We should stop deploying domestic helpers abroad

DIRECT FROM THE LABOR FRONT - Atty Josephus B Jimenez - The Freeman

Whether we call them household service workers or simply maids, the name does not matter. What matters most is that these Filipino migrant workers are the most vulnerable, the most unprotected, the most rampant victims of  abuses, maltreatment, exploitation, injustice, and all forms of  harassment. They are the number one victims of rapes, seduction, sexual harassment, physical violence, psychological pressures, and all forms of violations of human rights. This kind of  work, with all due respect, can be classified as dirty, difficult, dangerous, and degrading to human dignity, especially in the hands of cruel, exploitative, and unjust employers who treat the maids as modern day slaves, who are expected to cater to all forms of human caprices and inhuman whims. As to why DOLE and DFA officials and personnel continue to process work contracts and travel documents of maids we could only wonder and speculate.

Unlike hotel and restaurant workers who could easily be visited by Embassy and Labor officials these vulnerable OFWs are virtually held captives in private domains beyond the reach of OWWA, POEA, and Labor Attaches. Their passports are usually confiscated by masters who do not want them to leave because these employers have paid too much money to the recruiters, brokers, and other middle men who make a killing out of  the miseries of these helpless OFWs. (Recruiters make a net gain of a thousand dollars for every maid). And when they do leave by running away, they are arrested because in most host countries, breach of work contracts are considered serious crimes, which would justify their arrest, prosecution, and conviction. And so, it can be said, with due respect, that when our government sends a maid abroad, it is virtually sending lambs in many lions' dens. Why is Congress allowing this to happen? Why is the President looking the other way?

In the poignant language of  Mr. Justice Isagani Cruz, in the case of  Sigma Personnel services versus NLRC (GR 108284), he told of a true story of a maid who came home mentally and physically devastated, after having been subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment, and unprotected by her government which sent her without adequate and proper forewarning of the hazards attendant to the jobs of a maid in the Middle East. Thus: "Susan Sumatre was full of hope and anticipation when she enplaned for a foreign land to works as a domestic. Before her spread the promise of a new life, with all the enticements of a future bright with the prospects of prosperity and even happiness. But all these fled in a cruel twinkling. Hardly two weeks after she left, she was back in the country broken of  body and mind, and with nothing but bitter memories of her misadventure." The tragedy of  Flor Contemplacion, Delia Maga, and Sarah Balabagan is repeated almost every day and the government allows these to happen. Why?

The same Justice Cruz, in another case, R. Prieto versus NLRC (GR 93699) said: "The Court is not unaware of  the many abuses suffered by our overseas workers in the foreign land where they have ventured, usually with heavy hearts in pursuit of  a more fulfilling future. Breach of contract, rapes, insufficient nourishment, sub-human lodgings, insults, and other forms of debasement are only a few of the inhumane acts to which they are subjected by their foreign employers, who probably feel they can do as they please in their own country." Despite these, our government deployed no less than 200,000 domestic helpers in 2013 alone, in addition to about a million who are already there, mostly in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Egypt, Jordan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. For a measly sum equivalent to less than fifteen thousand pesos, our women's dignity and health, safety and welfare are being put in serious jeopardy. The social cost of maids migration is beyond pecuniary estimation.

Justice Cruz could only express hope in the Sigma case, cited above, " The plight of Susan Sumatre illustrates only too starkly the perils of many of our womenfolk have to hazard and endure in the hands of foreign employers who find them easy and defenseless prey. It is hoped that the time will come when they will not have to seek their future abroad on their quest for a better life, finding prosperity and peace in their own land and in the bosom of their family and friends." Well, we are being told that our economy has grown by leaps and bounds, to as much as 7.2 %.  If that prosperity does not trickle down to the likes of Susan Sumatre, then that is meaningless and useless to the poor people like the OFWs. For it only benefits the taipans and the moguls who control the national economy. But, should the saga of the Sumatres, the Balabagans, the Contemplacions, and the Magas  go on unabated? This is a policy issue that Congress should address.

It is our view that our government can do a very strategic and far-reaching initiative. We should immediately and unconditionally stop sending maids. We should train our women for alternative jobs that are safer, more humane and would put them away from the predators. They can be trained as hotel laundry workers, room attendants, waitresses. Many of them have college education. They can do office work. A  good number are teachers. They should go back to the classrooms. Those who have the skills, or are trainable for skilled work, can do handicraft, cooking, dressmaking and tailoring. These are definitely better than working as domestic for sixteen to eighteen hours a day without overtime pay. Why do we keep on sending vulnerable women to destinations that are notorious for being lacking in respect for human dignity? That is the question that the government should answer to the people.

Those who are in government may just have to think more and work more for the real benefit of these maids, who number more than a million, both documented and undocumented. Not illegal, we hasten to add, but undocumented. If the president wants it, it can be done. If  Congress wants it, it will pass. This is a matter of will and compassion. It is a simple and yet, as complicated as that. Will the President do it? Will Congress do it? That, my friends, is the question.

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