Is it Really That Shocking There’s a Sex Menu for Chinese POGO Workers?

We should have seen this coming.

There was quite a stir at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, January 28. 

Officials of the National Bureau of Investigation made the bombshell claim that prostitution is more rampant than ever in the country, and this time, the clientele is mostly Chinese nationals employed by Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).

Even more scandalous, Senator Risa Hontiveros, who chairs the committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality, flashed screenshots of conversations mostly written in Chinese text that purportedly showed the sexual services being offered to potential clients.

The way Hontiveros described it, procuring the services of a lady of the night is as easy as ordering something from GrabFood, albeit significantly pricier. If you feel like having Chinese, for example, that would set you back P13,000 for 60 minutes and up to P26,000 if you want her for the whole night. The charge is different depending on whether you have a hankering for Korean or Russian, and obviously, we’re not talking about cuisine.

Hontiveros clearly seemed troubled, if not unnerved.

“Kailangan na nating umaksyon (We need to act),” Rappler quoted Hontiveros as saying. “We need to look into suspending POGO operations because they attract criminals into our country.”

But is it really that shocking prostitution has become so freely available now within POGO communities?

Consider the facts. According to estimates, there are now between 100,000 to 150,000 Chinese nationals employed in the POGO industry in the Philippines. Even the Department of Finance says the number might possibly be a lot more, and if you live or work in a building with a POGO company, that’s not hard to believe.


So a hundred thousand workers, many of whom are men, working eight- to 12-hour days, far away from home. These workers have needs. What did we expect? Of course, they’re going to be looking for sexual release, and there has never been a shortage of people willing to flout laws and exploit vulnerable women in order to earn a quick buck.

Yes, prostitution is illegal here and in many other countries, but is anybody really naïve enough to think that that means it’s nonexistent? That it doesn’t still happen in seedy neighborhoods or luxury hotels or swanky homes inside gated subdivisions?

If history has taught us anything, it’s that prostitution is just one of those things that exists whatever your position about it is, like broccoli or the TV show Friends. It also seems to especially thrive in communities where there is a huge number of long-staying visitors, such as U.S. military bases on foreign soil. In the case of the POGOs, it was only a matter of time before the influx of Chinese workers gave rise to different “cottage industries,” including sex work.

Perhaps the shock was in seeing just how casual and easy it is to hire a sex worker. Like ordering from a food delivery service, the good senator said.

But again, is this really so surprising? On-demand services have exploded in recent years—from food to transportation and even medical, delivery, massage, and tons of other services. The “Grab for sex work” couldn’t that have been far behind, even though, yes, it's illegal. Granted the revelations in the Senate hearing weren’t so much in an app as a private chat group, but you get the idea. If anything we’re surprised there isn’t a legit hookers-for-hire app out there already (or is there)?

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Because laws are being broken, police officials naturally need to get involved and shut the whole thing down. But with all due respect, there are also other issues attached to POGOs that likewise need urgent attention. How many of these workers are working here legally, on legitimate and valid work visas? The Finance Department has worked out a way to collect taxes from these companies, but how many are remitting the correct amount and not skirting their financial responsibilities? 

And then there are the workers themselves. Many of the Chinese nationals have had issues dealing with local customs and practices and seem to be finding it difficult to assimilate. For such a large contingent of foreigners coming to live and work in another country, cultural understanding and integration are essential. But what we’re seeing now is the complete opposite. We can deflect all we want and say that the derision and downright contempt some of us are showing the foreigners have nothing to do with race, but we know that’s not completely true. Racism is another unfortunate result of our failure to properly manage and govern POGOs.

Sure, the idea of a sex menu is outrageous and tantalizing and is exactly the kind of thing that will stoke the imagination of people and launch a thousand and one protests. But with the Philippine relationship with China the way it is now, we can’t seriously say that this was completely unexpected. Let’s not pretend that we didn’t see this coming.

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