ABUSE AND PROBLEMS SUFFERED BY OVERSEAS FILIPINO WORKERS

PROBLEMS SUFFERED BY OVERSEAS FILIPINO WORKERS

Richard C. Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “ For the sake of supporting their families, Filipino overseas workers endure years of loneliness. Some, especially maids in the Middle East, suffer beatings and sexual abuse. In countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, they are jailed for running away. [Source:Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2006]

Filipino women working overseas have been raped and sexually abused and harassed. Some workers have been forced to work in slave-like conditions. Others have been arrested from alleged criminal activities and denied due process of law, in some cases suffering harsh punishments. In the United States, human traffickers have been charged with trying to bring Filipina nurses into the United States with fraudulent visas. In Saudi Arabia in the early 2000s, ten Filipinos were on death row.

According to a study by the Committee on Filipinos Overseas, 70 per cent of Filipino domestic workers in Saudi Arabia have reported physical and psychological abuse.

Filipina Maid Executed in Singapore and Other Maid Tragedies

In March, 1995, a Filipina maid named Flor Contemplation was executed by hanging in Singapore after being convicted of murder of a another maid and a young Singaporean boy. She was convicted after reportedly confessing to the crime.

Many people in the Philippines thought she was innocent and her confession was coerced. There was an international incident of the issue. Protests pushed the Philippines to the brink of severing diplomatic relations The Philippines ambassador to Singapore was recalled and the Philippines government conducted its own investigation in which Contemplation's body was exhumed. The commission concluded Contemplation "could have been a victim of grave injustice" and that "evidence tends to show that she is not guilty." However in July, the government accepted forensic evidence produced by American experts, supposedly demolishing the case for the hanged woman's innocence.

Contemplation lived in a small town south of Manila. She sought work as a maid because her husband, who worked as a farmer and part time jeepney driver, didn't make enough money to take care of their family. While she was gone her husband had affairs with other women who raised her children. Her story was made into a movie called The Flor Contemplation Story

In the 1990s, a 34-year-old Filipina maid was photographed leaping to her death from an eight-story window in Hong Kong after immigration officers told her she would be persecuted. Around the same time rich Saudis in Britain confiscated the passport and withheld pay from the Filipina housekeeper and required her to work three years straight without a day off. In 1994, some 1,200 Filipina maids were arrested in Malaysia on Palm Sunday in a church as part of crackdown on undocumented workers. All were later freed expect for 32, who had overstayed their visas.

Abused Filipina Maids in the Middle East

Richard C. Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Runaway maids arrive at the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait desperate, bruised, hungry and penniless. They slip out of their employers' homes in the dead of night through a window, over a wall or by walking out a door accidentally left unlocked. They break the law simply by leaving without permission. Some spend more than a year in the embassy compound, waiting for their passports, back pay or the resolution of their legal cases. If they step outside, they can be arrested. At times, more than 500 women live at the offices of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration next to the embassy. The building gets so crowded that the women cannot all lie down to sleep at the same time. "It's like a prison," said Annabelle Abing, who lived there for three months. [Source: Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2006 \=/]

“More than 750,000 Philippine maids work in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, where they often face legalized discrimination, beatings and sexual abuse. The women frequently live in isolation, forbidden even to telephone their families. If they file a legal claim against their employer, they can be deported or imprisoned on trumped-up charges. "They are treated like modern slaves," said Maita Santiago, secretary-general of Migrante International, a rights group for Philippine workers. "When workers are in distress, the government doesn't stand up for their rights for fear of the markets of foreign countries closing to Filipino workers." \=/

“Perhaps the toughest country for domestic workers is Saudi Arabia. Sheila Marie Macatiag, 28, was earning $12 a month at a car stereo factory in the Philippines when she decided to take a job in Saudi Arabia to support her parents and six younger siblings. Macatiag said she was forced to work from 5 a.m. to midnight, verbally abused for the smallest mistake and never given enough to eat. During her first six months, her employers paid her a total of $200; she had paid $300 to an employment agency in the Philippines to get the job. Fed up, she ran away to the employment agency's local office. But by the time she got there, her employers had already complained that she had stolen money and watches from their vault. Police came and arrested her. \=/

