Teacher culls bar-girl work to flay US anti-trafficking


SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, USA—WHEN it comes to issues of trafficking in women, University of California-Davis professor Rhacel Parreñas should be taken seriously: she has been in the eddy of Japan’s entertainment industry.

Parreñas, who is teaching Asian-American studies, spoke recently to the OFW Journalism Consortium to chide the United States’s policy addressing trafficking worldwide as “won’t-work, will-fail” path.

Stopping the migration of workers won’t stem the traffick in women, she said adding that the US State Department’s “3-P” –prosecution, protection, and prevention– approach only “conflates [blend or fuse together] the experiences of all trafficked persons.”

Power is the issue here, Parreñas said.

“Filipino women are being recruited through the use of power for the purpose of exploitation,” she added.

Parreñas was reacting to the recent Trafficking in Persons Report of the State Department. The Americans are forcing Japan and the Philippines to tighten immigration and employment rules governing the entry of workers in Japan as well as those already in the country.

The Filipino professor said the “top-bottom approach” to curb the trafficking chain will only worsen women’s already-vulnerable conditions.

Instead of US and Japanese officials’ “top-bottom” solutions, Parreñas said there should be better working conditions for Filipina entertainers and that the middlemen involved in their migration should be eliminated.

Her “grassroots” proposals, she asserts, are “empirically-grounded” and will improve the conditions of migrants.

The “empirical grounds” come from Parreñas’s first-hand experience as a bar girl in Tokyo.

Been there

IT was the same time last year when Parreñas wore thigh-high skirts and walking tables in a cheap pub in Tokyo, Japan.

In-between putting bottles of sake (Japanese rice wine) on tables and singing songs for Japanese painters, carpenters, and those who claim they’re members of organized crime syndicates, Parreñas interviewed 61 entertainers for her project Trafficked? Filipino Migrant Hostesses in Japan’s Nightlife Industries.

Like these women, she also went out with some customers on dohan or afternoon dates.

Most of these women, Parreñas said, “are not prostitutes” and don’t consider dohan a form of prostitution.

Hence, she said, not all trafficked persons (including Filipinos) need to be rescued, rehabilitated, and reintegrated into their home societies.

While working there, she said she and other women were paid a minimum monthly pay of 200,000 yen (roughly US$1,700 or P85,000 at current exchange rates).

But some, Parreñas said, earned less at 120,000 yen (US$1,019 or P50,950).

However, it is from this amount that the entertainer gets her allowance for day-to-day living in the most expensive country in the world.

Likewise, even before landing on the soil of the country’s former invaders, the Filipino is already indebted with P37,000 (US$720). That amount is the minimum payment for a six-month training course on dancing and singing.

“And many pubs (in Japan) do not require migrant workers to sing or dance,” Parreñas cited the irony.

In her paper published in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, Parreñas wrote that trafficked women face debts with their managers in the pubs and with their promotion agencies in the Philippines. They even have to meet a daily quota of customers’ tips.

In addition, Parreñas said the women work on extended hours without pay as well as face wage penalties.

These are some of the conditions that described Filipino women as “trafficked.”

Some clubs give lower wages because clubs provide the hostesses food and shelter—things that are supposedly given on top of salaries.

Done that

SINCE the late 1980s, Filipinas have flocked to Japan as “overseas performing artists” and the Philippine government requires them to undergo training, processes their work certificates, and screens their six-month contracts. A demeaning tag given to many Filipino workers there is Japayuki, a derogatory reference to prostitution.

These women are the top remitters among 285,390 Filipinos who have sent $3.66 billion during the last eight-and-a-half years.

The number of Filipina entertainers was even rising until the State Department’s 2004 TIP Report wrote that Asian and Latina women are trafficked to Japan for criminal, labor, and sexual purposes. A year later, the second TIP Report wrote the Philippines was “a major source of trafficking victims” to Japan.

A new Japanese immigration law has changed the landscape of this East Asian migration chain dramatically. Deployment of Filipino workers to Japan (not just as entertainers) dropped to 42,586 in 2005 from 74,480 in 2004, data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration showed.

Meanwhile, recruiters from Manila were claiming Filipinas in Japan are arranging marriages (costing 300,000 yen or US$2,525) just to remain there. Noticeably, Filipino permanent residents there, like those marrying Japanese nationals, rose in number from 83,303 in 2004 to 114,980 in 2005.

Owners of Manila recruitment agencies said they are losing clients because of the new law, even threatening to fold up soon.

On the other hand, nonprofit Development Action for Women Network has said that the law “is not meant to kill the industry but to improve it so (Filipinas) are provided with real jobs that empower them and preserve their rights and dignity.”

In Parreñas’ view, the law does not “necessarily prevent trafficking, but (places) prospective migrants further in debt and even increases the conditions that make them trafficked.”

Parreñas, an American citizen, recalled an entertainer named “Cindy” asking her: “Why is your (US) government making our lives difficult? Is it because they want us to be caregivers?”

“I think (the US is) doing that to protect you,” Parreñas said was her reply.

But she only gave me a puzzled look, Parreñas said.
OFW Journalism Consortium and the Yuchengco Media Fellows Program, University of San Francisco-Center for the Pacific Rim