How dream of better future turns into nightmare
MANILA, Philippines – Lalaine, 19, was a saleslady for a popular department store when she was lured by a “friend of a friend” to work “for better pay” as a waitress in Singapore only to find that her workplace was a nightclub where she was forced to do a strip-tease and encouraged to have customers fondle her.
Kristine, a recent widow at 23 with two children (her husband died December 2006), was also told of the tremendous earning opportunities (“malaki raw ang kita”) in Singapore by an acquaintance — a neighbor who was also their barangay (village) chairman. She agreed to a “hostessing” job there, but ended up being a call girl, having sex with different men in different hotels as arranged by her employer.
Lalaine and Kristine are just two of a growing number of young Filipino women being trafficked to Singapore for sexual exploitation, drawn in by the adventure of work abroad on the false promise of a high-paying decent job.
In its Human Trafficking Report of 2007, released this June, the United States’ Department of State noted this increase of Asian women (from People’s Republic of China, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam) being deceived or coerced into sexual servitude in the city-state so much so that it downgraded Singapore from Tier 1 in 2006 to Tier 2 in 2007.
(The State Department has four categories for levels of compliance with the Trafficking in Persons Act, which provides the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking: Tier 1 is the category of countries that “fully comply” with the law. Tier 2 is for countries that “do not fully comply with these standards but making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance.” Tier 2 Watch List is for countries “requiring special scrutiny because of a high or significantly increasing number of victims; failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat trafficking in persons; or an assessment as Tier 2 based on commitments to take action over the next year.” Tier 3 is for countries that “neither satisfy the minimum standards nor demonstrate a significant effort to come into compliance; countries in this tier are subject to potential non-humanitarian and non-trade sanctions.”)
This US State Department report is recognized worldwide. A couple of years ago, Japan reacted to a negative rating by applying more stringent immigration rules against Filipino entertainers.
But while the fate of Filipino entertainers to Japan is relatively well known, that of Filipino “tourists” to Singapore is hidden from the public eye, particularly Philippine authorities who could warn Filipino women of this successful scam.
Other Filipinos living or working in Singapore have noted the increase of Filipino women working as prostitutes in the city-state’s red-light district. “There are all kinds. There are club-based hostesses and there are free-lancers,” says a Filipino expatriate, who himself has gone to these clubs.
To confirm this, INQUIRER.net waited for nightfall on Orchard Road in Singapore. As the sun set, street walkers looking like customers would start arriving, talking in Tagalog or Bisaya or in colegiala English. Some looked like teenagers, some older. Some sit outside department stores, waiting to be approached by customers. Others would be accompanied by foreign-looking men. They would invariably leave with customers. Some would be fetched by a cab after a brief cell-phone call.
But it was back here in the Philippines that INQUIRER.net was able to talk to actual victims of human trafficking, back here where they felt they were safe and open to talk.
Lalaine and Kristine’s troubles resonate with each other, diverging and converging at various points.
On October 21, after paying only P1,500 for the airport terminal fee, Lalaine flew with two other young women to the city-state only to find out that the no-recruitment fee spiel was a trap, that she would work at a night club to “entertain” customers in progressively degenerate ways that would eventually end up in prostitution.
Shortly after arriving in Singapore, they were taken to an apartment on Killiney Road. They were padlocked inside the apartment, fetched before nightfall, and taken back before dawn. They were given 50 Singaporean dollars monthly allowance in advance to cover their expenses. As this is not enough even for food, many Filipinas in this job end up “in debt” with their employers.
The debt racks up when the women’s board and other expenses are counted. Luckily for Lalaine, she had P4,000 with her which allowed her to eat more than the once a day that the other club workers were forced to suffer.
At the night club in the Tanjong Pagar area in Singapore, Lalaine saw fellow Filipinas doing everything to earn their monthly quota of 300 points. (Points may be earned through the drinks that they consume; the minimum price for a drink of 20 Singaporean dollars earns two points.)