“Despite the absence of evidence or witnesses, she spent 13 months in jail, Macatiag said. "They told me they were going to cut off my hand or I would be sentenced to 108 years or I would die in prison," she said. "Even during trial they told me my hand would be cut off unless I admitted to the allegations." She maintained that she was innocent, but a Saudi court convicted her and she received five lashes on the hand with a cane. She has returned to the Philippines but doesn't expect to find a job. "There are so many people here and so few jobs," Macatiag said. She is hoping to leave the country again: "Anywhere but the Middle East," she said. \=/

Saudi Arabia Employer 'Pours Boiling Water' on Her Filipina Maid

A 23-year-old Filipino woman was left with severe burns on her back and legs after her Saudi employer poured boiling water on her. Antonia Molloy wrote in The Independent, “The 23-year-old household service worker, from Pikit, North Cotabato, suffered burns to her back and legs after being doused with the scorching liquid in the incident in Riyadh on 4 May, ABS-CBN News reported. Photos of Fatma, which is not her real name, were posted by her cousin on Facebook on Saturday in an appeal for help. [Source: Antonia Molloy, The Independent, May 19, 2014 *-*]

“According to ABS-CBN News, the mother of Fatma’s employer became angry after Fatma was slow to bring her coffee and then poured boiling water on her. Fatma was not taken to hospital for several hours, but when there she was able to contact relatives in the area by giving a phone number to one of the nurses. She was saved by her cousin during a further trip to the hospital. *-*

“Fatma has now been taken under the wing of the Philippine Embassy. A representative from the Department of Social Welfare and Development said they are providing her with medical treatment and other necessities.

Tales of mistreatment are common - and not just among Filipinos. In 2013, a young maid from Sri Lanka was beheaded in the country after being accused of killing her employer's four-month-old baby. And Indonesia banned its nationals from working in Saudi Arabia when a maid was beheaded after confessing to killing her employer, claiming he abused her.

Filipino Allege Abuse in Saudi Immigration Crackdown

In 2013, thirty Filipino workers whp were expelled from Saudi Arabia and forced to return home alleged they were abused amid a crackdown on illegal migrants there. AFP reported: “They were among an estimated 6,700 Filipino workers stranded in parts of the oil-rich Middle Eastern kingdom where an amnesty for undocumented foreigners ended over the weekend. “They treated us like animals,” said domestic helper Amor Roxas, 46, who burst in tears while narrating her ordeal. She claimed Saudi police rounded them up and placed them in a crowded cell for four days before they were paraded from the immigration center to the airport. “Our feet were chained,” added Yvonne Montefeo, 32, in between sobs. [Source: Agence France-Presse, November 4, 2013 |*|]

“Migrante International, a support group for Filipino overseas workers, said 1,700 other workers remained stranded in Jeddah waiting for their documents to be processed so they can return home while about 5,000 more were scattered in Riyadh, Al Khobar and Dammam and also needing consular assistance. It warned that the Filipinos “are in danger of being violently dispersed, arrested and detained by Saudi authorities” as the kingdom implements its crackdown.|*|

“The Filipinos are among tens of thousands of mostly Asian unskilled workers likely to be expelled, the group said. Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is also presidential adviser on migrant affairs, last week appealed to the Saudi government to extend its deadline, noting that “thousands are still hoping to correct their employment status”. “Due to the large number of Filipino workers seeking correction of their employment status, many of them may not be able to meet the Nov 3 deadline,” he said in a letter to King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud last week. |*|

“The crackdown started early this year, but the Saudi government offered an amnesty to allow the workers to legalise their stay. Binay said more than 4,000 Filipinos had been repatriated since the crackdown was announced, while 1,716 are waiting for their exit documents to be processed even as the deadline expired.” |*|

Filipina Maid's Death Sentence Causes Outrage

Also in the 1990s, a 16-year-old maid was condemned to death in the United Arab Emirates for pre-mediated murder after she was arrested from stabbing her 85-year-old employer 34 times after he allegedly tried to rape her. The death sentence came in a second trial after the teenager was sentenced to seven years in jail for manslaughter in the first trial. There were approximately 80,000 Filipinos working in the U.A.E at that time. Most of them were women employed as domestic servants.

