Red lights dimmed in Ermita clean-up

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 February, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 February, 1993, 12:00am

ONE of Asia's livelier red-light districts was dark and deserted last night as Manila Mayor Mr Alfredo Lim appeared to gain the upper hand in his battle against the bar owners of Ermita.

''Almost all the premises have been closed,'' said a jubilant Mr Rafaelipo Gerayblas, the mayor's executive secretary and chief of the task force charged with cleaning up the district.

''Our next step is to get legitimate businessmen to set up legitimate businesses in the area. We will change the image of Ermita,'' Mr Gerayblas said.

Although rumours abound throughout Ermita about a possible opening up of some bars this week, the chances of a return to business-as-usual seem remote as customers drift to entertainment districts in other suburbs.

The closures have stopped business at even the biggest and most popular bars. This week, Manila City Council is expected to pass an ordinance permanently banning nightclubs from the area.

Laid-off bar-girls wandering the streets said many girls had returned to their home in the provinces or had moved to other parts of Manila to seek work in one of the other three cities that make up Metro Manila.

During at least two raids earlier this month, police and city officials spray-painted the word Closed on all the establishments lining the main Ermita strip. Many have had wooden bars nailed to their doors.

Mr Gerayblas said of 70 establishments raided, all but two were ordered closed. He said most were closed on the basis that they were found to be used as ''prostitution fronts''.

He said investigators also found many bars violating city codes and were keeping girls in sub-standard boarding houses. Police had also raided and closed almost all the sauna and massage parlours.

Earlier, several bar owners had convinced Manila courts to issue injunctions against the city, but Mr Gerayblas said of the 18 injunctions issued, the city had been able to get 11 dismissed.

''We are working on getting the remaining injunctions overturned. The judges will appreciate the evidence we have,'' he said.

The dismissal of the injunctions has been a big blow to bar owners as it was their last tool to keep Mr Lim from closing the district.

Mr Gerayblas said the only way bar owners will be allowed to reopen their premises is by setting up new businesses - such as restaurants, music lounges or tourist attractions.

City officials have also urged Ermita businessmen to consider ice cream parlours and souvenir shops.

''We will not allow them to re-open unless they change the nature of their business,'' Mr Gerayblas said.

An estimated 14,000 girls, many from outlying provinces, work in Ermita. But that number could be higher after the withdrawal of US troops from Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base and the subsequent closure of dozens of bars in both base towns.