Monthly Archives: February 2011

Bar Girl Recruitment in Angeles City

ust the other night when Shagger paid me a visit in Golden Nile we started to talk about what would make a good subject for me to write about in my monthly column. We bandied around a lot of subjects but without much enthusiasm until I happened to notice that the stage was low on girls so I asked a mamasan where are all the girls and she replied a lot had taken their day off. We had a small conversation and I asked her where are the new girls she had promised to get and she replied, “there are five new girls on the way and they should be ready to work by the weekend”. Unbeknownst to me Shagger had been listening intently to our conversation and when it was concluded he looked at me with a wry smile and said, “now there’s a good topic for your column”. I looked at him and asked, “what topic would that be, the mamasan manager relationship” and he replied, “no I was thinking more along the lines of how the mamasans find the girls to work here”, “ah you mean you want an article on recruitment” I replied and he responded with a vigorous head nod and said, “yeah mate that would make a great article”.

I gave the matter much thought drawing on my years of experience and decided since we are all primarily interested in the fair sex (even gay BamBam) the subject of recruitment and general information as to how the girls come to work in the bar would indeed make for an interesting article, what’s more, since there are so many new bars opening the ability to recruit good looking girls is becoming of paramount importance and is a bigger factor in determining the success of a bar than ever before.

“Recruitment refers to the process of screening, and selecting qualified people for a job at an organization or firm, or for a vacancy in a volunteer-based some components of the recruitment process, mid- and large-size organizations and companies often retain professional recruiters or outsource some of the process to recruitment agencies. External recruitment is the process of attracting and selecting employees from outside the organization”. Definition from Wikipedia.

Prior to examining the actual methods of recruitment I think it is important to note that the word recruitment in the Philippines tends to conjure negative connotations and is often associated with human trafficking. In Act R.A.9208 “Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003” the word recruitment is contained within the definition of Human Trafficking. Because of the link between recruitment and human trafficking and the harsh penalties associated with these activities recruitment for many people, especially those involved in the go-go bar business, is a taboo subject and one they are very wary about discussing.

Human trafficking in the Philippines is defined as follows “Trafficking in Persons – refers to the recruitment, transportation, transfer or harboring, or receipt of persons with or without the victim’s consent or knowledge, within or across national borders by means of threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of position, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the person, or, the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation which includes at a minimum, the exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, servitude or the removal or sale of organs”.

Personally I see the definition as being fairly general and I can easily see how this could be twisted to suit an individual’s separate agenda especially when it applies to the recruitment of girls to work in the go-go bar environment.

There are several ways the girls come to find out about the bar but by far the most common means is by word of mouth and actual recruitment. For the girls in the province they mostly hear about the bar and life in Angeles through a friend who has experienced it and returns to the province to encourage her friends to join her living in AC and working the bar. Often these friends are sent to the province by the mamasans with funds and specific instructions to recruit girls. This method of recruitment makes perfect sense because the girl has family and friends in her provincial area, she knows the lay of the land and is in a better position to avoid the pitfalls associated with recruitment, she knows the type of girls that will be successful in the bar environment and she knows the families that are in need of money. Lastly but by no means because the girl is seen as a province member she has instant access to certain social circles that would normally be closed to an outsider.

Life in the province is basic and money is scarce so it doesn’t take much to make it look like you have money which in turn acts as an enticement for others to follow in your footsteps.

When recruiting there is an instinctive understanding for both parties that this is all about the money. The girl doing the recruiting will often wear jewelry or other ostentatious displays of wealth designed to draw attention to the fact that she now has money. Of course her jewelry is noted by those who have nothing and their first question is invariably how did you get the money to buy the jewelry followed by how can I get the money to buy myself some jewelry. This of course is the perfect opening for the recruiter to sell the concept of working in the bar. It is interesting to note here that very few recruiters will actually spell it out that the girl is supposed to have sex with foreigners rather it is always couched in phrases like you will be a dancer with a nice salary or it’s a nightclub where you will dance and get ladies drinks or you will be a waitress. The fact of having sex which is where the real money is made is in most cases not mentioned until the girl is actually working in the bar and then it is up to her to decide her course of action. This whole process is done through word of mouth and at times as a monetary transaction but there is never anything in writing due to the obvious ramifications from the various local authorities. People involved in recruitment for the go-go bars run the risk of having their activities misconstrued, misinterpreted and misrepresented to the extent where they are at risk of being charged with illegal recruitment and at worse human trafficking.