Stephen Vines wrote in The Independent, “Sarah Balabagan is a diminutive Filipina who, in her first trial, persuaded the court that she had murdered her employer, Almas Mohammed al-Baloushi, after he raped and assaulted her. The case became a cause celebre in the Philippines, encouraging President Fidel Ramos to successfully persuade the UAE head of state, Sheikh Zaid bin Sultan al-Nahayan, to order a retrial. The second trial verdict also overturns a compensation award for the rape that was to have been paid to Ms Balabagan.[Source: Stephen Vines, The Independent, September 18, 1995]

Ms Balabagan was reported yesterday to be in good spirits and expressing hope that she would be pardoned, according to Philippines embassy officials who visited her in prison in the oasis town of Al-Ain. On Saturday, she was led sobbing from the court that rejected her plea that she stabbed him 34 times in self-defence. The maid's lawyer, Mohammed al-Amin, said he could file an appeal as early as today and planned to prove that she was raped. ``The retrial court said she was not raped but it did not produce a motive for the killing whatsoever,'' he said. ``She is innocent.''

The death sentence is prompting widespread outrage in the Philippines. A statement from the Friends of Filipino Migrant Workers said: ``If this is not the height of barbarism and a clear miscarriage of justice, we don't know what else to call it.'' The death sentence has led to renewed calls for the banning of overseas work by Filipinos. The same call was heard when the maid Flor Contemplacion was hanged in Singapore earlier this year, following a double-murder charge. Feelings are running high about the ill treatment of the 156,000 Filipinos employed in the UAE and elsewhere in the Gulf where there are routine reports of young female workers being subjected to rape by their employers.

Kuwaiti Woman Gets Death Sentence for Murdering Filipina Maid

In November 2013, Kuwait's supreme court upheld a death sentence against a woman for murdering her Filipina maid after torturing her, and confirmed a 10-year sentence on her disabled husband. “AFP reported: “The ruling is final and cannot be challenged but could be commuted to a life term by the ruler of the Gulf emirate. Executions in Kuwait are carried out by hanging. The Kuwaiti woman was convicted of premeditated murder based on evidence that she had regularly tortured her maid before driving over her in a remote desert area. The husband was handed the jail term for "assisting her," according to a copy of the ruling. [Source: AFP, November 25, 2013 =/=]

“The couple were both sentenced to death by the lower court in February 2012. Three months later, the appeals court upheld the death penalty against the woman but commuted the sentence against her husband to 10 years in jail. According to the ruling, the woman beat her maid for several days until her health deteriorated. The couple then took the maid "unconscious" to a remote area in the desert where they threw her from the back seat of the car and then drove over her until she died.More than 100,000 Filipinos, many of them women working as maids, live in Kuwait, where some 600,000 domestic helpers, mostly Asians, are employed. =/=

Filipina Maids Beaten, Raped and Locked in Kuwait up for Years

Hundreds of housemaids in Kuwait assert they have been beaten or raped. More complain they have not been paid for months, even years. One 23-year-old woman told The Times her Kuwaiti employer throttled her with the charger cord for a mobile telephone. “It was round my neck. He was choking me. He was shouting, ‘You must work’,” she said. Her friend added: “They are always shouting. They make you work all day, all night. They beat you. Then they don’t pay you.” In 2010 month there were reports in the local media that a Filipina had been tortured and killed by her employer. Another was thrown from a window when her boss discovered that she was planning to leave.[Source: Hugh Tomlinson, Kuwait Times, August 7 2010 ^^^]

