Motel, Pinoy style
The word “motel” is a Filipinism, a foreign word (e.g. salvage) which, when localized, is given another denotation and connotation. From motel’s American meaning—motorists’ hotel or travelers’ stop-over or overnight place—it has evolved into a public house of private rooms for sexual fun.
Motel, in the Philippines, has been perceived as a sex den for prostitutes, hideaway for couples engaged in hot extra-marital affairs, refuge of forbidden lovers, or just about anyone itching to get laid but could not in the privacy of their homes, for the lack of a legal or socially accepted reason. And in this country, they are emphatically third world—a curious imagery for the filthy and derogatory acts they are infamously known for. Until Sogo came.
Roland Tolentino narrates in his Bulatlat essay “Sogo at Lehitimasyon ng Bawal na Pagnanasa” the development of motels from the cheap “liko biglang yuko” type found in Recto, Pasay, Caloocan, and Ermita to hotel style ones like the now successful Hotel Sogo, which keeps on expanding in the national capital region and nearby provinces (such as Laguna) especially in politico-economic centers (Cebu). Like many other landmarks, these hotels are lined up along commercial establishments which are far from cheap and shabby. Tolentino believes that sex, just like motels, is now as legal (or legalized) as the Arroyo regime.
Now with twenty branches in the Philippines and hundreds of outdoor advertisements, Sogo has also entered the Filipino jokes (“nakita kitang pumasok sa Sogo!”), sexual innuendos (“Sogo naman tayo”), and literary stories (e.g. “Perstaym” in the erotic anthology Kuliti), all of which refer to Sogo as a place where human beings mate, with Catholic guilt.
The place has around three hundred rooms and at night all of them are occupied as evident in the never empty waiting lobby and ever busy monitoring staff—especially every 15th or 30th of the month, as observed by Tolentino during paydays. We even see guests who would start kissing inside the slightly covered seats while in the long wait.
The geisha in Sogo’s logo suggests that the place is for short time pleasure which is not unlike the happy hours sold in such known motel as Anito. On the other hand, the geisha’s covering of her face with a fan is reminiscent of Victoria’s logo: black and white silhouette of a woman with a finger making a shush sign. Both images imply privacy, if not secrecy.
Ironically, the over-all red paint of Sogo screams for attention. And as if to live up to the motel’s original meaning, these hotels are along main highways waiting for the next motorist. Curiously, these hotels are to be found near areas where prostitutes are sighted: foot bridges full of sex workers are near Sogo Cainta, Aurora, and Cubao; Manila pimps are just around the corner of Sogo Recto and Malate; and gay pokpoks abound Quezon Avenue and Banawe.
Apparently Sogo hotels stand on areas where the masses hang around—not in Rockwell Makati but in Guadalupe, not along Roxas Boulevard but Malate, not in Filinvest but Alabang Rotonda.
Sogo hotels’ geographic location is exposed as that of Jollibee, its periphery as peopled as SM, and its operation as busy as 7 Eleven.
On top of all that, what makes Sogo popular nowadays is advertising. Outdoor posters, traffic signs, public service ads, and other transport advertisements with the geisha in them are ubiquitous, while Sogo discount cards are promotional materials easy to come by. Side by side the tagline and the information about the hotel rates in these ads are friendly road reminders, and in marketing, this is a smart add on. PR advertising gives companies a good image and a way to consumers’ heart, i.e. public acceptance.
Guests are usually a man-woman couple, but sometimes there are m2m (men to men) and a pair of women, too.
The lobby is splashed with warm hues, orange and tan. True to the hotel’s name, Sogo’s theme is Japanese: open cubicles that cover the benches are reminiscent of Japanese houses’ sliding doors made of paper—only that the ones in the lobby are made of translucent glass with wooden edges. Seats are for two and their “cover walls,” which are about four feet high, are attached to left, right, and back of the cushioned bench. These cubicles are neatly aligned, facing one direction so waiting guests do not see each other unless one stands to get a number or go to the washroom.
Guests are usually a man-woman couple, but sometimes there are m2m (men to men) and a pair of women, too.
The hotel’s desk is manned by employees garbed in red uniforms with yellow lining. Guests get their number here the moment they enter the place, then wait while seated until their number is called, in other words, until rooms are available. The employee who stands in front of the desk explains the rates while the one behind the desk inputs the length of stay in the corresponding rooms. In the lobby everything is neat. Even with a lot of people during Sogo’s blockbuster nights, people are calm and the ambience cozy.
Once the number is called, one couple may pass the security gate then inside the elevator hall, a tiny room right beside the desk, where one waits for the one and only elevator in the eight-floor building.
The elevator has no mirrors, no attendant, and practically nobody in it. It is quite amazing that guests, by coincidence or sheer plan, do not get a chance to have an eye to eye meeting with other guests. If guests happen to ride with a room attendant, for instance, the employee greets politely without staring at guests, then pushes the button for them.
Unlike hotels, though, Sogo’s hallways are devoid of any decoration nor any attempt to put some style along the narrow ways aligned with rooms tightly shut. No chairs, tables, mirrors, paintings, flower vases, plants, food carts, room service carts or loitering kids are to be found on the way to one’s room, save for the carpet that render the corridors a neat, elegant look.
