By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
The Sex Worker
posted 13-Mar-2016  ·  
4,593 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

In the early 70s, when I was a young lawyer, I was employed in a law firm with offices along Adriatico Street, Ermita, Manila. It was a lean outfit with only 5 lawyers, including me. Our boss was the late Atty. Ciriaco Lopez, Jr., a UP graduate and a bar topnotcher, one of the most sought-after litigation lawyers of the time who routinely locked horns with the likes of Jose W. Diokno and lawyers of giant law firms in our country. As a greenhorn, I knew practically nothing about law then, prompting me to mouth impressive-sounding Latin maxims as a cover for my ignorance. Like a doting father to me, Atty. Lopez regularly asked me to accompany him in court to familiarize me with trial technique. Although I did nothing else but carry his briefcase and hand him exhibits and other documents during the trial, he always saw to it that my name was placed in the court records as his collaborating counsel. This thrilled me no end and made my day.

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But it was not only the fine art of defending the accused or prosecuting a case which I learned there. Our law office was situated in the Ermita District, smack in the middle of the “Tourist Belt” where foreign tourists had fun. And for most of these gentlemen, fun was spelled as “s-e-x”. Sure enough, on the routes along Mabini, M. H. del Pilar, and Adriatico streets were the ubiquitous beer houses with “hospitality girls” and “ago-go dancers,” most of whom a customer can take out by paying a small “bar fine”. I can still picture in my mind a catchy signboard fronting a beer house along M. H. del Pilar street reading, “So many girls. So little time!” Indeed, with many sex workers plying their trade in the streets of Ermita, the place became the center of erotica in Manila during the early seventies. However, negative public sentiment against this kind of employment was very strong at that time. So much so that then Chief of Police of Manila Alfredo Lim waged a relentless campaign to close all establishments there employing sex workers and lewd shows. This signaled the death of the tourist belt there, and this was Lim’s ticket to the mayoralty of Manila.

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Today, forty years later, the traditional opposition to pornography, prostitution, and the exploitation of women's sexuality for commercial purposes has been substantially eroded. Morality is changing and old standards are dying or are being declared dead. The new attitudes are seen most prominently in the explicit pornography available in the internet, in the increasingly libidinous arts, in the nudity and brutal frankness on the film screens, in the free-swinging living of the addicts in the drug cult, in modern advertising which uses sex to sell everything from toothbrush to sex toys, in the advocacy of pre-marital sex as wholesome and virginity as Victorian. Many of us do not condemn sex workers so loudly anymore. Some see “sex work” as a legitimate form of employment which can be lucrative and can also contribute to women's sexual liberation. The rhetoric, “My body, my choice,” is used to justify the claim that women (men, too) should have the right to sell their sexuality if they so choose, and that whatever choices they make should be supported as a legitimate expression of their autonomy. Some feminists go even further than this, claiming that the stigmatization of sex work is intimately bound up with patriarchal attempts to control women's sexual behavior and demonize women who enjoy sex or use their sexuality for their own benefit. There are even others who insist that all female choices must be respected.

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To my mind, the proposition that all female choices must be respected creates a double-standard which trivializes women's moral capacities and denies the same kind of significance that we attach to that of men. Male choice remains subject to criticism, and men are still expected to take responsibility for the social and political consequences of their actions. Why must women be exempt? Isn’t it still true that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander? I see this as machismo in reverse. Most women are perfectly capable of adult moral deliberation and decisive action. While real constraints, both exterior and interior, may unjustly hamper their freedom in some cases, they are not moral infants. Women are just as capable as men of making morally good decisions — and just as capable of choosing evil. I have no doubt in this regard that a good number of women, like men, have the same desire and enjoyment for sex.

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Not a few people work in pornography or prostitution because they have made a free and deliberate choice that is morally wrong. Women's decisions are not merely individual because, like men's decisions, they have social and political significance. Thus, a woman’s decision on this matter has ramifications that extend beyond her. When a woman chooses to sell herself as a sex object, and claims that it is the only way she can feed her family, she cannot divest herself of moral responsibility for the way that men will interpret her actions. To be sure, men don't engage the services of prostitutes to feed the woman’s elderly mother. Insofar as women are concerned, pornography, prostitution and commercial sex are instances not just of female victimization, but also of female acquiescence or choice.

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Too bad, at my ripe age of 71 years, what I regularly see now is a “go-go mobility scooter” for the elderly. It certainly is a far cry from the “ago-go dancers” of yesteryears. 

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