Hugh Tomlinson wrote in the Kuwait Times: “In an alley behind the Philippines Embassy in Kuwait a group of women are preparing lunch. As they wash chicken in a plastic bowl the conversation focuses on how soon they can return home. They are among hundreds of housemaids who have fled lives of modern-day slavery in Kuwait and taken refuge from abusive employers in their national embassies. By night more than 200 Filipinas cram into a small room set aside at the embassy. ^^^

“Maids can earn more than £3,500 over a two-year contract and many stay longer. Their lives are hardworking and solitary. Many employers bar them from socialising but many choose not to go out so that they can save more money. Kuwaiti law offers little protection. A new labour law that was to include rights for domestic workers was passed by Parliament in February with the clause stripped out. ^^^

“Mohammed Khoraibet, a Kuwaiti lawyer who represents women for several foreign embassies, has about 300 cases, including about 80 allegations of rape. “The maids see this as easy money. Employers see them as easy meat,” he said. “The big problem is unpaid wages. The law does not protect you. Contracts don’t matter. How can you prove if you did or didn’t get your wages?” ^^^

“At the Philippines Embassy the women discuss a friend who settled a rape allegation out of court and was flown home immediately. Mr Khoraibet has become concerned that rape is seen by the maids as a weapon to secure a quick settlement and a ticket home. With no tribunal to settle cases of unpaid wages quickly a rape allegation is a way out of the legal cul-de-sac. This only makes it harder for women who have been abused to secure convictions. In a culture where, as Mr Khoraibet puts it, “they don’t see rape as rape”, there is a danger that sexual abuse will come to be seen by the courts as a cynical ploy. “It is difficult to convince the maids that they don’t just damage themselves. They need to think about the women who come after them,” he said. ^^^

Kuwait Shelter for Abused Filipina Maids

Hugh Tomlinson wrote in the Kuwait Times: “In an alley behind the Philippines Embassy in Kuwait a group of women are preparing lunch. As they wash chicken in a plastic bowl the conversation focuses on how soon they can return home. They are among hundreds of housemaids who have fled lives of modern-day slavery in Kuwait and taken refuge from abusive employers in their national embassies. By night more than 200 Filipinas cram into a small room set aside at the embassy. [Source: Hugh Tomlinson, Kuwait Times, August 7 2010 ^^^]

“One woman who uses the name Anumbai, who is owed close to £1,000, has been at the embassy for six months waiting for her case to go to court. “The employers here are not good. They took my passport and ticket. I just want to get my money and go home,” she said. “Every day more women come here. Last week 30 more arrived. Some of them were badly beaten. Some had been raped,” Anumbai said. At least one woman was bringing up her baby in the Philippines Embassy. Cases of women left to bring up children conceived after being raped by their employers are increasingly common. ^^^

“The embassies provide food, medicine and legal assistance but the pressure on the makeshift shelters is huge. The number of runaways will soar in the coming days when Ramadan begins. Working hours can double because the maids must prepare the feast that follows sunset on top of their daily chores. The women may have only two or three hours sleep a night for the entire month. ^^^

Filipino Kidnapped in Iraq

In 2004, Filipino Angelo de la Cruz became a national hero after he was kidnapped in the Iraq and was released after the Philippines withdrew its forces from Iraq. Richard C. Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Angelo de la Cruz, a father of eight, was desperate. He needed to pay medical bills for a son who lost an eye in an accident and care for another who has Down syndrome. He decided to leave his one-room bamboo hut two hours north of Manila and return to Saudi Arabia, where he'd worked three times. He left as a truck driver. He returned as a national symbol. [Source: Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2006]

“In July 2004, De la Cruz was ordered to deliver gasoline to U.S. troops in Iraq. He became separated from other trucks in the convoy and was abducted four hours after crossing the border. His kidnappers demanded that the Philippines withdraw its contingent of 51 troops from the U.S.-led coalition. He expected to be beheaded. But with a narrow election victory behind her, President Arroyo could not risk offending the huge constituency of overseas workers and their families. She withdrew the Philippine troops a month ahead of schedule.

