With nine screws placed in her left foot and two big screws in her spinal column, Carmelita Lagata, a domestic helper in Kuwait, was teary-eyed relating the pain she had to endure after an accident while running away from her employer. She even had to fend for herself during those trying times as the government failed to look after her welfare.
BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
With nine screws placed in her left foot and two big screws in her spinal column, Carmelita Lagata, a domestic helper in Kuwait, was teary-eyed relating the pain she had to endure after an accident while running away from her employer whom she felt had evil intentions on her. To make things worse, she had to fend for herself during those trying times.
To earn money
Lagata, now 26, stopped schooling when she was still a freshman at the Jose Rizal University (JRU) in Kalentong, Mandaluyong. In order to help her mother who is a fish vendor and her diabetic father, and later save money for her education, she worked as a domestic helper in Singapore from 2001 to 2004.
With a monthly salary of 320 Singaporean dollars (about P12,000 or $249.48 based on an exchange rate of P48.10 per US dollar), she sent almost P8,000 ($166.32) monthly to her family.
After her contract, she went home and learned that her remittance was not properly spent as her family failed to invest her hard-earned money. “Pero ayos lang kasi nakatulong naman (ako) sa mga gastusin.” (But it’s okay since I helped in the expenses.)
So young and full of ambition, Lagata applied for another overseas job at the Non-Stop Overseas Employment Corp. in Ermita, Manila. She was surprised when she got a job order only after three weeks.
Domestic helper for sale
On Nov. 26, 2004, Lagata went to Kuwait and worked as a domestic helper. But when she was already there, Ishakani Agency, the counterpart of Non-Stop agency there, told her that her contract from the Philippines will be replaced with another one. With the new contract, she would earn only $150 instead of $200 and would do all the household chores instead of just taking care of a 10-year old child specified in the original contract.
Left with no choice, she accepted the terms of the new contract. Though her employers were relatively kind, she had difficulty dealing with her another Filipina maid. She said that she could not stand working with her without talking to her. Lagata said that her colleague refused to talk to her.
After eight months of trying to endure working with her colleague, Lagata ran away from her first employer and went to the Philippine Embassy there. After a day at the embassy, she was taken by her agency, Ishakani, and was sent to Qssin Hussin Agency.
In one and a half months with Qssin Hussin, she was asked to work for various employers. The agency would sell her to an employer for 10 Kuwait Dinar (KWD) for five days. But she complained she was never paid.
After some time, she and another Filipina finally got an employer who paid for her visa.
With the second employer, she said that “halos hayop ang turing sa amin kapag may sumpong.” (We were treated like animals whenever they have tantrums.) When they are not seen working on the first floor of the house, she said her female employer would curse them while yelling, saying they are being paid to work. The two of them received 45 KWD monthly.
After almost nine months of working, her fellow Filipina maid planned to ran away when she got pregnant. Knowing her employer would take her anger out on her if she remained, Lagata ran away too.
With no salary for about two months, Lagata and her fellow maid sought refuge at the embassy penniless. Though she wanted to go home already, her employer refused to give her passport.
Lagata was taken from the embassy by a different agency, Salwa. At the latter, Lagata met her employer who physically hurt her when she tried to get her documents.
Again, she was peddled by the third agency to various employers for her trial period. After working for three houses still with no salary, she got her third employer. With the latter, she worked from 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. for a monthly salary of 45 KWD. She was only allowed to eat once a day every 9:00 p.m.
Aside from household chores, she also took care of her employers’ one-year and two-month old child. At 1 a.m. of Oct. 6 when her employers were both out of the house, she left her door open so that she could hear if the child was awake. While she was lying on her bed, she sensed her male employer enter her room and for no reason stood there for a few minutes.
Afraid that he has bad intentions on her, Lagata did not sleep until the break of dawn and she tried escaping from her employers whom she served for about three months.
With all the doors locked, she jumped from the balcony of the house which she said could be likened to the second or third floor in height. She was unable to stand after breaking her spine and left foot.
Her male employer brought her to the Al Mubarak hospital where she had an x-ray. Her operation was done at the Al Razi hospital. Nine screws were put in her left foot and two big screws in her broken spine. In her one-month stay there, she spent two days at the intensive care unit (ICU). While at the Al Mubarak hospital, a representative from the Philippine Embassy visited her once while her employers did so only twice.
After a month, she was transferred to the Physical Medicine Rehabilitation (PMR).
She used to complain about her numbing foot and painful back. At times when she cannot stand the pain and cry, she said that PMR personnel would only tell her to stop crying because her operation was long over.
In one-and- half months there, she said that hospital personnel would only sit her to a wheelchair but she will do things on her own.
With a borrowed cellphone from a fellow Filipina, she would text embassy personnel but she did not receive any response. After learning about her condition through her text message, her mother wrote local officials informing her pitiful situation. After that, Lagata said, the embassy personnel visited her again but only interviewed her just like the first visit.
