Our Contemporaries are Everywhere

The more time spent deploring someone else’s not taking personal responsibility, the greater the chance one’s own is not being owned up to. This applies especially when direct comparisons are being relativized or avoided.

This is about what a small world it is, about nations and their minions, about taking care of one’s own business. This is about me, and the duplicity of all of the above. It features those who deserve to be remembered, and that which one would like to forget.

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I am not aware of a more accurate microcosmic representative of the commercialized sexualization of children and literal rape & murder of a culture than the Philippines, most specifically Olongapo and Angeles Cities, onetime playgrounds to the American Navy and Air Force respectively. It’s not that Manila and other exotic towns on the islands don’t contribute their critical part to the nation of sex tourism that the country has become, but military patronage was central to a steady & strong industry with a high rate of customer turnover.

I cannot say what kind of place it would be, had it not been for Teddy Roosevelt, progressive hero, naturalist champion, and imperialist adventurer. Would the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who were not slaughtered have given birth to a much different society? Or would the Spanish or Japanese still be raping them instead? It seems that everywhere the Spanish once pillaged, the young Americans were not too far behind to “liberate and keep them stable”.

Just imagine naming your streets & parks after the last guy in line at your gang rape.

Based on the embedded advertisements I’ve seen on-line, the virtual state of the main island of Luzon shows no substantial change in tragically accommodating spirit from the time the Philippine government finally said “Paalam!” to the US military in 1991, the proverbially butting-door unfortunately being the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, affecting the relatively autochthonous-lessor (the least of them most) more than the relatively foreign-lessee (a freshly-built multi-million dollar base housing complex to leave behind); in spite of all her laments, America always seems to get off easy. The castoff alive & toiling would continue to apply to significant degree the survival skills learned during the American occupation. A girl’s gotta eat.

And what about me? I cannot say how the country’s fate might have been different had I not been there, but I can imagine the lives of others, and how I might have improved them. Or done them less harm.

So this entry is not about US failure to call itself to account for its many atrocities and occasional genocide. Whether denial is a failure or not, the US elite representing business, politics, academia, and media are busy suggesting to other nations how they are to behave. Considering, even fleetingly, how they themselves contribute to “the others'” inability to do so, or why anyone’d want to, is not part of the routine. When you’re bogged down with a checklist for someone else, how to be on friendlier terms with yourself and with others is a project too hauntingly daunting to dredge.

Aray ko!
I remember finding it remarkable that to qualify for a job at McDonald’s in Pampanga, within which Angeles City lies, you had to be fluent in Tagalog, Pampangan, and English. A less than stellar command of the latter language is a dead giveaway that you are class-trash, to be made a mockery of. So that hat’ll earn respect, but a different kind of ridicule.

I rarely went to that McDonald’s, but kicked a lot of dirt and drank a lot of beer and smoked a lot of weed in & around Angeles City. I used to pay regular visits to my friend Naia, who I knew from one of the bars. I call her a friend and she was but, to be honest, I often used her to get my pot for me at the local price.

Naia lived in an apartment, which for the average Filipina in Angeles City amounted to a tiny room with the bath and laundry down the road somewhere. Whenever I’d arrive, we’d usually start out with a sit-down, catching up on the latest. She’d tell me how she didn’t think her current American boyfriend would leave her as the others had. “This one’s a flyer,” meant that she’d landed a pilot, which outside Clark Air Base meant cargo planes or fighter jets. I never met any of these guys and didn’t want to, but deep down hoped she’d really roped one.

So we’d chat for a while before she’d ask me how much I wanted, or, “200 Pesos?” which if I recall correctly was about five bucks. I’d sit & wait for a few minutes to half-an-hour, and she’d return with what looked like the cellophane from a pack of cigarettes, stuffed full of buds and heat-sealed at the end.

As she opened the door to greet me for one of our strictly social visits, I saw that she was showing. That was the time she mentioned “the flyer” as “the father”. A few visits after that, her roommate told me she’d gone back to her province for a visit. Naia was from Cebu, and not being a flyer herself, it was no casual trip. I knew this meant she’d gone to give birth, so the next time I popped round (none of us had phones back then), there was a baby in the house. She named her Lovely.