De la Cruz was freed after two weeks. On his return home, he was showered with gifts: a new three-room house, a new motorcycle, a new job, a glass eye for his son and scholarships for his children. "They kept saying I was a hero," he said. "I felt like I was just an ordinary person. Many say that I am a symbol of the Philippines. To this day, I keep wondering what it is I have become."

Filipino Workers in Iraq

In 2005, Carlos H. Conde wrote in the New York Times, “Perhaps nothing illustrates the Philippines' sense of gloom better than the fact that hundreds of Filipinos manage to enter Iraq illegally to find jobs despite the daily danger there. As of 2007, about 7,000 Filipinos were in Iraq despite the Philippines banning its citizens from working there since July 2004. [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, January 20, 2005]

In 2007, a Kuwaiti contracting firm was accused of sending Filipino workers to Iraq without their knowledge to build the new U.S. Embassy there, accusations the company denied. Associated Press reported: The denial by First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co. came days after the Philippines sent a special envoy to this small oil-rich state to investigate accusations that 51 Filipinos were recruited to work in Dubai but taken to Baghdad instead without their consent. "The workers willingly agreed to work in Iraq before their departure and before they arrived at the site of the embassy" in Baghdad, the construction firm said. [Source: Diana Elias, Associated Press, August 12, 2007]

It was the company's first public comment since a U.S. Congressional probe into the accusations last month. Two former employees of the Kuwaiti firm, John Owens and Roy J. Mayberry, testified that the foreign workers were mistreated. Mayberry, a medical technician, said there were 51 Filipinos on his flight to Baghdad and that all their tickets, as well as his own, said they were going to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Mayberry said a First Kuwaiti manager told him not to tell the Filipinos they were being taken to Baghdad. "They had no idea they were being sent to do construction work on the U.S. Embassy," Mayberry said, adding he believed the men were "kidnapped." The Philippines' Department of Labor has reported that only 11 Filipinos were on that flight to Baghdad, with the rest of the workers coming from other countries.

Filipino Workers Flee Strife-Torn Libya

In August 2014, thousands of Filipino workers in Libya fled that country as the level of violence there escalated. AFP reported: “The Philippines urged its thousands of workers in Libya on Saturday to leave the strife-torn nation now while they still can, warning that the remaining exit routes were closing fast. A ship chartered by Manila is set to sail from Malta in the coming days to pick up Filipinos from the ports of Benghazi, Misrata and possibly Tripoli, a foreign affairs department statement said. However, the government has expressed frustration at the reluctance of many of the 13,000 workers to leave due to concerns they would not find jobs at home."The (Department of Foreign Affairs) is appealing with urgency to those who have not made the decision to be repatriated to please consider doing so as the avenues of repatriation are quickly diminishing," the statement said. [Source: AFP, August 1, 2014 <>]

“Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, in neighbouring Tunisia to coordinate the evacuations, fears the route to sea "may be the only means of repatriation", it said. He said the Tunisia-Libya border crossing was closed on Friday following a shooting incident, while a border crossing to Egypt has been closed for months. Philippine officials have said ships would be able to carry about 1,500 people at a time. The Philippines warned Filipinos to leave Libya on May 30. It then decided on a mandatory evacuation in order last month following the beheading of a Filipino construction worker in Benghazi. <>

“Since mid-July, Libya has been rocked by deadly inter-militia fighting for control of key facilities including Tripoli's international airport. Benghazi, its second city, has also seen battles between Islamists and the forces of a renegade general. A Filipino construction worker was abducted and then beheaded by unknown suspects in Benghazi in the first few days of violence there, and a Filipina nurse was later abducted and gang-raped in Tripoli. The first incident triggered the Philippine government's decision to try and repatriate all 13,000 Filipinos in Libya.. Despite the dangers, the foreign affairs department said only about 800 have returned to the Philippines. The Philippines previously evacuated its workers in Libya in 2011 during the violent chaos leading to the toppling of the late dictator Moamer Kadhafi. However, about 1,600 Filipinos, mostly doctors and nurses, elected to stay throughout that upheaval. The Philippines lifted a travel ban to Libya in 2012, but re-imposed it last May.

