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Opinion

When shall the government stop sending maids as OFWs?

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

Here in Switzerland and Austria, I met two ladies who work as domestic helpers for European families and they are much better off than their counterparts in Kuwait, Qatar, Riyadh, Dubai, Oman, Bahrain, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan. Many of them consider themselves modern "aliping kasambahay" or "aliping saguiguilid" while their government extols them for their remittances.

The OFWs, many of whom are maids, are called modern-day heroes but many are raped, maltreated, maimed, abused, and murdered. I know whereof I speak as I worked and lived in Kuwait, Malaysia, and Taiwan as a Labor attaché and documented these atrocities. I have signed affidavits in my files and I’m writing a book to tell the world of their sufferings and anguish. I will tell the world the government that calls them heroes is the same government that leaves them hoodwinked by dishonest recruiters, made to pay high OWWA monthly dues, and forced to become SSS members at high cost. I am not alone in these observations. There are many testimonies not only of greed but also corruption at the expense of the poor OFWs.

The Supreme Court knows these atrocities. In Prieto vs. NLRC, GR 93699, September 10, 1993, the Supreme Court declared: "The Court is not unaware of the abuses suffered by our OFWs in the foreign land where they have ventured, with heavy hearts, in pursuit of a more fulfilling future. Breach of contract, maltreatment, rape, 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. While these workers may have relatively little defense against exploitation while they are abroad, that disadvantage must not continue to burden them when they return to their own territory to voice their muted complaint. There is no reason why, in their very own land, the protection of their own laws cannot be extended to them in full measure for the redress of their grievances". This is the Supreme Court's subtle admonition to officials here who favor rich recruiters over our poor OFWs.

Sigma vs. NLRC, GR 108284, June 3, 1993, tells the sad tale of a maid who was maltreated and came home physically maimed and mentally deranged. Said the High Court: “SS was full of hope and anticipation when she enplaned for a foreign land to work as a domestic. Before her spread the promise of a new life, with all the enticements of a future bright with the prospect of prosperity and even happiness. But all these fled in a cruel twinkling. Hardly two weeks after she left, she was back to this country, broken of body and mind, nothing but bitter memories of her misadventure.” What has the government done to address this? Nothing. Sarah Balabagan was allowed by government to go abroad to work as a maid despite being a minor, and she was raped by her Arab master. Flor Contemplacion was wrongly accused, unfairly prosecuted, and executed for a murder she didn’t commit. FVR fired his DOLE and DFA secretaries and recalled the ambassador and Labor attaché. At least, FVR did something.

Thus, the Supreme Court in the case of Sigma, sternly held: “The plight of SS illustrates only too starkly the perils of many of our womenfolk have to hazard at the hand of many foreign employers who find them easy and defenseless prey. It is hoped that the time will come that they will not have to seek their future abroad on their quest for a better life, finding prosperity and peace in their own land, in the bosom of their family and friends."

I can cite thousands of cases. But the government continues to do too little to address their woes. Slogans and grandiose promises are nothing but empty promises that only serve to exacerbate the disillusionment of migrant workers and their families. My recommendation since day one when I saw these atrocities on the ground was for the government to stop sending maids abroad. They are the most exploited, most defenseless, and their travails are the worst among our narratives.

Once my book is published, I shall send a copy to all the presidents, prime ministers, and kings of countries whose rich masters for many decades have committed grave injustice against our women. If they have a conscience, they should at least have remorse and do something positive. I doubt I will give copies to our own officials. I'm not sure whether they shall take it as a well-intended wakeup call or an act of treason for telling the world the truth.

OFW

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