NOT too long ago, massage parlors on Pelaez and Sanciangko Sts. along with that plush spa in Mabolo offered only some back-pinching and sex. Recent years however saw the rise of legitimate massage spas presenting real massage services. To promote their reputation for no-nonsense massage services, these establishments came to organize themselves.

Contributing much to this development was the emergence of schools for therapists.

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Graduates then take tests to obtain a license from the Department of Health (DOH).

Tess Tatara of the International NKYR Academy, a DOH-accredited school, said the therapists are taught not only correct massage techniques to promote health and well-being, but also pertinent laws and related matters. Because of their efforts, professional massage spas are now one of Cebu’s tourist attractions.

The emergence of the so-called lingam massage, however, has alarmed government regulators and spas offering shiatsu, Thai, Swedish, and other forms of massage because of lingam’s focus on the reproductive organ. Conducted by scantily-dressed therapists, lingam spas could easily become or are already fronts for prostitution.

Tatara, nevertheless, cautioned against discriminating against lingam spas because genuine application of lingam indeed has therapeutic benefits and there are still other parlors offering “extra services.” However, she admits difficulty in regulation as she exhorts lingam therapists not to wear sexy attires.

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With the uproar about prostitution masquerading as lingam services, Mayor Paz Radaza of Lapu-Lapu City has sought a briefing with Johnny Lim, leader of the local spa association, and Tatara last week. After announcing her focus on promoting tourism, Mayor Radaza has turned her attention to improving the City’s regulations of tourism-related establishments, including massage spas now sprouting like mushrooms in Lapu-Lapu City.

I find particularly interesting how she will handle the presence of a lingam spa inside Marina Mall, a mall owned by her nemesis Efrain Pelaez. While she already issued a closure order on one lingam spa because it has no sanitary permit, Mayor Radaza has to contend with Pelaez’s contention that the City has no jurisdiction over Marina Mall, being within the Mactan Export Zone. The mall is like an autonomous district in Lapu-Lapu City. A case to clarify this is already in court.

Come to think of it, the lingam spa in Marina Mall is practically beyond the regulation and enforcement arm of Lapu-Lapu City. How do we know it is not an actual front for prostitution? How do we know it has not spawned other possible illegal activities?

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The Provincial Women’s Commission and other self-proclaimed protectors of morality only need to click to cable television’s tourism channel to get an idea how we are promoting Cebu.

Scenes of scantily dressed teenagers dancing provocatively on stage or cozying up to Caucasians inside KTV rooms immediately catch one’s attention. The commercials of local bars are shown along with the CIPC’s infomercials on the South Road Properties or SRP. We may argue that this is not prostitution unless the girls regularly accept money for sex. But definitely sex tourism is alive and openly used to attract tourists and investors.

No wonder more young women look at working as GROs and bikini dancers as legitimate ways of earning a living and getting out of poverty. Even children, when mommy or daddy is not around, can tune in and watch the titillating images right inside our living rooms (not just inside a tourist’s hotel room).

Sex to entice visitors is not new to Cebu, though. Our ancestors during the time of Rajah Humabon offered sex with young Cebuanas to entertain Ferdinand Magellan and his crew when they anchored in the port of Zebu in 1521. Though glossed over by our historians, Magellan’s chronicler Antonio Pigafetta did not miss recording their exciting encounters. Magellan’s only concern was that the young girls should be baptized first so his Christian sailors had sex with Christians, not pagans.

Today, our modern leaders impose sanitary permits and weekly health checkups to convince ourselves that the girls and their visitors are protected from incurable sex diseases. While police sometimes round up those soliciting customers lurking in dark corners on Juana Osmeña St. or the casas in Cabatingan (or Kamagayan or Junquera), those who obtain sanitary permits are tolerated. Teenagers working in established bars are even protected by moonlighting enforcers.

Fortunately, though, the sex-starved conquistadors brought us Christianity in 1521, and the protectors of Christian morality today are actively campaigning against sex tourism. At the moment, the focus is on spas offering lingam massage.