What I’m gonna do? Stop the rain?
I also regularly saw Naia in one or another of the bars. She was usually a dancer. There weren’t many bars in Angeles City that didn’t have a stage or runway with dancers, either topless or in bikinis. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say the average age of a girl fresh from the province & onto the stage was about fifteen. The crappy treatment they’d receive from some of the GIs, many of them teenagers themselves, and the cheerful attitude they’d receive it with – until such time as one might snap – says an awful lot about the dynamic the American presence in the Philippines fostered in the sickening, sweaty slog that was the Twentieth Century.

But if you were to ask many of the Airmen, they’d’ve told you it was in the Filipina adolescent’s nature to be a sex slave. I am not exaggerating. The term “little brown fucking machines” comes to mind, with LBFM being the military nomenclature, unofficial but standard. I shudder now, but at the time such talk was everyday reality.

Theoretically, prostitution was and remains illegal in the P.I., but you couldn’t be arrested paying for a bar employee to take the rest of the night off, which was known as a “bar fine” and served as the barely-necessary cover for all its sundry unlawfulness. A bright-eyed & bushy-tailed kid out of high school might fall in love & marry a girl who agreed to let him pay her steady bar fine – the inference being that she’d rather be with him than hustle for more money – but to many regular patrons the bar-girl was latently despised, when not overtly scorned. And openly abused.

I don’t want to overstate this, but the relationship was complex and there were plenty of decent people who frequented such establishments and treated everyone with respect. On one level, superficial but persistent, it seemed like a cultural exchange between people of my age and younger, whereby American & Philippine youth who really wanted to get along with one another would get together and party and do all the things that young people do anywhere else. We could all see that we were puppets to our masters, that the rules of the exchange, while dictating positions of privilege & submission, came from others who somehow lorded over all of us.

On the other hand, it is entirely too easy for a person of relative privilege to relativize their behavior when options always seemed so limited prior to the sudden privilege of being able to lord over an entire people, the underlings of another culture, as an outlet for what he imagines to be an otherwise powerless existence. What had become an inborn underage sex-trade could not exist in a vacuum, it required justification from the bottom up. And it breeds misogyny and pedophilia. Literally.

And while I understand the position of those who fight for sex workers’ rights and unions and the like, what about the right NOT to be born into a class of society that makes sex work a likelihood? Angeles City on any night of the week might have appeared like a romping good time on the surface. But the reality was disheartening for the privileged observer of human frailty, and a destroyer of the very essence of life for those who’ve submitted their innocence to it.

One night I stumbled into a place I hadn’t known Naia began working. I hadn’t known her to be working the bars again at all since she’d returned from Cebu with Lovely, though I never bothered to ask about work when we met otherwise, even when it became clear that the fucking “flyer” had not remained in her life.

So I wandered in & plopped down and there she was, smiling and happier to see me than usual, and I, surprised and happy to see her, but too drunk to remember the specifics of our conversation the next day. I found out later from our mutual friend Suzann that that night I had agreed to be Lovely’s godfather, to be present at the coming Sunday’s christening, which when Suzann told me, was no longer the coming Sunday.

I can’t begin to tell you how deep-in-my-being shitty I felt. I immediately went to Naia’s to apologize. Naturally, she did everything to assuage my guilt, telling me that she was well-aware at the time she’d asked that I probably wouldn’t remember. That may have been true. I’d like to believe that it was and it wasn’t, not wanting to’ve been a disappointment either way.

Worse than that, however, is that I have two goddaughters on this godforsaken earth, neither of whom I know how to contact, neither of whose parents know how to contact me. If that doesn’t speak well of my decision not to have children. In fairness to me, the failure to stay in contact was not one-sided; but to own up, I could and should have been more diligent in that regard.

It pains me to think of Naia and Lovely now. What brought about this aching reflexion was the same thing that a couple of years ago reminded me of Ruford, a partner in a completely different set of crimes on the same set of islands: A pop song.

The song appeared in one form in a Pinoy movie, the first Philippine film I had ever seen. The aforementioned Suzann took me to the movies in downtown Angeles for my first real Pinoy cinematic experience. There were vendors outside the entrance – before you reached the legit ones inside – selling freshly roasted hot peanuts served in tiny narrow brown paper bags, a DIY-marvel which would one day be trumped when Naia handed me a cellophane crammed full of weed for the very first time. Come to think of it, Suzann and I were pretty friggin’ high that afternoon.