Some mamasans when recruiting clearly define the jobs parameters making it clear that the girls will only make the real money by having sex however these mamasans are few and far between and in most cases the more realistic aspects of the job are glossed over with the promises of easy money. Another key factor that recruiters utilize is the promise of security. Many of the girls growing up in the provinces automatically equate foreigners with money and they see foreigners as a means to earn money for themselves and their family as well as offering them security through giving them a means to escape from the grinding poverty most often associated with provincial life. Many girls grow up with the dream of marrying a foreigner so they can escape to another country build a future for themselves and help their families stuck in the Philippines by sending financial remittances back home. The recruiters will often play on this desire by pointing out the best way to meet a foreigner is by working in the bar in Angeles.

A social game of cards, very much part of everyday life in the province and the perfect opportunity to talk about work in the bar.

As I have pointed out this is primarily about the money and it is not uncommon for the girl’s parents to ask for a cash advance in lieu of their daughters salary. In many ways this is common practice and it is not unusual for the mamasan or whoever is doing the recruiting to give up to 5000 piso to a girl’s parents. This money is then taken out of the girls earnings on a regular basis. When you consider that the recruiters pay for the initial trip to the province for themselves this can run to as much as 3000 piso one way, then for food and accommodation, then for whatever cash payouts need to be made, then for transportation back to Angeles the recruitment process becomes a time consuming and costly business with no guaranteed returns.

A good mamasan realizes that she is only as good as the girls she can produce and as such she is constantly engaging in a pro active recruitment program. Some mamasans will conduct the recruiting themselves or will conduct the process together with a friend or some sort of relative. In this scenario they will normally recruit from a provincial area known to the mamasan where she has a social network and knows the lay of the land as well as the power players within the local community. A third means of recruiting is to utilize a professional recruiter. In this scenario the mamasan will give the recruiter a minimal down payment enough to cover the basic expenses and the rest will be paid when the girls are delivered. Normally the money comes from the bar or the mamasan or a combination of both. Most bar owners realize the importance of maintaining the correct level of girls and as such will have a certain amount put aside specifically for the purpose of recruitment. The professional recruiter will normally work on a slightly different level from mamasans and girls and place a more defined emphasis on money. They will promise the girls this is a “good job” with a “nice salary” and very rarely will they mention what the job actually involves, preferring instead to skirt over the means and just emphasize the end result, financial gain.

A proactive mamasan will always be on the lookout for girls to work as part of her stable and many times she will approach girls from other bars when they are bar hopping with their customers. The normal approach will be talk to the girls and tell them what the salary is and what are the other benefits. Typically this will include mention of things such as a higher commission on ladies drinks, or lack of fines or incentive programs for regular attendance or number of bar fines or number of ladies drinks. They will often mention the stay in and things such as a regular supply of food from the staff canteen, they will claim there are more customers in their bar and more big spenders and most importantly they will promise financial help when it is required. One mamasan who works for a well known smaller bar on Fields Avenue engages in an active recruitment by befriending girls from other bars when they come to visit and even lends them money. This works well as the girl feels obligated to pay back the loan and of course the best way she can earn the money is to come to work for that mamasan in her bar.

Another way of recruiting is to encourage the girls to do it themselves and often this will mean the bar conducting an active recruitment program where cash is offered as a reward for recruiting a friend to work in the bar. Typically this will work on an incentive basis, for example, programs I have run in the past give a girl 500 piso if she brings a friend in to work and the friend stays for two weeks if she stays for two weeks more the girl who recruited her then gets a further 500 piso. Programs such as this are common place but will differ slightly in the rules applied and the amount of money offered.

Another way of indirectly recruiting girls is to engage in an advertising campaign. In this case the emphasis will be primarily on salary followed by working conditions. These advertisements can take various forms from small blackboards or paper signs placed on or besides the front door entrance through to massive banners placed across the street.

