Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 47      Dec. 31, 2006 - Jan. 6, 2007      Quezon City, Philippines








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OFWs Battle to Save their Own Lives

OFWs in countries which are not at war do not have to dodge bullets or run away from bombs.  But they had to dodge the blows and escape abuse, beatings and rape by their employers.  Adding insult to injury are the stories of neglect, insensitivity, and abandonment they experience from the government which hails them as “modern-day heroes” and milks them of every dollar they earn.


Grace, a domestic helper in Qatar, was bleeding after her employer allegedly raped her. She went to the Philippine embassy to seek help.  But to her dismay, the party being held at that time seemed to be more important to embassy officials than her situation.


Grace is a psychology graduate who wanted to work in Oman to care for his father who suffered from his second stroke. She immediately called Jinhel International Recruitment Agency after reading its advertisement for job placements in Middle East countries.

She was offered a job in Qatar. Since Qatar is not too far from Oman, she immediately accepted the offer and resigned from her work as guidance counselor in a computer school in Caloocan. But she still had to wait for a few months while her papers were processed.

She agreed to the offer of the recruitment agency that she work as domestic worker, taking care of a five-year old child, for a monthly salary of QR700.  She also agreed to giver her salary for the first two months to the agency as commission.  However, she was not given a written and signed copy of their verbal agreement.

At the airport on the day of their departure last June 7, Grace and her two companions were asked to present their certificate of attendance to the Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS), which they did not undergo. They were however assisted by a man who told the inspector, “Arbor yan, amin na ‘yang tatlong ‘yan.” (Just let them proceed. The three are ours.) They were asked instead to pay P1, 500 each ($30 at an exchange rate of $1=P50) and was not issued a receipt.  They were brought to a different area to line up.

Upon her arrival in Qatar on June 8, she met her employer, Dr. Abdul Aziz Al Jumiah. She was asked to sign a contract with terms different from what she agreed to with the recruitment agency. The contract stipulated that she would assume all work in the household and be paid a monthly salary of QR600.  She also had no day off.


Left with no option in a foreign land, she accepted the work. She worked from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. of the next day. She also said that the pregnant wife of Abdul Aziz maltreated her. There was a time when her employer hit her with the telephone apparatus on the head. When a fellow Filipina noticed the lump caused by the telephone apparatus, she was given the contact numbers of the offices of the Philippine embassy and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in case she decided to run away from her abusive employers.

When she related her experiences to a certain Jack who works at the Philippine embassy, she was told, “Hindi pa naman grabe ‘yang nangyayari sa’yo. Tapusin mo na ‘yang two years mo.” (What you are experiencing is not that bad.  Just finish your two-year contract.)

She called the office of the OWWA in Qatar and a certain Sam told her, “Tumakas ka na kung ayaw mo na. Lumabas ka at sumakay sa taxi.” (Just escape if you can’t take it anymore.  Go out of the house and take a taxi.) When she pleaded to be fetched, Sam replied that the OWWA does not do rescue operations.

Eventually, she talked with Abdul Aziz about her contract.  In response, he brought her to Al Waheed Agency, the counterpart of Jinhel International Recruitment Agency in Qatar. But there, an employee of the agency named Faruq cut her thrice above her left wrist and threatened her not to leave her employer. At Al Waheed, she saw other women with the same wounds as hers.  She spent the night at the agency without food.

After being brought back to her employer, the wife of Abdul Aziz told Grace to accompany her to Syria. In Syria, she said, she was borrowed by her madam’s three siblings to clean their houses and do chores from July 10 to Sept. 10. To make matters worse, she was not paid her salary ever since she started working.

When they returned to Qatar, Grace said, her male employer started sexually harassing her. She reported these incidents to the OWWA but she was given the same advice, to take a cab and run away.

When her woman employer was confined in the hospital to give birth, Grace said, Abdul Aziz raped her.

She said Abdul Aziz, who came home from the hospital entered her room at around 4 a.m. of Nov. 3. She had just finished putting on her uniform after taking a bath when her employer allegedly tied her hands to the bed, tore her clothes, and raped her. Grace said he threatened to kill her if she told anyone about the rape.


Grace decided to run away but she was locked inside the house. Although hurting and bleeding, she climbed the open window in her comfort room at about 8 a.m. A fellow Filipina working as domestic helper for a neighbor helped her escape. But because the neighbors’ house had guards, Grace had to climb the fence in order to get out.

A Filipino taxi driver drove her to the Philippine embassy. But they were told to go to the office of OWWA instead because there was a party at the embassy for two television hosts of a program for migrants.

They reached the OWWA at 7 p.m. while a ballroom dancing party was going on. They waited for two hours before a representative from the embassy arrived to talk with her.

 Grace was led to the shelter where she met other women OFWs who were raped and maltreated. At the shelter, Grace’s cellphone was confiscated. The media men at the party at the embassy proceeded to OWWA that night. But OFWs who embassy officials think “do not look good” and were “hysterical” like Grace were hidden from the media.

At the shelter, Grace said, she did not receive counseling and therapy sessions. She said she was not even brought to the hospital for check up.

To her surprise, a certain Ferida of OWWA negotiated for her employer. She said she was advised by Ferida not to file charges.  In return, Ferida told her, she would be given her five months salary, a plane ticket to the Philippines, and her personal belongings which she left at her employer’s house.

