Running from Hell
The harrowing story of a Filipino migrant worker in war-torn Lebanon
Two months of maltreatment forced Mariz Yabes, a 20-year-old mother of two
from Isabela, to decide to escape from her employer. The war in Lebanon
gave her a chance to flee.
Contributed to Bulatlat
ANGUISHED: An OFW from Lebanon cries
as she talks to relatives on a mobile phone
upon her arrival at the Ninoy Aquino Internatiopnal Airport, Aug. 8
Mariz Yabes, a 20-year-old-mother of
two from Isabela, northern Philippines was still shivering and in near
tears as she told me the ordeal she went through as a domestic in Lebanon.
In her short two-month stay there, her employer refused to feed her,
treated her badly, cursed and threatened her often. She went to her
employment agency, but instead of helping her, they locked her up inside a
bathroom for six days without food and water.
Mariz sought the help of groups
Migrante International and Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st
Movement) in filing complaints of maltreatment, violation of recruitment
and breach of contract against her former Lebanese employer and employment
agencies in Lebanon and Manila.
On Aug. 2, she arrived from Lebanon
along with the largest batch of 447 Filipinos to be repatriated from the
war-stricken country. Setting aside her province-bred shyness, Mariz said
she will do everything she can to help expose the real situation of
Filipino domestics in that war-torn Middle East country and will find ways
to help them get rescued from the hellish employment conditions they are
forced into by the phenomenon of labor migration.
Still worried about her sister and
friend Richelle who are still in Lebanon waiting to be rescued even as she
said she will pursue her legal complaints.
Taking advantage of desperate OFWs
At first, All Skills Manpower, the
local employment agency that sent Mariz to Lebanon, showed her different
employment contracts. During the orientation, she was promised a US$200
monthly salary with day-off and other benefits. She signed a contract
stipulated with such conditions.
She thought she was hoodwinked when
just before her departure, the agency made her sign a different contract,
with a US$150 monthly salary, a day-off privilege based on the discretion
of the employer and a four-month salary deduction. "Hindi daw kami
makakalabas ng bansa kung hindi namin pirmahan yung kontrata" (We were
told we couldn’t leave without signing the contract). As she had no other
choice, Mariz signed the contract.
Commenting on her case, lawyer Remigio
Saladero of the PRO-LABOR Legal Assistance Center said many recruitment
and employment agencies are violating the Labor Code and are actually
operating as fly-by night businesses preying on first-time OFWs.
Inhumane working conditions
Mariz arrived in Lebanon one June 5
and her life became a living hell since then.
She wasn’t fed by her employer during
her first three days there. At one point, she said, she even went through
digging the household garbage to look for left-over food. “Hindi ako
direktang binibigyan ng pagkain ng amo ko. Bawal din akong magluto”
(They gave me nothing to eat. I was also not allowed to cook.)
A day after she arrived at her
employer's house, she was asked to go to the agency for a medical exam.
There, the Lebanese contacts of All Skills in Beirut confiscated her
mobile phone along with the only copy of her employment contract.
''Gusto pa nilang kunin ang picture ng pamilya ko pero 'di ko binigay,
sabi ko wala akong dala'' (They even wanted to confiscate my family’s
photos, but I refused, saying I didn’t bring any).
On Mariz’s fourth day of work, already
starved and weakened, her employer cursed and poked her because she was
too weak to work and could barely lift a flat iron. ''Nung umiyak ako,
lalong nagalit ang amo ko kaya isinoli ako sa agency'' (When I cried,
my employer got mad and returned me to the agency).
Little did she know, her employer
twisted the story causing her more trouble from the agency. ''Minura
ako nung may-ari ng agency. Tinakot pa ako na ikukulong at hindi hahanapan
ng bagong amo.'' (The agency owner cursed me and threatened to have me
jailed. He also said that he would not look for another employer for me)
Hopeless with her condition, Mariz
returned to her employer with a heavy heart.
Even without regular sustenance, Mariz
was forced to work almost 18 hours a day. ''Hindi nila ako pinapayagan
magpahinga o matulog kapag gising pa sila. Kahit sobrang pagod at gutom
na ako, pinapagalitan ako ng amo ko kung huminto ako sa pagta trabaho."
(They don't allow me to rest or sleep while they are still awake. Even
if I'm dead tired and starving, my employer would scold me if I stop doing
the house chores.)
Learning about her condition, other
Filipina house helps working in the same building as her took turns in
secretly giving her food. They became her hope for survival. But they made
it a point to be very discreet as Filipino domestics were barred by their
employers from talking and getting acquainted with each other.
“Noong nagsimula ang gyera hindi ko
pa naisip na umuwi. Pero hindi ko na makaya ang trato sa akin ng amo ko”
(At the start of the war, I never thought of going home. But I could no
longer stand the treatment I was getting from my employer). On July
20, as the military attacks escalated, the abuses inflicted on Mariz by
her employer also worsened. She was slapped by her employer as she was
caught eating without their permission. She fought back and argued with
She was immediately sent back to the
agency. By the time she reached the office she was already black and blue.
