OFWs Battle to Save their
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
BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.)
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.
home, Grace sought the help of Gabriela Women’s Party and Migrante to
pursue her case.
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.
Grace is determined to file charges against her employer for allegedly
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.
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
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.
she said, Migrante has been receiving
letters from a lot of stranded OFWs in the Middle East asking for
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
groups are monitoring and protesting irregularities in the allocation of
funds from and for OFWs.
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.
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
(First of two parts)
PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION ■
© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
Permission is granted to reprint or redistribute this article, provided
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