Streetbuzz Interview

January 14, 2004

Jean Dela Rama: "standby", seasoned veteran of the world's oldest profession.


Jean dela Rama

STREETBUZZ: Jean, may I ask your age, where were you born, and how many in your family?

JEAN DELA RAMA: I'm 38 years old. I was born in Iloilo City (Panay Island). There's ten in my family, we were seven boys and three girls. My mom was selling foods, and my father was a driver mechanic. Well, it was an OK childhood: sometimes happy, sometimes not. I graduated from high school, there in Iloilo City.

STREETBUZZ: Then what?

JEAN DELA RAMA: I stop school 'cuz of the financial problem. When I'm seventeen, my aunt brought me here to Cebu City. She was the floor manager of a bar, Star Kitchenette here on Colon Street. You know, she tell my family she bring me here for college, but she teach me how to serve the foods and drinks for the customer. She want me to serve the Japanese. But I don't like it, I stole away to find my own job.

I become a dancer. That was for three years. I met a man, he work for Atlas Mining. He offer me to be his live-in. I don't know how I feel for him, but you know, we have a child. But there's no love so we separate. That's my first child, it's my boy he's seventeen now.

Then I become a dancer again. You know, that's at the Pugaran at Fuente, but it's closed now. There's girls at the bar who are naked, so the police they close it. So then I have no job. That's when I go standby.

Then I meet a military man, I'm his live-in. We have a child, that's my girl. She's eleven. But we separate because he's jealous and beating me. Then I stole away. I went to Davao, I was a dancer there. But it's no good, 'cuz I'm like a prisoner in the bar. You know, even I want to go to the market, you always have a companion, you're not free. I meet a man who helped me, he take me back to Cebu. That's 1998, that's when I come here, to State Fair. You know, I'm a standby, looking for the customer.

Jean dela Rama

STREETBUZZ: How about your children now? Are they here? Who takes care of them?

JEAN DELA RAMA: My children are in Iloilo. My boy is with my brother, and my girl is with my mother. My father he die two years ago.

STREETBUZZ: So what can you say about your work?

JEAN DELA RAMA: It's not so easy. You always get a problem, but there's nothing to do, you only try. Sacrifice a little bit. There's many kinds of customers. Some make trouble, some are drunk, some are a little bit of the sadist; you know, they make trouble inside the room, so you have to leave the room. Some of my friends died: the customer is beating them, sometimes they suffocated them with a pillow, they put bottle inside the vagina, they make a wound with the knife. So we don't like to go to other place, we always try to stay here (at Centre Lodge, upstairs from the bar); so if you have a trouble, other people can help.

If you go to another place with them, many are liars. They say they are alone, but when you go there with them, they have many men waiting there. Inside Colon it's OK, but maybe if you go to Reclamation Area, you can't trust them. They make salvage, huh? When the girl come back, she have wound and no money; it's same like rape.

Most men are OK. If there's 100 men, 99 are OK, there's one or two are bad. Sometimes they won't pay, they run.

About the girls, my group is OK, I know them. They help each other. If we have trouble, we talk it, so then it won't be a problem.

Jean dela Rama

STREETBUZZ: Sometimes there's very young girls working this business. Maybe they come from the province, somebody brings them to the city, yes?

JEAN DELA RAMA: Oh, you mean the recruiter. I don't do it, it's not good. For me, I have a daughter, I know. The recruiter, they pay the woman to go to another place, find a girl in the province. Tell them it's for the restaurant but really prostitution. Sometimes I meet the innocent girl, I help her. She stay in my house. So we just help her, the foods, make it half/ half. But that girl already went back to her place in Leyte. She's sixteen years old. I say, "Don't spend you money, go back to your place there."

STREETBUZZ: How about the bugaw (pimp)? Do they control the girls?

JEAN DELA RAMA: No, they don't control the girl. They just try to collect the commission. They arrange between the girl and the customer. Yes, we have here too at our place. But there at Kamagayan (well-known sex district of Cebu City) the pimp control the girl.

STREETBUZZ: What's the cost to take a girl here?

JEAN DELA RAMA: It depends what the customer want. If they want short time, it's 150 or 200 (pesos; $1 US = 55 pesos). If they want overnite, it's more. The room extra.

STREETBUZZ: Do you ever get sick from the customer?

JEAN DELA RAMA: Of course. But we go to City Health (Provincial Department of Health clinic), get a check-up. For six years I work as a peer educator of the HIV/AIDS. I tell them about it. If I go there, I get a free medicine. But that's just for the gonorrhea. No, so far not yet HIV/AIDS medicine. At City Health they have a free HIV test. They checked all the prosti girls on Colon. You know, they come and get the blood of all of them, they take it to City Health. The result? Not one of them is HIV; so far, not one HIV in Cebu How to prevent the AIDS? Use the condom. Yes, they convince the customer to use the condom. We always use the condom.
(**Streetbuzz note: according to a November 2003 Cebu Sunstar article, the Department of Health Region 7 (Cebu Province) listed 2 new HIV+ cases in 2002, and 57 new HIV+ cases in 2003 with eleven of these in Cebu City. The DOH estimates that these numbers reflect only 5% of the infected population due to low rates of testing and poor reporting. 86% of documented cases are heterosexual, clearly debunking the popular misconception that homosexuals are the primary trasnsmitters of the virus.)

STREETBUZZ: Any comments about foreigners?

JEAN DELA RAMA: No, no comments. Yes, they're different from Filipinos. No comments.

STREETBUZZ: Jean, you have any plans for the future?

JEAN DELA RAMA: Well, I'll return to Iloilo, to stay there. In 2003 I have a plan but the problem is financial. I can't go there yet 'cuz of my financial problem.

For now, no, I have no boarding house. Before, I stay in a boarding house. But now, sometimes I stay here, sometimes if I have a money, I find a cheap lodge. That's 100 pesos for one night.

STREETBUZZ: Jean, what can you say about the Philippines?

JEAN DELA RAMA: It's so very hard, the crisis. It's the financial crisis. We cannot buy foods, money is a big problem. For three years, it's very bad, not just this business, all business. In 1990 it was not so crisis. Why? Maybe the government is corrupt. When Joseph (Estrada) is President, the country go down.

The foods is OK, you can buy all if you have money. Clothes, there's so many used clothes now, from Korea, you can buy for ten pesos. But drugs: there's so many now. Before, we have no shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride), but since 1997, there's so much.

STREETBUZZ: Jean, I've known you now for two years. Thanks so much for the interview, daghan salamat! I'll bring it to you and show it to you, you can tell me if everything's OK.

JEAN DELA RAMA: Sure, it's fine. That's all true, so it's OK.

Jean dela Rama



Update 2008: I still run into Jean occasionally, down on Colon Street in downtown Cebu. She looks very thin and depressed. We usually exchange brief greetings and I give her whatever coins are in my pocket. Life is very hard for a middle-aged woman on the streets in the Philippines.