But instead of helping her, they locked her up inside a dim bathroom in an
abandoned building. ''Mas grabe pa sa bartolina yung pinagkulungan sa
akin. Hindi ako binigyan ng pagkain o tubig.'' (The bathroom was worse
than a jail. They gave me no food or water.) All her belongings
were confiscated. She only had 25 Lebanese pounds (equivalent to
US$0.01731) in her pocket, which was given to her by a fellow domestic.
Emboldened by the war
After six days of confinement, she
managed to escape with the help of a Bangladeshi domestic. With the help
of a fellow Filipina freelancer, she arrived at the evacuation center in
St. Francis Church in Hamra on July 26.
Mariz said that many Filipino contract
workers immediately gathered by the Philippine Embassy after President
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the evacuation of OFWs are runaways who
fled their abusive employers. “Karamihan ng mga naunang naiuwi
dito sa Pilipinas nanggaling sa mga kulungan sa Lebanon. Mga Pinoy na
tumakas sa mga amo nila.” (Many of first arrivals in the Philippines
had escaped from detention by their employers.)
After her escape, Mariz met other
Filipinas who share her plight, with some even enduring more horrible
experiences in the hands of their employers. She served as volunteer at
the evacuation center hoping she would be repatriated as soon as possible.
She interviewed many Filipinas at the evacuation center. Out of 100
persons she interviewed, only five said they had good employers.
One of those she talked to, Rosario,
of Bicol, told her that for one year and six months, she received no
salary from her employer nor seen any Lebanese pound in her entire stay
there. Another by the name of May, from Cagayan Valley said she was
constantly molested by her male employer but did not seek help for fear
that the agency will again deduct the placement fee from her salary.
Asked about her plans, Mariz said she
will pursue her complaints against All Skills Employment Agency to make
sure that it will be closed. “Gusto ko lang mapasara yung agency. Kung
may pagkakataon lang akong makakuha ng trabaho dito na sapat ang sahod,
hindi-hinding na ulit ako magpapa-alila sa ibang bansa.” (I just want
the agency to be shut down. If I can only get a well-paying job here, I
won’t work as a slave in another country.)
Mariz related that the war’s outbreak
helped embolden many Filipino domestics who were being maltreated by their
employers. The ongoing war in Lebanon is not the main problem of many
Filipino OFWs in Lebanon, she said, but the oppressive working conditions
of domestics and the lack of help they get from the Philippine government.
Corrupting funds for OFWs
Like other OFWs, Mariz criticized the
lack of support from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA)
and the Philippine Embassy in Lebanon. She believes that the government
corrupted the funds of OFWs. MIGRANTE International attested to this and
said that OFWs are having hard time availing of loans and subsidies.
Now government officials are having a
row over the missing OWWA funds supposedly allocated for the benefit of
OFWs and the needs for emergency repatriation.
Migrant workers organizations are now
demanding OWWA to produce the Emergency Repatriation Fund (ERF), a special
seed fund of Php100 million ($1,946,282 at an exchange rate of $1=P51.38)
collected from contributions of OFWs (US$25 per OFWs). This fund is
allotted to evacuate overseas workers during emergency situations such as
war, epidemic, disaster and natural or man-made calamities. For the past
years, Congress failed to allocate or source out the government’s
counterpart share in the ERF fund amounting to Php100 million per year.
The OWWA, POEA and Malacańang
officials are bickering and pointing at each other on who is to blame for
the missing OWWA funds. Involved officials refused to attend hearings
called by the Senate. Labor Secretary Arturo Brion, OWWA Director
Marianito Roque, and Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers
Affairs Esteban Conejos were absent during the scheduled hearing. The
Senate was forced to temporarily suspend the hearings.
MIGRANTE International officials said
that they have evidences proving that OFW funds were illegally invested or
loaned to private companies including Landoil Resources, partially owned
by House Speaker Jose de Venecia, Greater Manila Corp. in the amount of
P200 million, and other businesses. Home Guarantee Corporation (HGC), the
company that managed the Smokey Mountain Project, still has a balance of
PhP1.07 billion ($20.82 million) from the PhP664 million ($12,923,316)
loaned by OWWA in 1999. He also said that OFW funds were even loaned to
the Philippine National Police (PNP) Commission.
“OFWs have long before accused the
Arroyo administration of illegal disbursements of OFW trust funds held by
OWWA. Around PhP530 million ($10,315,297) OWWA Medicare Funds was
transferred to Philhealth. Reacting to the Commission on Audit’s (COA)
statement that ‘OWWA funds are intact and readily available,’” Migrante
officials said that COA is covering up OWWA’s misuse of funds.
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© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
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