Asia-Pacific

Come for the women, stay for the game: Watching AFL in the Philippines

Two Filipino women wash a motorcycle in front of a bar restaurant to earn cash in Manila. Source: EPA

Journalist Margaret Simons witness first hand that the Australian expat community in Manila watch the AFL Grand Final Philippines style.

The air was warm as soup, but Australian rissoles served with dollops of mash and onion gravy were on special yesterday at the Philly Sports Grill in Angeles City in the Philippines.

Or you could have an Aussie Burger with the works. It was, after all, AFL Grand Final and the men who come to this centre of sex tourism were out in force. More than sixty gathered to watch the game.

In most of the pubs in the red light district, AFL was screening live.

As Sting concluded his song and the teams ran through the banners, the crowd swelled. Some came on scooters, sitting proud, their t-shirts neatly tucked in to their board shorts and beer bellies resting on their thighs. Others were on foot, some with a much younger Filipino woman on their arm.

So it is that every bar hosts discussions about disputed paternity, and in every slum there are children with Australian faces, who would qualify for citizenship if only they could prove the identity of their fathers.
"So it is that every bar hosts discussions about disputed paternity, and in every slum there are children with Australian faces."
Supplied

Today, though, they had eyes only for the big men of the AFL.

An advertisement for DNA testing was strung under the largest of the Philly’s 25 television screens, all but one of which was tuned to events at the MCG. The bar girls here can be quite honest about their ambitions. Many hope to find an Australian man to marry and rescue them from poverty.

The men, on the other hand, come for sex and for the Angeles speciality – the “girlfriend experience” where you can buy love, or a good facsimile, for a week, a month or more together with the illusion of no consequences.

So it is that every bar hosts discussions about disputed paternity, and in every slum there are children with Australian faces, who would qualify for citizenship if only they could prove the identity of their fathers.

The game was being screened on Australia Plus, the ABC’s international arm, which meant that ads for Q and A – including an incongruous glimpse of Germaine Greer – screened in the breaks. “It’s mad. It’s stupid,” said Greer in a sound bite. Nobody was listening.

One man was taking pictures of his companion against the big screen. She was clad in nothing but an extra large Swans guernsey -  like a dress on her tiny frame.

Today, though, they had eyes only for the big men of the AFL.
"Today, though, they had eyes only for the big men of the AFL."
Supplied

And while there were plenty of men who responded with a shrug, a grin or a far away look when asked what brought them to Angeles City, not all of them were tourists.

Increasingly, Australians – or Australian men – are moving here to Angeles City to retire, drawn by the cheaper cost of living that means even those on a modest pension can live like lords. There is even a local sub branch of the RSL with 600 members.

Here they marry, many for the second or third time, and father and raise local children. Today there were a number of small Filipino-Australian kids being introduced to the great game by their elderly fathers.

The Philly, after all, is more about sport than sex. The sign over the door states that unaccompanied “ladies” are welcome. In most other bars on this street Filipino women are admitted only if they are accompanied by a western man.

And mixed in with the sex tourists there were a few men who work managing the new businesses at the nearby Clark Freeport Zone, once the largest American airbase outside the USA and now a hub of the Philippines’ largest earner of export dollars – the off shoring of back office business functions.

Western Bulldogs supporters greatly outnumbered Swans supporters, and the close game kept the audience on the edge of their barstools. Then, as it became clear the Bulldogs had won, the sky cracked open and one of Angeles City’s regular afternoon downpours turned the street outside into a river.

“Did you enjoy the game?” Asked one of the barmen as we left. “Come back tomorrow. We have the NRL screening.” 

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