Anybody who has had exposure to the bars and the girls who work there will have seen the ID’s they all wear and will also have probably gone through the ‘I have to leave by six because I have smear’, scenario.
I don’t know about you guys but the social hygiene department is an aspect of the bar life that I have always taken for granted and never really looked into. In fact whilst researching this article I was forced to realize just how little I knew about the whole system. Writing this article and doing the associated research was in many ways an eye opening experience for me, as I hope it will be for you the reader. Whilst on the subject of research I would like to send a massive thank you to Mark Hollywood for his undying support, patience and of course his willingness to give me the vast amounts of information he has accrued over his many years of living in the PI. Without his help and guidance this article would never have been possible.
Social Hygiene is located on the corner of A. Santos street and C. Surla street.
So what exactly is this organization referred to as Social Hygiene? Basically this is a local government run organization that employs doctors and nurses to conduct weekly and monthly medical checkups on the girls working in the Angeles bars. The primary check up is for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s) in particular Neisseria gonorrhoeae. This procedure will take the form of a visual examination and a vaginal swab which is then placed on a culture slide and examined under the microscope. When conducting the visual examination they are looking for rashes or other signs indicative of infections such as the fungal infection Candida. With the swab they are examining, solely for gonorrhea. According to my sources they do not conduct specific checks for Chlamydia, Syphilis, UTI’s or any other sexually transmitted diseases but rather they tend to rely on observation of the physical signs associated with these diseases.
The testing for and treatment of gonorrhoeae is as follows. “A urine test & a swab test – collecting fluid from the penis or vagina by placing a swab in the opening of the urethra; this causes brief discomfort. Early treatment of Neisseria gonorrhoeae is simple & effective, & involves a single dose of antibiotics. In addition, the treatment of Chlamydia is also advocated. (It is common to have these two STD infections together – 50% have both)”.
In terms of the medicines used to treat gonorrhoeae the most common are as follows
Treatment of Gonorrhea:
“Cipro® XR 500 mg a single dose, or
Levaquin® 500 mg a single dose, or
Tequin® 400 mg a single dose;”
Treatment of Chlamydia:
“Doxycycline 100 mg 2-3 times a day for 10-14 days, or
Zithromax® (azithromycin) 1.0 gm a single dose, or
Zithromax® Z-pak® (azithromycin) – 500mg on day 1, followed by 1 tab (250mg) once a day for 4 more days
To avoid re-infection, any sexual partners should be treated too”.
The girls can get the treatment from a private medical doctor or from Social Hygiene doctors but either way in order to get their health card back and to work in the bar again they must be treated and proven to be negative at a smear conducted by at Social Hygiene.
The Social Hygiene Department works closely with City Hall to control and regulate the bar industry in Angeles. Basically there are 3 important documents issued by Social Hygiene and/or City Hall and these are The Pro Book,
The Pro Book,
The License Card
The Health Card
The Social Hygiene building is basically what is referred to by people involved in the industry as the “one stop shop”, so called because all the various procedures that need to be completed to be able to work in the bar can be conducted here. The initial card that is issued is the Blue Card also referred to as the LACEM card. LACEM is the League of Angeles City Entertainers and Managers and has its own office in the Social Hygiene Building. LACEM is an organization composed of Mamasans, Managers and Floor Managers that works hand in hand with city health officials. Once the girls true identity and legal age has been verified by use of official documents such as the (NSO) National Statistics Office approved birth certificate, and she has passed the interview conducted by City Hall officials working in Social Hygiene, she is issued a Blue Card. The Blue Card serves as a type of license card issued by city hall officials working in social hygiene, which says the bearer is licensed by city hall to work in an establishment as a dancer or waitress or manager or DJ or utility person etc.
The blue Card costs 300 piso and represents a one off payment to city hall. This money is normally given by the bar and then deducted from the girls salary which contrary to popular opinion becomes the property of the girl not the bar. This means that should a girl wish to transfer bars she is legally entitled to her license as it is not owned by the bar. On many occasions I have seen mamasans extremely reticent to hand the girl’s license over but the fact is the girl has paid for it and it is legally speaking her property. This is an important fact because many times a girl wants to change bars and the mamasans realizing how important to the bar a productive girl is, will often try to hold her by holding the blue card license.