She was taking me to see Horsey-horsey: Tigidig-tigidig, starring Tito, Vic and Joey (TVJ). I don’t recall her telling me about their recent – at the time even more recently relevant – controversial past. I think she just presented them as famous Filipino comic actors. Filipinos call those who achieve their level of fame (both TV and movies!) megastars.

The song became an earworm almost immediately. The actors performed a reprise during the closing credits, and it would be years before I realized who the original artist was. It sounded like one of those semi-European novelty acts marketed for them alone. Like, you’d never hear this music anywhere else. A lot of the pop hits in the Philippines had that feel. Even Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach. Especially Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach.

I heard the song in question again the other day. So I YouBoobed it later. Naturally a song conjures memories of time & people & place. But this time it led me to a distant recollection not my own, for it led to a more sordid detail in the annals of megastars T, V, & J.

No, no, no. It led me to the tragic record of someone else altogether. Someone, I lament, whose befitting form of address I do not know, which reminded me of the reason why I’ll never see or hear from Naia again: It is the story of a person who, as I imagine it, didn’t have a name she liked and was never able to choose a name for herself that she could really fall in love with.

For veracity’s sake, I’ve snipped and compiled and paraphrased from several sources, including what I was able to apprehend from my own experience. You can google if you want, but it is tedious and painful:

Delia Smith was a Filipina from a poor family abandoned by their American father when she was a child. After being “discovered” at a strip club in Olongapo City, she was brought to the attention of talent manager, Rey de la Cruz.

Cruz gave her the name Pepsi Paloma. Together with Sarsi Emmanuel and Coca Nicolas, he cast her in the booming genre of sexploitation movies popular in the Philippines at the time, dubbing his trio the “softdrink beauties”.

In 1981 at the age of fourteen, she bared all for a small role in the film Brown Emmanuelle.

In 1982, she approached the law offices of then Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile, accusing popular comedians, Vic Sotto, Joey De Leon, and Richie D’Horsey, of rape. Sotto and De Leon were hosts of the number one noon-time variety show, “Eat Bulaga”. Rene Cayetano, a partner in the law firm and later a senator, was assigned to handle her case.

When news broke that she was filing a rape case against the three stars, it made headlines throughout the Philippines. She soon went missing, but police found her, apparently having been abducted by a someone claiming to be in the employ of the maternal family of Vic Sotto. Officers interviewed the accuser, who stated that she was under duress to sign an Affidavit of Desistance by Vic Sotto’s brother, now a senator, Tito Sotto.

Soon thereafter, a settlement was reached in the amount of 300,000 pesos ($7,500) under the condition that Sotto, De Leon, and D’Horsey publicly apologize for the crime. There are contradicting reports where this transpired, either in court in front of a judge or the talk show “Pipol”, but there is no record of the episode where this is to have taken place.

After the “softdrink beauties” series had run its course, and a run of bookings limited to dancing in bars frequented by American GIs, she began to express the belief that the rape case had scared film producers away, fearing that they would be blacklisted if they cast her.

Shortly before her 18th birthday, on May 31st 1985, her boyfriend found her hanging in their bedroom. Investigators located her diary and found a suicide note in which she wrote, “This is a crazy planets!” She also attributed a lack of movie roles, financial difficulties, and relationship issues with her live-in boyfriend and mother as causes for her depression.

One of the things I found in researching this story is that much has been made of the grammatical error in her suicide note. Having acquainted myself intimately with this class of folk, I find the error at once endearing in my recollection of the time, people, and place, and depressing in my remembrance of things that should be, and should have been otherwise.

Things I could have done differently.

Glaiza, Suzann, Naia & Lovely, Manny, Ruford, Rose, Baby, Barry & Anton & Rachel, Lynn, Laura, Luz, Steve & Gina, Gina, Del, Armie, Lorenzo; those guys that kept ripping me off; that band that always played Metallica “por Dabe and priends” (Mark) and more importantly (after Mark’d passed out) Harrison’s Something; all names real or imagined or otherwise made up for reasons only you may know; and you who I’ve forgotten but cannot forget…

How could you’ve fallen for this song?

Sa pamamagitan ng pagsusumite o succumbing?

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