A typical recruitment banner outside Rhapsody the only difference being they normally mention a high salary

A subtle means of recruiting girls will be to promise an ex dancer who is now too old to be able to compete on the dance floor a job as a mamasan but before she can work she must have a minimum of ten girls. The requirement of ten girls puts pressure on the potential mamasan to actively recruit. Normally these girls will make excellent mamasans because they have been dancers themselves and are aware of all the tricks the girls will try to pull and all the problems the girls will face.

Another subtle means is to befriend people who have regular contact with the girls and are perceived by the girls as being knowledgeable or people seen as being an authoritative figure. A classic example of this is the social hygiene personnel who have regular contact with the girls and are seen as being credible because of their position. I once worked with a mamasan who was strongly connected with city hall and social hygiene personnel and she would actually give her contacts a healthy remuneration should a girl apply to work with her as a result of the contacts recommendation.

Because it can be loosely associated with human trafficking, recruitment of girls to work in a go-go bar is always a risky situation however as the number of bars continually expand and the demand for girls expands correspondingly, recruitment has become an extremely important factor throughout the entire bar business. In fact many bars financial well being can be directly linked to the effectiveness of its recruiters and I confidently state that this will be the case for many years to come.

Angeles City Mamasans

Anyone who has visited a “girlie bar” in Asia has no doubt come across in some form or other the ubiquitous mamasan. Some people hate them and try to minimize their dealings with them whilst others swear by them and see them as a nice people who can help them. In this article I will look briefly at the history of the mamasan position and then examine in detail the mamasans role in the bar as well as highlighting the typical good and bad points mamasans tend to incorporate. There will also be a section on what makes a good mamasan with a spotlight on some of the better known mamasans in town and their effect on the bar they work in.

The term mamasan has its derivatives in the Japanese language and originally referred to the Asian equivalent of a European ‘Madam’ or the female head of a brothel or house of ill repute. In the old days the mamasan would be the connection between the establishments working girls and the customers as well a type of authority figure and mother figure for the working girls as well as overseeing the running the entire operation. In today’s environment especially in the Philippines the mamasans role incorporates all of these factors and even more.

The primary role of any mamasan working in a girlie bar is to create for want of a better word a “stable” of girls that are loyal to her, will follow her instructions and will work in whatever bar she works. As has been noted many times the most important factor in any girlie bar is the quality and quantity of the girls that work there and since the mamasan influences this she is directly influencing the bars financial success. Basically the mamasans determine the quality and quantity of girls and in so doing directly influence the number of customer’s and their enjoyment which in turn influences how much money the bar generates. To create her stable and maintain it a mamasan must have one very important skill and that is the ability to recruit girls or at least have close working contact with someone who can recruit girls. This ensures a regular supply of girls keeping the number of girls in the bar steady and counters the natural rate of attrition as girls leave the bar or stop working for whatever reason.

Mummy Stella at Golden Nile one of the few Mamasans who can actually recruit girls.

Generally speaking there are two types of mamasans. There are those that want to be everybody’s friend and do not enforce bar rules, regulations or policies. This type of mamasan will normally take the side of the girls should there ever be a confrontational situation and her relationship with her girls will be one of an elder relative an aunt or older sister and sometimes she adopts the role of surrogate mother. The other type of mamasan is the one who rules with an iron fist. These mamasans will normally be the older type who have been around a while and rule the roost by fear and intimidation. Basically these mamasans instill fear in the girls and this is interpreted as respect. For these mamasans every whim or command must be obeyed or there will be consequences to be paid. Normally these mamasans will have a right hand lady who enforces her rules this will often be a head waitress or someone in a similar position.

The mamasans relationship with ‘her’ girls is often intricate but in my opinion a very necessary one to understand. The mamasan – working girls relationship is complex and works on several levels. On one level the mamasan is an authority figure who is older and has had more experience in the business as such she is someone who is respected and obeyed by the girls. On this level the mamasan is viewed as the boss and the girls will follow her instructions before anyone else’s. She is the primary authority figure whom the girls will obey. In most cases the mamasan is a lady who has worked in the bar herself and as such is in a position to draw from her experience and be able to advise the girl from an position of experience.

