Every so often I like to write about the bar scene here in “Sin City,” and from what I’m seeing and hearing, that bar scene might be on its last legs, at least in it’s present form.
I haven’t been much of a bar hopper myself since my best friend was most assuredly run down like a dog coming out of Doctor Holmes, a bar on Perimeter Road, at 2 a.m. about six months ago. He's still in the middle of a long hard recovery. Just the same, its still fun to hear about and report on all the latest chitchat about Fields Avenue and Perimeter Road.
If you’ve ever been to or lived in Angeles City, all those above place names make perfect sense, so I won’t go into specifics on what is where. Anyway, none of that is really important for this post, which is all about the latest gossip.
The big news hitting the streets about two weeks ago is that a crack down on the bars is going on. Six bars on Fields were all hit the same night, and a few more over the next few days. The word is that a law, or more likely an edict, was just passed by some local authority stating that the concept of the “bar fine” was at that moment considered to be illegal.
Anyone paying a barfine or something that resembles a barfine, any girl accepting money called a barfine, and any bar involved with the transaction of said barfines, it’s all considered a jailable offense. Of course, we all know around here that what that really means is a big fine will have to be paid to get out of jail.
Talking to other fellows who have been here even longer than my five years, one old hand said that he remembered the exact same thing has happened once or twice before. He said it was just the local powers deciding it was time to shake the "bar scene tree" for a while and see what kind of money fell out. He claims that eventually, it always blows over.
Another fellow “in the know” said that officially, the term barfine hasn’t even been in use for years due to these past shakedowns. The term has been “early work release” or EWR for quite some time.
Now, due to this latest decree, even EWRs are considered illegal. In fact, supposedly any currency paid by a patron to or for a girl in a bar that results in her leaving the bar with that paying customer is basically considered sex for money or prostitution. Of course, that is a bit of a stretch since theoretically the girl is not obliged to go to the patron’s room. She doesn’t even have to go with him at all, if she doesn’t want to. That’s the premise anyway.
A lot of expats and tourists out on the streets are just plain confused. A buddy told me that a lot of bar owners, mama-sans and managers are defecating bricks. No one really knows where any of this is going, and some of the bar owners have a lot of money tied up in those establishments.
I’ve even heard that the pressure to “clean up” Fields Avenue and even the Perimeter Road bars is coming down from GMA herself. One of my gym pals said that the president is on record as being “embarrassed” by what’s going on down there; and now that it looks like The Clark Airport will soon explode with more overseas air traffic, the word is that the powers that be want more of “the appearance” of a family spot. What that means is that this place is in for some transition as far as the barhopping scene goes.
People have scorned the very idea that the end of “the bars” could be in store for Fields Avenue and company. I say they should remember what happened about 20 years ago in Manila when the mayor shut down the bars in Mabini. No one believed it could happen there either, and it darn well did. Of course, they just shifted the bars and the girls out to Pasay; but the point is they closed Mabini—the so called “impossible” did indeed happen.
Lots of folks have plaintively said the following: “But, what about all the big hotels going up all over the place around here? Why would they invest millions only to let it all go to waste? It just doesn’t make any sense. The only reason all these tourists really come here anyway is to meet girls. Angeles City is in the middle of no where. Why else would people come here?”
All of the above are lucid points, but I’ve also heard this intriguing rebuttal: “Those hotels are being built not so much for European, American and Australian tourists, but for Chinese, and other “big pocket” Asians, hopefully coming here in droves from places like Hong Kong, China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. These new gigantic hotels are also casinos, and everyone knows from being around them that the Chinese LOVE to gamble. And let’s not forget that there are a lot of Chinese these days with a WHOLE lot of money."
The “explanation” continues: "The girls will still be available for these big spender gamblers, but not in the way they are now. In effect, Caucasian tourists will become the minority here, while the big spending Chinese will be the real targeted customers."
As for me, I knew the handwriting was on the wall when the Clark Development Corporation (CDC) upgraded and developed the park area in front of the Main Gate area. I just couldn’t see why they would build a children’s playground and amusement center right next to a bunch of bars. Now, from what I’m hearing and seeing, I think the old ways from the old days are numbered.
This is a very conflicted society anyway—a very religious place that is at the same time very corrupt. There are people highly placed in government that are under a lot of pressure from very religious relatives that WANT very badly the closure of all the bars. At the same time, a lot of money is paid in fines and taxes to certain government officials. It’s a bit of a “push me pull you” situation.
So, currently, the bars are open and there are still customers in them, but no one is allowed to pay to have a girl leave with them—right? Wrong! Where there is a will, there’s a way. I’m hearing now that once a customer buys at least ten drinks for a lady working in the bar that she is then allowed to leave. Does that mean then that she leaves with the guy that happens to buy those ten drinks? Don’t ask me. How would I know for sure? I don’t know.
Now here’s an interesting bit of rumor. I heard that there are four or five foreigners working with the cops, their task being to barhop and entrap a girl and the bar she works out of into a situation that is illegal. Namely, to con one of these unsophisticated ladies into admitting that her job is to go with them for the purpose of having sex based on the money paid in the bar for the transaction.
With that in mind, the word is that many of the bars will not even allow their girls to leave the bar after the ten drinks are paid for if it’s felt that the customer might not be above-board. What a mess. The bar owners and managers know that they are trying to walk the chalk and if they get caught, it’s in the klink for them and a hefty amount of money will then have to be forked over to get out. All I can say is there must be a whole lot of profit considering the risk involved. Not me boyo! That’s a headache I want NO part of.
Then again, maybe all this is just a momentary bump in the road. Why? Well, another recent buzz is that the new head of city hall—or perhaps it’s just a highly placed policeman—wants a bigger cut of those big EWR profits. I couldn’t tell you what the current “cut” is, but one bit of gossip called out 300 pesos from each EWR as the demanded “new cut.” Someone told me that a EWR these days is around 1300 pesos. Speculation is that this new “tax” will probably drive “barfines” up to at least 1500 pesos and higher.
Just yesterday the latest hearsay from one of my chatty sources is that the whole thing is about to end, because the cop running the show on this latest shakedown was just fired or moved to another position somewhere else. So you can see that no one truly knows anything.
If you plan on coming to Angeles City to barhop and barfine the lovelies working in the various 100 or so establishments here, my advice to you is not to come here until all this works itself out. A lot of emphasis these days is coming down from organizations like the UN for nations like the Philippines and Thailand to clamp down on human trafficking, in other words, the sex industry. It could very well be that what is happening now is ONLY the beginning.
My personal preference is that the bars be shut down. I have to believe that their presence has encouraged the present high new levels of criminality and thuggery, while also inspiring even more corruption in the police who just cannot seem to resist the temptation to cull the tourist herd.