“Kaya yung iba talaga kung ano-ano ginagawa para lang maabot yung quota nila, nagpapahawak sa maseselan na parte ng katawan, nagpapadede [That’s why some do everything to meet their quota, they allow themselves to be touched in their private parts, including their breasts],” Lalaine tells INQUIRER.net.
Although the molestation does not earn the women any points, she explains that the club encourages it to get customers to return to the club again and again. “Pakonsuelo raw po [As a come-on],” she says.
“Andaming Pinay dun. Karamihan ng mga babae sa mga club, Pinay. Nung nandun ako, nabilang ko mga 33 kami [There are so many Filipinas there. Most of the women in the clubs are Filipinas. When I was there, I counted 33 of us in the club],” she adds.
During the first few days, she escaped the eagle eyes of the bar manager by sitting at the end of a line of girls at the club during their working hours. But not for long. On her third day, the club manager forced her to do a bar-top strip. This was supposed to raise her earning capacity for the club.
In her conversations with fellow Filipinas, she found out that many of them were not paid anything, allegedly because they owed the club the recruitment fee and the plane fare that got them in Singapore – notwithstanding that they were lied to about the kind of job that waited for them there and that they were detained when off-duty.
By the seventh day, Lalaine escaped. With her two other companions who couldn’t stomach what they were being forced to do, Lalaine escaped their minder — a fellow Filipina who accompanies them everywhere when they’re not in the club. They were at an Internet café when she told her minder that she was hungry and was just going out to eat. Her two other companions already got their things from their apartment and escaped while their minder was busy chatting in the Internet.
From the Internet café, they asked to be taken to the Philippine embassy, which took them in and helped them get tickets to return to Manila. After spending 10 hellish days in Singapore, Lalaine and her two companions are back in the country, relatively unscathed.
But Kristine was not as lucky. She actually had to “service” men for a month before finding the opportunity to escape.
Convinced that the Singapore “hostessing” job would be her ticket to feeding and educating her two young boys, she scrounged around and borrowed the P12,000 for the recruitment fee and airfare.
Within the hour of her arrival at around noon, she was given a new SIM card for her cell-phone and booked into a hotel. While taking a shower, mentally preparing herself for her night job, she received an insistent phone call from a man, demanding that she go down to the lobby.
Again by phone, she was ordered to take a cab – one was already waiting for her outside the hotel – to get to another hotel. At the second hotel, she met her first customer. Forced into such a situation in a strange land, she did as was expected of her and had sex with a stranger.
Kristine got her instructions from the phone. “Hindi ko talaga nakita itong mamang ito. Parang sinusundan lang talaga ako at alam ang lahat ng kilos ko. Pati pagpunta ko sa 7-11 alam [I never saw this man. It’s as if he was just following me and seeing all my actions. Even my short trip to the 7-11 was monitored],” Kristine tells INQUIRER.net.
This became her routine for the next couple of weeks, never meeting any of her fellow sex workers except at hotel lobbies, while waiting for the instructions of their invisible minder, who would leave them their share of the fee with the hotel receptionist. One of her fellow victims told her that she has been at the job for three months, accumulating not the money that she was supposed to earn for her family back home but debts.
Although not physically shackled, Kristine felt that she was not free. She was determined to leave the job she did not sign up for. “I did not go to Singapore to be a prostitute. I wanted to earn money for my kids. I called up my mother and told her about my situation. She asked what she could do. I told her I would take care of it,” she says.
Afraid, confused, and alone, Kristine was nonetheless able to escape with the help of a Singaporean taxi driver who heard her crying at the back of the cab. With his help – he took her luggage from the hotel so that whoever was monitoring her wouldn’t suspect that she was leaving for good, she left not for the next customer but for the Philippine embassy.
When she returned home, Kristine immediately filed a case of illegal recruitment against her recruiter-neighbor.
For many Filipinos, Singapore is another land of opportunity. The growing number of Filipino professionals working in the city-state attests to this reality. But another reality exists: Filipino women are being deceived into sex jobs there.