ANGELES CITY, PHILIPPINES — Gina Cancio made her first sex video quite late in life. And she made the sex video for me.
I was a journalist who had just gotten a grant to do an investigative report on HIV. My research brought me to Angeles City. Department of Health (DOH) data showed that adult Disneyland Angeles City drastically curbed its HIV rates and I was there to find out why.
The League of Angeles City Entertainers and Managers (LACEM) was a group of bar managers and owners who banded together to keep the center of adult entertainment safe by conducting regular health checks and HIV tests.
As a self-regulating body, bar managers were public health officers by day and floor managers (MamaSans) at night.
It was in the LACEM office where I first met Gina. She was giving me the lowdown of how the bar girls were taught to protect themselves from sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) through condom negotiation techniques. One of these techniques was how to discreetly put on a condom with your mouth.
I couldn’t quite imagine it then and Gina, very business-like, demonstrated it for me. I was dumbfounded and asked her to repeat the demo, this time for me to take a video.
I didn’t intend to use the video as part of the report. I just wanted to take the video to show my editors–seeing is believing, right?
When I showed my editors at Newsbreak, one — Aries Rufo — thought it would make a great addition to the story package. Another, Gemma Mendoza, was understandably hesitant. We left it to our boss, Marites Vitug, to decide.
Marites gave it a go. But I first had to call Gina to ask her for permission to use the video in the story.
Safe sex video: Panalo!
“Naku, Ana, baka mabalitaan akong best blow-jobber dito sa Angeles ha!’ was Gina’s reaction. [“But Ana, I might become known as the best blow-jobber in Angeles City!”]
We both said at the same time, “At ano naman ang masama dun?!” [And what’s so bad about that?!”]
We let out a loud hearty laugh that crossed the distance between my bedroom-office in Manila and the LACEM office in Angeles.
The video went up and instantly went viral. In the era before the explosion of social media, this meant Facebook shares and people like radio DJ Chico Garcia blogging about it. Chico said the video made his day and lauded health workers like Gina for being nonchalant and progressive about condom usage.
Gina was famous as the lola who gave a badass safe sex lesson.
The HIV story series won me my first award in the Population and Development Media Awards in 2012.
I was in Angeles City recently on assignment and went to look for Mama Gina. I called her and was happy that she still remembered me. She told me to drop by the bar anytime in the afternoon when business was still slow.
It took my eyes a minute to adjust from the stark white sunny afternoon to the dim reddish-orange lights of the bar. I found Mama Gina scrunched over a table going over paperwork, tuning out the blaring music and the mix and tumble of men and girls milling about.
Gina didn’t see me come in. I went up to her and wordlessly put my hand on her arm.
She looked up and we hugged each other tightly.
Gina is now working at another bar and is no longer with LACEM, but still teaching her girls how to protect themselves from the varying occupational hazards that come with the job.
She took a break from the scene for awhile when she was in the hospital for diabetes. She showed me the patches on her lower leg that covered the gangrene.
We laughed about the sex video that made her famous.
“Ang daming nakakita pala nun! Mga pamangkin ko tumawag sa akin, ‘Tita, ikaw yun ah!’” [So many people saw that video. My nieces/nephews called when they say me!]
She said some comments were offensive, but she saw that the Internet had its own self-regulating mechanism and took much comfort knowing that many people come to her defense.
“That was my 15 minutes of fame!” she said, laughing and shaking her head at the memory.
She looked at me then for a long moment. “Ikaw, innocenteng innocente ka pa nun. Wala ka pang alam na alam sa Angeles,” she said, the tenderness and nostalgia in her voice overpowering the music in the bar. [You were so innocent then. You knew nothing about Angeles City.]
“Virgin pa, Mama Gina!” [Still a virgin, Mama Gina!]
And we both laughed. I guess we saw a bit of ourselves in each other. How we both were when we first came to this city where its angels use condoms and its mostly male visitors come to visit, filled with hope and expectation.
I realized that aside from the video, Gina and I didn’t have a photo together. I couldn’t leave this time without a photo.
We went outside and I asked the bouncer to please take a picture of me and “my Mama Gina”.
Gina posed gamely as I held on tightly.
The bouncer must have read more into my request than I thought; when he handed me back my phone, he said, “Ok na ok na kayo ngayon, Ma’am. Buti napabalik kayo ng Angeles, hindi nyo nakakalimutan Mama Gina mo.” [You’re looking well, ma’am. How nice of you to visit Angeles again and not forget your Mama Gina.]
I didn’t bother to correct him or explain. There was no need to. Gina Cancio will always be “my Mama Gina” to me.