On the other level the mamasan is viewed as a mother figure and becomes almost like a surrogate parent. The surrogate mother role takes on substantial significance for the girls especially when they are new to the business and far away from their family and social network in the province. Whenever the girl has a problem the first person she will normally turn to is the mamasan her surrogate mother figure. A classic example of this is the financial problems that invariably plague the working girls. Normally a girl is working to earn money for the ever demanding family and when she has financial problems she will often turn to her mamasan. In most cases the mamasans are only too eager to loan the girl money as it strengthens her ties with the girls and in turn the girl’s obligations to her as she has to work extra hard to pay back the loan.

Mummy Sheila adopts the surrogate mother approach. She does not have many girls but those she does have are fiercely loyal and tend to stay working with her a long time.

The relationship between the girls and mamasan can be superficial or it can be quite deep and long lasting based on genuine friendship and mutual respect. Some girls develop a loyalty to their mamasan which verges on dependency and the same can be said for the mamasans when it comes to their special girls. The deep relationship is understandable when you consider the girls situation. The Mamasan will feed and house the girl when she first arrives often paying for it out of her own pocket. Of course the girl has to pay it back and it is often at exorbitant interest rates but this is besides the point as the mamasan has helped her when she was alone and nobody else was there for her. In most cases the mamasan will demand and receive a portion of the girls income beyond the regular commissions earned, as a form of respect or through intimidation. The logic is keep the girls poor and in so doing keep them working hard for you.

The relationship between a mamasan and her girls will normally over a period of time evolve and change. What starts out as surrogate parent – offspring arrangement will develop into a sort of casual business relationship where the girl and the mamasan work together for each other’s financial gain. This can occur in many ways for example I have often seen girls find a good spending customer and then introduce this customer to their mamasan who will then also receive some ladies drinks. Often the relationship between a mamasan and her girls is long lasting and it is not unusual to see a girl who has quit work some years previously return, together with her husband or partner, and spend money ringing the bell, partying and buying drinks for her former mamasan.

The famous Mummy Rose in Blue Nile. This lady is one of the few who strikes a balance between being the voice of authority and a mother figure.

Another important part of the mamasans job is to facilitate effective pairing between the customers and the girls. To do this the mamasan must know her girls and what her performance is like and she must also know what the paying customer is looking for. In my opinion very few mamasans can do this and they prefer to simply introduce the girl to the customer with introductory lines such as “she is a good girl” or if they know the customer well enough they will subtly raise the subject of sexual performance with lines like “this girls knows everything”. When it comes to facilitating interaction between the girls and the customers it is important to remember that for the mamasan this is a financial proposition as she will get a small commission on any ladies drinks you buy the girl and a bigger commission if you pay for the girls EWR or buy her a personal ladies drink. The entry of money into the process does to some extent make the process one of prostitution but it is a very understated form of prostitution and highly contestable in any court of law if it should come down to that. It is important to remember that selling or renting out the girls company and their implied sexual services is the mamasans primary source of income so when customers sneak the girls out they are affecting her income and as the old saying goes hell hath no fury like an angry mamasan.

The relationship between the mamasan and the bars customers is also multi layered. For example on the surface level the mamasan will simply treat you as a customer and see how much she can get from you in terms of ladies drinks but as she gets to know you she will often recommend good girls who she knows will meet your sexual requirements. Some mamasans verge on being famous whilst others verge on infamy. Some are well known characters around the Angeles bar scene and are actually a draw card for customers to come into the bar. Others are a reason for customers not to visit the bar. On many occasions I would see customers come into Neros specifically to see Mummy Perla and buy her a drink but on the other hand I would hear of customers who no longer visited Neros because they felt Perla had ripped them off. Some customers use the mamasan in an advisory capacity to help solve problems in their relationship. The logic here is that the mamasan being female and with similar experience to the bar girls, will be able to advise the customer on the best course of action to take with his girlfriend or wife.

The infamous and always colorful Mummy Perla.

