulleros Santos. Women Entertainers in Angeles and Olongapo: A Survey Report. (Women’s Education, Development, Productivity & Research Organization (WEDPRO) and Katipunan ng Kababaihan para sa Kalayaan (KALAYAAN), Quezon City, Philippines, 1990.

Sturdevant, Saundra and Brenda Stotlsfuz. Let the Good Times Roll: The sale of women’s sexual labor around US military bases in the Philippines, Okinawa and the southern part of Korea. University of California Press, 1991.

7 thoughts on “Prostitution and the Bases: A Continuing Saga of Exploitation

  1. Pingback: Toru Hashimoto clarifies remarks on comfort women | Japan Probe

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  4. Pingback: Philippines news: Beyond the neon lights: Stories of prostituted women | Pinas news library

  5. Sad legacy of America sending troops overseas and causing so much pain and heartache when they do. Sad are the women and children caught in a permanent cycle of despair and abuse. We saw the same thing happen during the Vietnam conflict. A heart cannot help but ‘ache’ for these women and children. History only repeats itself. It’s time to say ‘NO’ to anymore foreign bases and occupations.

  6. prostitution in olongapo as we know it are still largely infact existing as of now..ive bn there a couple of years ago to marry a local born girl from that place.she’s pretty as common friends calling her ‘marian rivera” look alike (a famous philippine female celebrity) knowing that she is a product of a former us navy decades ago.. and i shockingly found out that she is just one of many prostitutes that still lingers in olongapo sleeping with some other guy while im not around,,thankfully the so called wedding has bn called off could have bn disastrous!!on the other hand,im still glad that our navy will be finally coming back to their former base to ward off those chinkz who’s been harassing those poor filipino fisherman in scs.. long live the US navy..

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