The Blue Card basically provides official recognition that a girl’s identity is recognized as is her age and as such she is now registered in the system. It also serves as a type of official ID verified by the official system. The Blue Card is issued on a yearly basis and as the next year commences it is automatically renewed without the girl having to undergo the interview process again. Once the Blue Card has been issued the girl can now apply to get the white health card.
The Blue License card serves several important purposes. First and foremost it is a form of ID which states that the local authorities to the best of their knowledge recognize this girl as being of legal age to work in the bar. Secondly it serves as proof that she is registered within the official system governing the bars operations. Thirdly it is a means of keeping track of the girls as they work in the bars. Fourthly it acts as a sort of official ID. Fifthly it represents a sort of go between for the LACEM association and city hall officials working in Social Hygiene. Lastly it is a handy revenue raiser for city hall and the bureaucracy.
The next important card is the White Health License. Each week on a specified day the girls from all the individual bars must go to Social Hygiene for a smear which is examined then and there by a social hygiene recognized doctor. Upon completion, the girls attendance and the fact that they have undergone the smear is recorded on the white health care card and in their Pro-Book.
The entire procedure is conducted in conjunction with a Mamasan or other senior personnel from the bar together with the girls. The process of a physical observation and the actual smear is done at the Social Hygiene building and the girls will wait while her swab is examined. This is normally a fairly quick process and if she is negative for any STD’s she will be given her health card and Pro-Book back appropriately marked and will then be free to leave. The actual results are not recorded on the Pro-Book or White Health Card as this is considered private information between the girl and the doctor only. The Pro-Book and the Health card merely indicate that she has attended smear and since they are kept by City Health Officials if she fails smear then the fact that she has them on her person implies that she was negative when tested.
If a girl tests positive for gonorrhoeae or is observed to have physical symptoms of another STD her White Health Care card is confiscated by Social Hygiene and she is not allowed to work until she has another smear and tests negative. The girl is then prescribed the appropriate medicine which is sold at a reduced price within social hygiene. The girl is allowed to work but not allowed to go EWR once she has undergone smear again and it is negative she is given back her White Card and Pro-Book.
The white card and pro book are very important documents to official doom and Social Hygiene together with City Hall employs teams of personnel to periodically check the health cards of the girls in the bar making sure that every girl has a card and every girl has undergone the smear and physical observation check at Social Hygiene. The White Card and Pro-Book are numbered and this becomes the girls official number within the system.
The smear costs around 120 piso per time per girl which in turn pays for the Social Hygiene service and contributes to city hall coffers. The majority of bars will incur the expense and this will then be deducted from the girls salary however some bars pay for the smear and do not deduct it. These bars are very much in the minority and most owners consider this a cost that should be passed onto the workers. Given the quantity of girls now working in the Angeles bars and given that the common practice is to get numerous bars to attend at the same time, the smear process can be time consuming and often they will commence proceedings at 7am untill 3pm Monday-Thursday and until noon on Fridays.
The smear is not conducted when the girl has menstruation. When menstruation occurs, the girls is given a waiver coupon and she is instructed to return in a week’s time for the smear. The girl is also allowed to work during this period even though she has not undergone the smear. In the case of virgins they must go to social hygiene every 90 days and there the vagina is inspected to make sure the hymen is still intact.
There is currently a sort of splinter group circulating the bars offering to conduct the smear in a quicker time for the price of around 120 piso. There are also a number of private doctors that will conduct the smear but these are not recognized by social hygiene as firstly the private doctors can be bribed to issue a false report and secondly if it became a common practice this would represent a significant loss of income for the social hygiene office and for the mayor.