For the frequent bar customer a mamasan can be your best ally or your worst enemy and when it comes to having sexual relations with good looking girls working in the bar I have always found it the best policy to befriend the mamasan. Some mamasans become attached to the customer and come to regard him as their own. On many occasions I have witnessed minor spats between mamasans and often the cause is access to a particular customer or as the cynics would say, access to his wallet. The mamasans sometimes become possessive and treat the customer as THEIR private customer. Remember if you are friends with a mamasan your spending gives her credibility and respect and most importantly FACE amongst her fellow bar workers. The working relationship between a customer and a mamasan can take varying degrees from virtually nonexistent and simple acknowledgement through to her being the customers’ advisor or the customer having her number on his phone and remaining in communication with her so she can advise him when she has new girls. Keep in mind also that should you anger a mamasan she has many means at her disposal to block your moves when it comes to the girls in the bar.

Some mamasans are invaluable to the bar because of the relationship they form with certain customers. An example of this is the mamasan from Lancelot who has a contact amongst the Korean community and this contact regularly feeds busloads of Korean tourists into Lancelot. More often than not the Korean customers will bar fine the girl and then return to their hotel as they are not into bar hoping but rather the sexual experience with the girl of their choice. Whereas many professional mongerers will tell you never bar fine from your first bar these Korean customers who visit Lancelot seem to have the opposite approach. They will visit one bar bar fine from this bar drink from this bar and then out the door in a group and back to the hotel room together with girls. This is not huge money but it is regular money and it is all because of the mamasans connection which she has maintained over several years.

Some customers dislike mamasans because they feel the mamasans exploit the girls and treat them more like ‘slaves’ or ‘pieces of meat’ than human beings. A classic example of this was the old mamasan in the Red Rooster bar in Pasay Manila. Here was a dinky little bar hidden in the back streets of Pasay and yet it had a steady clientele of foreigners and Filipinos alike simply because the mamasan stroke owner had that unique ability to get good looking girls. This lady would three times a year go down to Ormoc city in Leyte which is where she came from originally. Whilst there she would talk to her contacts and find some people who were struggling financially and were willing to literally rent her their daughters. The mamasan would then turn up at these peoples abode and dripping with jewelry would pay up to 5 thousand per girl to the parents and then after gathering about 5 to 8 girls she would herd them onto the ferry for the trip back to Manila. Once back in the bar the girls would start work as soon as they arrived and they would receive the massive salary of 60 piso a day. This was not exactly a substantial salary but for people who were used to having to scrounge for their next meal this was big money. Things would progress well for the first week as the girls learnt the ropes and earned money by going bar fine and making ladies drinks. Then on the second week the deductions would start first she was told she had to pay back the money that was given to her parents then she had to pay back the transportation fee then for the food then the accommodation (normally a sub standard “stay in” with rudimentary comforts only) then the new clothes and new shoes etc, etc.

This is the type of exploitation many customers dislike intensely but unfortunately to this day these practices are still engaged in by many mamasans and form part of the bars operational procedure and are part of the recruiting proceedure. The logic here is keep the girls poor then they will work harder and more often simply to get the money they need for themselves and their family to survive. In short the exploitation forces the girl to become productive and make money for herself and the bar. Whilst I admit I have seen this exploitation on many occasions I have also seen many times when the mamasans have genuinely helped the girls for reasons other than financial gain. For example I have seen mamasans help girls when they have an unwanted pregnancy and I have seen on many occasions the mamasans offering advice on various situations that are way beyond the girls experience. As someone who has worked in the bars for close on 18 years I find the behavior of some mamasans and their relationships with their girls dislikeable but at the same time I also realize this is to some extent the nature of the bar business and I doubt if it will change in the near future.

Mummy Grace adopts the authoritarian approach and utilizes the microphone to control the girls.

In the bar it is a mamasans job to control the girls and this includes making sure they are dancing on time, making sure there is enough girls on stage at any one time, making sure the girls are on stage when they are supposed to be and not taking a break or hiding in the dressing room, making sure the girls are wearing the right uniforms and shoes, stopping fights between the girls, encouraging interaction between the girls and the customers, intervening between the customer and the girl should any problem or misunderstanding occur, looking after intoxicated girls, facilitating the EWR process wherever possible, drinking their ladies drink at a reasonable speed so they are not nursing it just to avoid having to dance, conducting negotiations between the girls and the customers (for example cherry girls who want to sell their virginity or customers who wish to pay a permanent bar fine), making sure neither the customer nor the girl are organizing a sneak out, organizing bar staff and a host of other duties. In many ways a good mamasan is all important to the efficient running of a bar and she has a direct effect on a bars income.

