[DASH of SAS] ‘Mercy’ sex in Iloilo

Ana P. Santos

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'They are transitional men. They engage in sex transactionally, on a case-to-case basis, or maybe when the need arises'

Raj, Popoy, Jeo, and Makoy* share many things, as many good friends do. They share the same interests like going out as a barkada, video games, and girls. The 4 boys share the same neighborhood and even seem to have the same taste in clothes. Each of them was dressed in a variation of sleeveless shirt, shorts, and slippers/ sneakers ensemble.

Two of them have girlfriends, but Jep, 17, claimed he is the only unlucky one in love. “I’m the ugly one,” he said in Filipino, flashing a smile that reveals a gap where two front teeth should have been.

All the boys have had girlfriends at one point or another, but “never two at the same time,” they joked. All of them have had sex at one point or another, but “never with the same girl,” they said, projecting solemnity.

Money is a problem though. They never have enough to buy the things they want like a new phone or a new shirt to add to the handful on rotation in their closet. Jep and Makoy’s parents do not work, Popoy no longer has a father but his mother is an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in the Middle East and Jepoy’s parents work as cooks in a canteen.

The boys also share a secret: a way to earn money.

It was Raj who got them in on it, said Jepoy looking pointedly at the boy who is the smallest of the group.

“Me?!” asked Raj, head snapping his head to attention.

The 15-year-old pulled off the baseball cap he wore backwards on his head and ran his hands through the soft curls framing his cherub face. His gesture did not fill the silence as we all continued to look to him for a reply.

“My friend just told me about it,” he said, finally relenting to our expectant stares.

“It” is offering sexual favors in exchange for money or gifts.

Popoy, 16, with his mohawk hair – a surprise contrast to his rosy cheeks and open smile – and Raj, with his baby boy looks, are the most marketable, they said.

The boys get about P400 – P500 per sexual encounter or what they have coded as “pag-magmer-mercy” (to do an act of mercy). Popoy says he has gotten as much as P1,000.

The transactions are not usually planned. They meet their clients at discos hosted at the barangay hall or open basketball court, sometimes at the local mall. Alone or travelling as a group, they are approached by men, whom they guessed are in their 30s or so, who say, “Ga, number.” (Darling, number.)

There is no need to ask what for. Mobile numbers will be given and an SMS exchange will follow. Terms are set and and a meet up is scheduled. And a transaction – usually oral sex, with the boys receiving – will be consummated in dark alleys or in lodges that offer a convenient hourly rate. Cash is handed over before they part ways.


“Mercy” can happen again and if it happens often enough with one customer, the relationship becomes one of beneficiary and patron. Pants, shirts, and shoes become an expected and welcome part of the relationship.

Once Popoy got a new cellphone. “Touchscreen!” he said proudly.

Makoy, 16, is the quiet one, the go-with-the-flow guy of the group. He nodded in agreement and mostly laughed and smiled to show his agreement to everything the other boys said.

Usually, they share the money amongst themselves or use it for an activity among friends like eating out or playing video games. Two of the boys said their parents could afford to buy them clothes, but the other two could not. But they all said they liked the attention new clothes and gadgets buy them, shooting up their street cred.

None of their girlfriends – past or present – know about these encounters. Their parents were even more clueless, believing that the new clothes and gadgets were a result of scraping together loose cash and spare change.

They all know about condoms, but none of them know how to use them and none of them used condoms pagmagme-mercy, whether with a girlfriend or client.

“It’s hard to buy. People will just look at us,” said Raj.

“And someone (who knows our parents) might see us!” piped Jep.

‘Survival sex’

Cab drivers in Iloilo have observed that passengers they drove to lodges were getting younger and younger. Ma Rosario Victoria de Guzman, a professor at West Visayas State University had heard the rumor from one too many cab drivers and decided to conduct a research study.

Her report, “Survival Sex in Iloilo City,” revealed that boys and girls between 12-24, go into sex for pay especially during exam period, holidays, and weekends.

The report included a survey among cab drivers which showed that more than 50 taxi drivers reported bringing an average of about 31 customers to lodging houses every day.

A news article reported that, prompted by the results of the study, De Guzman wrote a letter to Iloilo Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog saying that the “development for the city is not only limited to infrastructure” and must include concrete programs and projects for the youth.

Growing problem

Councillor Dylee Zulueta Salazar acknowledged the growing problem of prostitution among young people in Iloilo. In the coastal communities where the the 4 boys live, prostitution is an open secret.

“Lodges in the area offer quickie stays at a bargain rate of P50,” said Zulueta Salazar.

A regulation ordinance was passed banning street solicitation but realizing that most of the negotiation happens off the streets and through mobile phones leaves officials stumped on how to deal with the problem.

“We’re looking at passing a new ordinance that will ban minors from checking into lodges with an adult,” said Zulueta Salazar who also leads the Council on Moral Recovery.

It will be tricky, she admitted.

“We don’t want to infringe on the rights of a private vehicle owner, but it is the taxi drivers themselves who tell us they have driven many passengers (with minors) to the lodges and don’t know what to do,” she said.

It’s not the only thing that leaves them baffled. Some of the reasons the young boys have for offering sexual favors are not the usual need to eat or have a roof over one’s head.

Boys in prostitution

“They are transitional men. They engage in sex transactionally, on a case-to-case basis, or maybe when the need arises,” said Janvie Amido, Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP) Program Officer for VisMin, describing the sexual behavior of the 4 boys.

“When we talk about prostitution, what comes first to our minds are women, not men,” said Amido, who added that cases of young boys in prostitution or being raped are more likely to go unreported because of the stigma and shame.

“Maybe we think, they are men, wala naman mawawala sa kanila (they have nothing to lose), but we should be aware that whether it is a man or a woman, it is prostitution. Both (genders) should be given equal attention and intervention.”

“The best intervention,” Amido concluded, “is education for both the parents and the children.”  – Rappler.com

Ana P. Santos is a former banker turned public health journalist focusing on women’s issues and sexual health rights. It’s a mouthful and for the most part, she’s simply referred to as a “sex columnist.” She blogs (and rants) at www.sexandsensibilities.com and tweets @iamAnaSantos.

*Names in this article have been changed.

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Ana P. Santos

Ana P. Santos is an investigative journalist who specializes in reporting on the intersections of gender, sexuality, and migrant worker rights.