She was made to sign a waiver, where she wrote, “I will not file charges against my employer for the rape case, although it happened.”

But on Nov. 6, a certain Levi of the embassy gave her only the plane ticket, without her salary and belongings. When she insisted on her things, she was told, “Mamili ka, uuwi ka or madedeport ka? Basta kailangan ko ng sagot mo hanggang 3:00 dahil alis tayo ng 3:30.” (Choose, do you want to go home or be deported? I need your answer by 3:00 because we are supposed to leave by 3:30.)

Grace arrived in the Philippines on Nov. 7 penniless. No one from the OWWA or the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) assisted her. It was her family who brought her to the hospital.

Rape cases

Back home, Grace sought the help of Gabriela Women’s Party and Migrante to pursue her case. 

In a dialogue on Nov. 30, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. said that they received letters from the Philippine Embassy in Qatar, with affidavits of other OFWs at the shelter, saying Grace was neither raped nor bleeding when she got there.

But Grace is determined to file charges against her employer for allegedly raping her.

Meanwhile, Grace met Mercy, another OFW in Qatar who was raped. Mercy who was allegedly raped thrice by the owner of her agency in Qatar was not able to secure a medico legal report.

Mercy said she also met two other women OFWs in Qatar who were raped.  But they did not pursue their cases after finding employment in another country.

OFWs in distress

Connie Bragas-Regalado, said that migrant workers in war-torn countries are not the only ones who needed to be rescued.

She said that every year, the DFA has a P100 million ($2,032,726 at an exchange rate of $1=P49.195) budget for repatriation services.  But the number of stranded OFWs continues to rise.

The migrant leader blamed the government for its failure to immediately repatriate distressed OFWs.  If the government did their jobs, she said, there would be no stranded OFW. She also said that it is the responsibility of OWWA to provide for the needs of stranded OFWs.

Shelters like in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are overcrowded, she said. Bragas-Regalado said that the shelter in Riyadh, which can accommodate only about 60 people houses up to 300 at times.  In Kuwait, she said, the shelter had to accommodate up to 500 people.

The kind of response of the government, she said, shows its disregard for its commitment under Republic Act 8042 or the Magna Carta for OFWs. 

In fact, she said, Migrante has been receiving letters from a lot of stranded OFWs in the Middle East asking for their help.

Migrante also related the case of Marilou Ranario who was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging on Sept. 28, 2005 for killing her employer Najat Mahmoud Faraj Mobarak on Jan. 11, 2005. Ranario’s family sought the help of Migrante because it did not see any development in the government’s handling of her case. Bragas-Regalado said it is Ranario who should be given justice because she was maltreated.

Criminalizing OFWs

Bragas-Regalado also denounced the government’s tactic of “criminalizing” OFWs who run away from their employers because of non-payment of salary, abuse, harassment or contract substitution. Embassy officials resort to this, she said, so that the host country would shoulder the costs of repatriation.

She said that Philippine officials would even make the OFW pay to find someone to facilitate his/her arrest. After the arrest by the police, s/he will be given travel documents using another name. The host country would then shoulder the deportation costs of the OFW.

The OFW who was advised to use another name would even be made to sign a waiver freeing the Philippine government of any responsibility in case something happens. 

Filipinos in the U.S.

Filipinos in the U.S. who are currently the biggest source of remittances are not without problems.

The plight of overseas Filipinos in the United States hangs in the balance with the recent passage of U.S. Senate Bill (SB) 2611, the equivalent of House Bill (HB 4437) or The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. The act aims to regulate the influx of migrants in the U.S. and criminalize “illegals” or those without the proper documents who are living and working in the U.S.

Berna Ellorin of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance or Bayan-USA) said that Filipinos could be part of the “undocumented population” who would be affected by the Act because the U.S. Census reports only three million Filipinos when actually there are four million in the U.S.


Various migrant groups are monitoring and protesting irregularities in the allocation of funds from and for OFWs.

They protested against the plan to use P1 billion ($20,327,269) of OWWA funds to convert the Philippine Postal Savings Bank into an OFW bank. Migrant groups complained about the lack in consultations about the project.

Worse, Bragas-Regalado believes that this project would only be another “PhilHealth scam.”  The “PhilHealth scam” involved the transfer of about P530 million ($10,773,452) of OWWA funds to PhilHealth. The fund was allegedly used for the candidacy of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the 2004 elections.

Migrant groups are also against the policy requiring OFWs to be members of and make contributions to the Social Security System (SSS), a government-controlled corporation tasked with handling the social security fund of private sector employees. The proposal was presented by SSS Executive Vice President Horacio T. Templo in a forum organized by the Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong in July.

“It is twisted and hypocritical for the Arroyo government to claim that it is concerned about services and protection while the truth is that we are always made to pay for every scrap of assistance we get from this administration,” said Eman Villanueva, secretary general of United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-Migante).

“Everything is a business,” said Bragas-Regalado, “Humahakot na lang ng pera ang gobyerno mula sa amin,” (The government is just collecting money and profiting from us.) She cited the continuous collection of the $25 OWWA membership fee in spite of the inadequate services. Bulatlat

RP Risking the Lives of OFWs to Save the Economy (First of two parts)



© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

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