I WAS still with The Freeman in the mid-‘90s when my good friend Anol Mongaya and I conducted a study for Barefoot Media Initiative (BMI) on prostitution in Barangay Kamagayan. I am now with Sun.Star Cebu whose editorial office is located a block from Kamagayan’s “nerve center.”

I interviewed a pimp, who admitted he was also a drug addict, in one of the structures near the old Citicenter. It was a difficult talk because the answers of the pimp, who was thin and fidgety, tended to stray away from my questions.

The interviewee gave me a picture of an “industry” operated by “mamasans” who invest on prostitutes for profit, the prostitutes themselves, the pimps, their “customers” and their protectors. It is an “industry” that is linked to the illegal drug trade because pimps and “prosties need” drugs to survive in the muck they are wallowing in.

In my first few years in Sun.Star Cebu, I continued to observe Kamagayan at close range. In those days, barbecue stalls that dotted the place stirred with activity at night. Prostitutes would stray into the stalls to eat or sit on wooden benches nearby while waiting for customers. The place wasn’t well-lighted but one can get a closer look at the women who were young and mostly assuming an air of nonchalance.

Those women were exploited, no doubt about that. They were mere products sold for profit, with the profit taken by those who didn’t actually sell their flesh. Many of them wanted a different life, and some of them did end up leaving the flesh trade to become wives or live-in partners of clients they ended up having a relationship with.

There was a time when the sex trade in Kamagayan became visible at night. Pimps would openly run after vehicles of prospective customers along the streets of Junquera, P. del Rosario and D. Jakosalem. The women would be made to pose while illumined by the headlights of clients’ cars. Those scenes are, thankfully, mostly gone now.

The situation was compounded by spotty law enforcement and abusive law enforcers. They would conduct raids and haul the women to their offices under the glare of television cameras. The women get charged with vagrancy and then return to Kamagayan to ply their trade once more. No more arrests would follow, presumably after “arrangements” were made with law enforcers.

But even in those days, we noted that the flesh trade was branching out to other areas of the city, including the uptown areas. The landscape of the barangay was also changing as establishments and new structures sprouted along the roads around the barangay center. Kamagayan is different from the one I was familiar with in the ‘90s.

Of course, life in the interior is different. A few years ago, my wife was inside a PUJ when a man pointed a knife at a passenger, a female student, along Junquera St. then grabbed her cell phone before jumping down and running to the interior of Kamagayan. The man was obviously a drug addict in need of a “high.”

I sometimes bump into some of my acquaintances near there. One of them, a childhood friend, wasted his life on illegal drugs. One time, he entered the carinderia where I was eating near Kamagayan and asked me for food. Another friend, who once wrote good feature articles and poems until he was waylaid by drug addiction, would sell me books and other items after which he would go somewhere in Kamagayan to buy “Nubain.”

I am writing about this following the privilege speech of Cebu City Councilor James Cuenco calling for actions that would end once and for all the prostitution and drug problems in Kamagayan. But I doubt if his simplistic solution would work.