For the bar one very important aspect of the mamasans job is to make sure her girls regularly attend work. On the surface I realize readers will be asking am I serious, surely a simple task like making sure the girls come to work cannot be that hard. To these people I will simply say you would be surprised. The average Filipina will always exhibit the temporarily rich syndrome where they have a small amount of expendable income and suddenly all ideas of work fly out the window and it’s full on party mode until the money is gone and it’s time to go back to work again. A good mamasan accepts the responsibility of keeping tabs on her girls and will always keep current contact details so she can communicate with her if need be. These so called good mamasans in my experience are few and far between but when you find a good one she is worth her weight in gold not just because of the work she can save you from doing but also because of the money she can create for the bar.

There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes in the Philippine bar business and of course this includes the various government agencies that enforce the rules which all bars must adhere to. In the case of the Angeles bar scene this organization is called social hygiene and they initiate various rules and regulations that govern the bars. To instigate these rules and regulations there is regular correspondence between social hygiene officials and the bars representatives which in most cases is the senior mamasan. The mamasan in this role acts like a bars representative and an intermediary between the government organization and the bar. For example all girls working in a bar must display a license which is issued to them by social hygiene and another card which is issued them by City Hall. To get these cards is often a long drawn out process and will always involve the mamasans who know exactly what is needed, how much it will cost and the right people to expedite, or fast track, the procedure.

Mummy Rio runs a tight ship and is known for her sharp temper.

The mamasan is also responsible for making sure hygiene’s rules are instigated in the bar for example the girls wearing their ID and the girls attending social hygiene for regular checkups. For example each girl has a pro book which is basically a record of her appearances at hygiene for smear and check up. These pro books are handled by the mamasans and whenever city health officials visit the bar performing an inspection the mamasan is the first point of contact and it is she who provides the officials with all the information regarding the working girls. In short there is an extensive system in place all of which is overseen by the mamasan and the various public officials. To this end the mamasans even have their own organization which is called LACSOM and its primary purpose is to deal with any issues that may arise between the social hygiene agency, the bars and the girls that work in them. The social hygiene side of the bar business is very important as the social hygiene department are empowered to close a bar indefinitely should their rules and systems not be adhered to.

The Philippine mamasan is a unique breed and is some ways a mother figure, and an authority figure, she can be a customer’s best friend or a customer’s worst cock blocking enemy. The mamasans have a range of duties all of which are designed to support the bar system and help the bar as well as herself make money. Personally as a customer I quite like mamasans and find them useful in providing information about their girls but as a bar manager, I find them a valuable asset on the one hand and an annoyance on the other. Most mamasans in my experience are weak in the key areas of getting and keeping good looking girls and controlling their girls making sure they reguarly attend work. Most mamasans inadequecies become annoying for example the mamasans tend not to care about the quality of girls they hire because they are not paying the recruitment costs and they are not paying the girls salary, so even if the sub standard girl makes one ladies drink or goes bar fine just once in a year, the mamasan has made a profit. The mamasans are vaguely aware or in some cases completely unaware of a girls performance or productivity.

In most cases the mamasans activities are not confined to the guide lines of her job description. Most of them have side line businesses that run in conjunction with their duties in the bar. Typically these sidelines will include loan sharking (5-6 as the Filippinos call it), selling food, selling Avon products, perfumes, jewelry, lotto tickets, Jueteng (numbers racket), cel phone loads and more. The thought behind these activities is get a little bit every day rather than go for the big hiest in one big swoop.Throughout my years in the bar business I have heard many customers and bar managers complain about the mamasans and wish that there was an effective way to run a bar without being so dependent on them however, for me the mamasans are here to stay and I am yet to see any bar run effectively without them so it perhaps best to learn how to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses as in most cases they are a necessary evil.