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three pairs of lovers with space


The Philippines were discovered by Magellan in 1521 and claimed for the Spanish, who begun their colonisation in 1565, establishing Manila as the capital of the Spanish East Indies in 1571. As with their conquests elsewhere, foremost among their objectives and self-justifications was conversion of the natives to Christianity and this included fierce hostility to sodomy.

In common with Polynesia and much of mainland South-east Asia, in the Philippines the prevalent form of homosexuality was not Greek love, but gender-differentiated, the kind which has historically alternated with it in capturing the imagination of a society. Rather than boys in general being seen as the love objects of men, a small minority of males adopted female dress and offered themselves to men in female roles.  This by no means precluded sex between men and boys, since the transsexuals adopted their roles at or before puberty and their social acceptance entailed acceptance of sex with boys, but it prevented pederasty from being perceived as a distinct form of love and thus from developing its own ethos and social rules.

The Spanish did however encounter the pederastic form of homosexuality with which they were more familiar in the form of Chinese traders had been visiting the Philippines for at least a century. These mostly came from Fujian, where pederasty was even more ubiquitous than elsewhere in Ming-era China. The Spanish encouraged the Chinese to settle in Manila, badly needing both their trade and their skilled craftsmen, but were vexed when they found that despite warnings and burnings at the stake, sodomy remained rife amongst them.

Friar Ignacio de Santibáñez, the first Archbishop of Manila, from 1595 to 1598, complained “that the Chinese not only committed this vice among themselves but also enticed the natives, both men and women, to commit the vice with them. Still later, in 1605 a testimony against the non-Christian Sangleys [Chinese] of the parián [Chinese market-place] described them as the most vicious (viciossisimos), most pernicious, and most harmful people. The testimony went on to state that since Manila and its surroundings were especially, warm and humid it was liable to sins of the flesh. Before the arrival of the Sangleys the natives had had no knowledge of sin against nature, even a name for this sin had never existed in their vocabulary. Since their coming this people had perverted the natives, who, being covetous and newly instructed in the Christian faith, could easily be led away from good morals and could even lose their Catholic faith. Their weak characters left them open to the influences of the Sangleys. They might fall into the superstitious practices of this people and eventually became idolaters like them.”[1]

Filipino boy, ca. 1875

The Spanish continued to burn sodomites in the 17th and 18th centuries, but though they succeeded in converting most of the country to devout Catholicism and instilling many Christian values, such as respect for the pre-marital virginity of girls, they never succeeded in eliminating the transsexual tradition or in developing the social antipathy towards homosexuality that existed in their homeland. Hence, when liberal governments removed all references to sodomy from the criminal code of the Spanish Empire, briefly in 1822 and lastingly in 1848, the Philippines was left with a full legal toleration of sex with willing boys of any age and very little of the social intolerance that might have stopped Greek love or any other form of homosexuality from being practised.

The legal toleration which the Spanish finally bequeathed the Philippines continued under American rule (1898-1946) and was reaffirmed by the Revised Penal Code of 1930, which again ignored homosexual acts, while its article 266-A likewise confirmed twelve as the age of consent for girls (a legacy of mediaeval canon law).

In their book Boys for Sale: A Sociological Study of Boy Prostitution (1969), Drew and Drake describe long-standing and widespread boy prostitution, mostly of themselves by transvestite boys emotionally attuned to happy acceptance of pedication, having, through ancient custom, generally come out before pubescence.

However, it is also clear from travellers’ accounts that, by this time at least, more general sexual play by boys with each other or men, was widely tolerated. The best analogy is probably with another Catholic country, Italy, before the 1970s. In both cases, letting boys be boys with their own kind was seen as a necessary corollary to insisting on the virginity of unmarried girls. In the Philippines, where there was some traditional toleration of effeminacy and sexual inversion, homosexuality was seen as even less of a problem for boys.

The combination of a culture which still allowed pubescent boys considerable autonomy, benign attitudes by parents, and widespread friendliness towards foreigners was to be heady when the advent of mass tourism brought them to the attention of foreign pederasts. From the 1960s to the early 1980s, the Philippines was the country where it was easiest of all for foreigners to have liaisons with local boys. Whether they were visiting or living there as refugees from the rapidly-growing repression of Greek love elsewhere, the impression the country made on them as a hitherto-unimagined sexual paradise is probably best compared to that made by Tahiti on European men in general in the 18th century.

The Philippines in 1949

That era is the subject of The Paggers Papers, a remarkably detailed first-hand account by Richard Rawson, a frequently-visiting American boy-lover.  Its accuracy has been widely-attested. Given the relative poverty of the country, the sexual activity described inevitably tended to involve some remuneration, with the boys able to bring welcome extra income to their approving families, but their tolerance of it can nevertheless only be understood in the wider context of a quite exceptional social acceptance of homosexual activity for boys.

Amongst other foreign visitors then were some quite distinguished ones such as the French writer Gabriel Matzneff, who described his love-making with numerous Filipino boys in his published journals, and the former Dutch senator Edward Brongersma, then about the most respected advocate of Greek love, who managed to bring back to his homeland a Filipino boy who cared for him in his final years.

The Filipino Experience, an article published in the Manila Evening Post in 1982, shows how not only Greek love but boy prostitution could then be defended in the mainstream media, besides giving a fair account of the motives of the boys involved..

Whilst it was undoubtedly a golden age for some, it also carried the seeds of its own destruction, as the commercialisation of the boy-love scene, inevitably growing fast in what was an unusually poor country, tarnished it for those remotely idealistic and damaged its standing for all.  It was in any case inconceivable that it could survive, given the rapid rise of mass hysteria over child sexuality in the USA, the opportunism of a child sex abuse industry founded on that hysteria, and the sensitivity to American opinion of a pro-American government and people shamed by adverse publicity.

Nemesis was swift and harsh. On 7 Nov. 1985, a new local ordinance by the President’s wife, Imelda Marcos, in her capacity of Governor of Metropolitan Manila, criminalised encounters with minors giving rise to mere suspicion of prostitution. Later in the 1980s, there were raids in which foreigners were arrested on essentially arbitrary grounds and deported. A legal basis to what rapidly became systematic persecution was provided by the draconian  Special Protection of Children Act (Republic Act 7610) of 1992, which  not only illegalised the prostitution of those under 18, but said that any person not closely related or with some other legal bond or obligation “who shall keep or have in his company a minor, 12 years or younger or who is 10 years or more his junior in any public or private place, hotel, motel, beer joint, discotheque, cabaret, pension house, sauna or massage parlor, beach and/or other tourist resort or similar places shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period”, ie. life imprisonment.

It might be thought that having criminalised merely being in the company of a boy under most circumstances, further repression would be redundant, especially as this law did effectively kill the Greek love scene, but to conclude this sorry tale of paradise lost, one can add as minor details that the Anti-Rape law (Republic Act No. 8353) of 1997 extended the criminalisation of consensual sex with children under twelve to include boys, and that on 4 March 2021 a law raised to sixteen this age of consent (by then uniquely low in the world, in so far as it was not purely theoretical) with more brutal penalties in keeping with the times.

[1] Albert Chan, “Chinese-Philippine Relations in the Late Sixteenth Century and to 1603” in Philippine Studies 26 (Manila, 1978) pp. 70-1, here citing as his sources the Archivo General de Indias (Seville) Aud. Filip., Leg. 74, no. 44; Idem., Leg. 18A, Ramo 4, no. 68; Idem., Leg. 74, no. 97.




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