The smear and physical observation system are designed to minimize the spread of gonorrhoeae and other Sexually Transmitted Disease. On a slightly different level they also serve as a means for the city health officials to control people and regulate the bar business as a whole. For example if the girl is working in a bar and fails to attend smear the mamsan is supposed to surrender the health care card to Hygiene and the girl is not allowed to work. Often the social hygiene will send their personnel round to the bars to check this procedure is being followed. The card also serves as a sort of unofficial recognition that the girl is of legal age (18) to work in the bar because in order to get the card in the first place she must have a license card which means the documents showing her age have been presented to and inspected by the Licensing Department of the Mayor’s Office. Last but not least the smear process and physical observation serves as a revenue raiser for city hall and the mayor’s office.
Both the blue and white license cards are in many ways like a work permit and if you don’t have it you can’t work. The no license no work rule is enforced by City Hall and Social Hygiene personnel conducting random spot checks on the bars. The licenses creation will invariably necessitate direct co-ordination between LACSUM the official mamasans association and City Hall Licensing Department. For example in the case of a girl new to the system her mamsan will present the birth certificates and other forms of ID which are necessary to prove a new girls age and get her a license.
To get a girl who is already in the system her license her previous blue card, white health card and Pro-Book are presented to City Hall licensing Department who have an office inside the Social Hygiene building where they are inspected by officials and new license cards are then created and signed by the licensing officer or sometimes even by the mayor himself and counter signed by the President of LACSUM the Mamasans Association.
For the new girls the mamasans must bring an NSO certified birth certificate and other forms of ID to prove exactly how old the girl is. As in the case of the health card the license is a must have for any girl working in the bar and going out with customers.
The license is an important document but must be presented when requested by a City Hall Official and must be surrendered upon request.
With so many girls working in the bars in Angeles the granting of the licenses can often be a time consuming and arduous business with no set time period before the license is granted. The government bureaucracy in just about any country is slow and inefficient and in this respect the Philippines is no different. The creation of the license may take anywhere from one day to one week depending on how busy the licensing department is and depending on what influence the mamasan has within the department. Because of the time delay City Hall will often issue a temporary license or at least a piece of paper saying a particular girls license is “under processing”.
The rule is no license, no work and there is a group of personnel from the mayor’s office who periodically visit the bars and inspect the licenses. If a girl is working in the bar and has no license or at least a temporary license or a note verifying that her license is being processed, then the penalties can be quite severe and may even result in closure of the bar.
In today’s modern society the major disease associated with sexual activity is HIV-AIDS. As far as I can ascertain every six months as the girls go to smear a number of them are selected on a random basis and blood samples are taken and examined for HIV-AIDS. The mamasans will normally be notified that on a prescribed day whilst at smear random blood samples will be taken from the girls to test for HIV/AIDS. If a girl is found to be HIV positive her license, health card and pro book are revoked and she is turned over to the Health Care Department for treatment. The Government does supply some minimal funds for HIV sufferers but as a friend of mine wryly stated “if you contract HIV in this country you won’t last long”.
The prevention of HIV/AIDS is paramount amongst everyone working in the bar industry and as such there are a number of AIDS awareness programs running continuously and a concerted effort to promote safe sex practices throughout all levels of the industry. One very common sight you will see in most of the bars is the poster showing a white or red ribbon. This poster serves to remind people of the existence of HIV/AIDS and at the same time reminds them that the risk of catching HIV/AIDS is considerably lessened when practicing safe sex. The poster does not represent any specific organization but is merely a reminder of the diseases existence and to practice safe sex.
There are also regular seminars conducted at social hygiene and sometimes within the bars themselves (find out from cel how often seminars are conducted). These seminars are conducted by social hygiene officials along with the mamasans from various bars and the main subject discussed is practicing safe sex. Often the seminars will involve physical demonstrations where the girls are shown how to put the condom on using an egg plant or a vibrator.
Other subjects discussed in the seminar are general health issues, pregnancy how to avoid an unwanted pregnancy and how to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy.
The social hygiene and healthcare topic literally represents a vast ocean of information which in this article I have merely scratched the surface of. However my purpose was not to thoroughly examine all the issues but rather to just give a general overview thus increasing readers understanding of the current system that is designed to protect both the working girls and their partners. Writing this article has given me a better understanding of the system and the regulations that govern the bar industry and it is my sincere hope that by reading it you will gain useful knowledge and a better understanding of the system as a whole.