After a month and a half, she was discharged from PMR. With no embassy personnel to help her, she said she was taken by the police for investigation.
At that time, Gil Librea, who after experiencing inhuman working conditions as a factory worker in Taiwan decided to work in Kuwait, was at the embassy to inform the irregularities in his travel and work documents. There, he learned of Lagata’s condition. Librea and a Filipino friend Dodong Ombina visited last Dec. 29 Lagata at the Rumiathiya police station.
Though she has not fully recovered and still uses a stick to walk, she was detained with no clear charges filed against her. Inside the cell of 13 detainees she met two other Filipinas, Rowelyn Monilla and Laila Haiden,. After 27 days in prison, she was picked up by embassy representatives after the police informed them of her status.
Lagata said that Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) personnel there thought she has been deported. But Lagata lamented, “humihingi ako ng tulong hindi nila ako iniintindi, ewan ko kung bakit.” (I asked for help but I was ignored. I don’t know why.)
While she was housed at the OWWA shelter, she cannot understand how the OWWA refused a group of Bicolano overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) willing to provide her airfare.
In a month at the OWWA, she complained they were given food she described “parang pagkain ng baboy.” (Just like food for pigs) They were fed rice was either uncooked or with too much water, monggo soup with just a few beans, and chicken-bones crumb. She also said that there was no free coffee so they would just skip breakfast.
Sometimes, they would ask Librea to bring them anything to eat. Librea would then bring rice, fruits, chicken, coffee and sugar whenever he visits them at the OWWA. Librea who acts as the Migrante International coordinator in Kuwait was not allowed to see the stranded OFWs.
“Hanggang labas lang siya,” Lagata said. “Pinapagalitan nga ako pag ako lagi ang hinahanap ni Gil. Bakit daw ako nagsusumbong sa Migrante. Kung magsusumbong daw ako, ‘yung totoo lang sasabihin ko.” (He can only stay outside. I am even scolded if Gil would come looking for me. They ask why I confide to Migrante. If I were to confide to it, I was asked to speak only the truth.)
On Nov. 28, Lagata was scheduled to have a spine check up but she said OWWA officials would only tell her, “mamaya lang,” (later) until the day was over and she missed already it.
Lagata, however, did not file charges against anyone because she wanted to go home already. “Ayoko nang tumagal pa ‘dun,” (I do not want to stay there longer.) said Lagata.
Seeing that nothing was happening to her condition, she thought about allowing another arrest by the police that would lead to her deportation. She finally got her passport after texting her employer that she was at the embassy. She expressed her desire to go home without charging anyone for what happened to her.
Back to the Philippines
She arrived at the Philippines on Feb. 15. Migrante International volunteers accompanied her from the airport to the OWWA office.
Initially, Lagata only wanted her unpaid salary of five months and the return of her personal belongings.
Jonathan Panlilio, Migrante International case officer, said their records show hundreds of illegal recruitment cases against Lagata’s recruitment agency.
He added that its license has been cancelled a long time ago but based on the government website at URL www.pia.gov.ph, Non-stop Overseas Employment Corp. was issued a license by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) from March 2, 2003 to March 1, 2007.
Though the agency expressed willingness to bring Lagata to the Orthopedic Hospital for her check up, Panlilio said that Migrante will file charges against Non-Stop agency for illegal recruitment. He added that administrative cases will be filed against POEA officials.
Not an answer
Until now, Lagata’s foot is still swollen and her back is still aching. While at Migrante’s shelter with her mother, Carmelita most of the time spent the day lying down recalling her bitter experience in Kuwait. “Sa totoo lang, napakaraming (stranded) OFW sa embassy,” she said. “ni-rape sila, binenta, binugbog. Ganun sila kahayop dun.” (There are many stranded OFWs at the embassy. They were raped, sold, beaten up. They were treated like animals.)
Panlilio said that the new POEA policy, setting the age limit of aspiring domestic workers to 23 years old and imposing additional training, would not stop the abuses against OFWs.
Citing two cases ? Lucenda Guston, 35, an illegal recruitment victim who died last Dec 28 allegedly of gastroenteritis due to severe dehydration in Bahrain and Loida Agrehales, 25, who arrived in the country on Feb. 12 after she was raped in Dubai ? Panlilio said that abuses could not be stopped by setting stricter age limits and even paying for additional training.
Panlilio criticized OWWA deputy administrator Adam Musa’s statement that they don’t rescue OFWs from their employers, especially in the Middle East which he said, “iba daw kalakaran.” (The system is different there.)
“Bilang representante ng embahada, responsibilidad nilang pangalagaan ang OFWs, dapat tugunan ang mga pangangailangan lalo kung mga inabuso na,” said Panlilio while citing that Migrante members were the ones who rescued Agrehales. (As representatives of the embassy, it is their responsibility to take care of OFWs. They should address their needs especially if they were abused.)(Bulatlat.com)