Once inside the room, the guest is greeted by the anteroom that stores a cabinet, which is empty except for a pair of hangers, and a table below it.
The rooms have a sort of standard design of wallpaper, side tables, vanity desk, lamp shades boarded on the wall, and mirrors, but their proximity vary depending on the type of room since deluxe are more spacious than premiere.
A television set is perched on steel attached to the wall by the side of the bed. Some recommended programs are printed on laminated cards placed by the TV: Channel 110-114 are pornographic channels with description for each (e.g. “Asian” or “Western”).
Some recommended programs are printed on laminated cards placed by the TV: Channel 110-114 are pornographic channels with description for each (e.g. “Asian” or “Western”).
Again, depending on the type of the room the bed is either queen or king size. A thin, white sheet wraps the leather-covered foam bed and two emaciated pillows sit at one corner with one thin, white blanket. The leather bed, commented a friend, is for the “necessary spills”.
The bathroom would rate high for someone like me who is particular with the cleanliness, spaciousness, and daintiness of any baño. Tiles are pristine white. Toilet bowl is immaculate. Shower and faucet have consideration for guests who easily chill with a drop of freezing water. A fresh roll of tissue paper is placed nicely in a stylish holder. And the shower area has room for two persons, three even (no shower curtain though).
Sex in public space
How does Sogo function?
In this conservative society where Catholic beliefs reign even the political arena, motels are taboo, and so the proliferation of Sogo hotels and the profitability of Sogo Cubao are a form of resistance to Catholic stronghold on the Filipinos’ values. Sogo then functions as a reminder that amidst—or in spite of—Catholicism, sex outside marriage is a phenomenon that should be exposed and not hidden, ignored, or euphemized.
It may also be seen as resistance to the exclusivity of hotels or other classy places to the elite or the ruling class. Sogo gives the lower classes an access to such convenience even for three hours. Like the internet that gave the masses an access to knowledge production and manipulation, Sogo allows them to enjoy the luxury of guilty pleasure, which only the rich ones can afford to experience because of power.
Also, Sogo hotels function as a modifier of our sense of sexuality. “As long as there are hindrances to a free and open discussion of [issues on sexuality],” writes Quindoza-Santiago, “there will always be the temptation of an illicit…uninhabited display of the body and of sexual practice that border on the lewd and porn as a mode of protest and resistance” (77). Sogo may have liberated fantasies but more importantly it liberates people from ignorance on Pinoy sexuality. For instance, interviews here show that same-gender intercourse is as normal as male-female intercourse, and that binaries (e.g strong-weak, bell boy-desk girl) are not very healthy.
Tolentino’s biting criticism of Sogo shows another function: space for capitalist and political legitimization.
Sa motel ay pribadong-pribadong aliw ang pinatatamasa: sa pagpasok sa pribadong kwarto maiinternalisa ang pribadong kasiyahan para sa konsyumer na pumiling bumili ng tatlong oras—ang “short-time” na kalikasan ng mga motel. Sa kliyente ang kwarto sa loob ng nirentahang tatlong oras.
Free sex, perverted sex, sex with non-adults na mukha namang adults, extra-marital sex, premarital sex, gay sex, lesbian sex, kahit ano sa pagitan ng dalawang partner, maaari sa motel. Ang kapangyarihan sa kontrol sa panahon at espasyo ng kwarto ay nasa kanila sa loob ng itinakdang tatlong oras o lampas pa rito.
Dito, tulad sa rehimen ni Arroyo, ang halinghing at iri ay sabayang nagsasaad ng pagbulwak ng at pagdisiplina sa bawal. Basta may pera, hindi nabubura, bagkus lalong tumitingkad, ang distinksyon ng bawal at hindi sa mundong ibabaw.
*part of a paper submitted to an Anthropology class (Anthro 292 under Michael Tan)
 (1) Alabang Rotonda, (2) Aurora Blvd, Cubao, (3) Avenida, (4) Bacoor, Cavite, (5) Banawe(6) Cainta, (7) Cartimar – Recto (8) Cebu, (9) Edsa Caloocan, (10) Edsa Cubao, (11) Edsa Guadalupe, (12) Kalentong, LRT, (13) Monumento Station, (14) Malate, (15) Novaliches – Bayan, (16) Pasay Edsa/Harrison, (17) Pasay Rotonda, (18) Quezon Avenue, (19) San Pedro, Laguna, (20) Sta. Mesa  Kuliti: Pagtatanggol Sa Pag-Ibig (2008) is an anthology of erotic short stories written by literature professors, UP graduate students, and ABS-CBN writer. Boy Abunda helped them publish this.
Hotel Sogo website. www.hotelsogo.com
Quindoza-Santiago, Lilia. (2007). Sexuality and the Filipina. QC: University of the Philippines Press.
Tolentino, Roland. (6-12 July 2008). Alipato Media Center Inc. “Sogo at Lehitimasyon ng Komersyal na Bawal na Pagnanasa.”Bulatlat.com vol 8 no.22.
“Who’s Afraid of Philippine Englishes?” Manila Bulletin online 7.11. Retrieved October 2008 from http://www.mb.com.ph/issues/2008/05/11/20080511124285.html