A little over two weeks later, AFP reported: “ More than 400 Filipino workers who fled conflict in Libya arrived in the Philippines following a three-day mass evacuation by air and sea. The group, including 10 children, were picked up from the Libyan ports of Benghazi and taken to Malta by ship on Thursday, where they caught a chartered flight to Manila. "Our mission is to ensure the safety of Filipinos who are caught in dangerous situations abroad," Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement following the largest single evacuation of Filipinos in Libya's latest bout of conflict. "I saw a plane drop four rockets near where I worked," Darrell Boncentron, a wooden rosary and cross draped on his neck, told AFP as he and 418 others stepped out of Manila airport. The 26-year-old information technology worker said his workplace was transferred from Benghazi to the desert to shield the staff from harm just before the Philippines instructed all Filipinos in Libya to return home. [Source: Channel News Asia, August 17, 2014 ><]

“The foreign department said a second chartered flight with 347 workers who had boarded the chartered ship at the port of Misrata was to arrive early Sunday. This would bring the number of Filipinos repatriated from Libya since last month at the government expense's to 2,727, the foreign department said. The chartered ship had left Libya half-empty, even though Manila warned it would be its last evacuation ship. ><

"I was able to save some money, but it was dangerous in certain areas there," said Christopher San Gabriel, 33, who spent 13 months at another information technology company in Benghazi. He told AFP he would settle for work in the Philippines if he could find one that would match his monthly Libyan salary of about US$700 (S$871.65).

Filipino Women Main Victims of Lebanese War

In 2006, when Israel and Hezbollah were fighting in southern Lebanon, Rasheed Abou-Alsamh wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “With the evacuation of Filipinos from war-torn Lebanon well into its second week, it is emerging that once again Filipino women are becoming the main victims. News reports tell of some cruel Lebanese employers refusing to let their Filipino employees go home because their contracts are not finished yet. Another report I read detailed how enraged Lebanese “madams” regularly storm a church in Beirut, which is serving as an evacuation center, looking for their runaway maids who are trying to go back to the Philippines to avoid the indiscriminate bombing of the Israelis. [Source: Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 28, 2006]

Some of the employers have resorted to filing bogus reports of theft with the police in their desperate attempts to catch their maids who have absconded to the safety of the evacuation center. The Philippine Embassy has now been forced to hire police to protect the center from enraged “amos”. I myself received an email from a judge in Tarlac City asking me to help get his 36 year-old sister Leila L. Torres evacuated from Beirut. Leila had been working in Lebanon as a florist, but when the war started her boss closed his flower shop and stopped paying her salary. He’s insisting she must stay in Beirut because her contract has not finished yet.

But any sane person would say that is a ridiculous demand since Leila’s employer is not paying her and certainly cannot guarantee her safety from being killed by one of Israel’s so-called precision-guided bombs that seem to be falling off-target of late. I called her brother Florante Torres. “I advised my sister to do something, to go by herself to the evacuation center, but she told me she couldn’t as it is 30 minutes away by car,” said Florante. “They still have food and electricity so it’s okay for the time being, but the boss should be willing to put aside my sister’s contract.” Leila’s contract expires in September.

One maid in Beirut was so desperate to go home that she jumped from the second floor window of her employer’s home after they refused to let her return to the Philippines. She is now in hospital having fractured some bones and injuring her spine. To avoid such tragedies in the future, one wishes that Philippine officials would negotiate a clause that could be inserted in the contracts of all domestic helpers in the Middle East and Asia that says if an armed conflict breaks out the maid has the right to terminate her contract and leave the country as soon as possible. It would be a sort of automatic Monopoly-like get out of jail and collect $200 card.

Most of the returnees need monetary assistance as their Lebanese employers have used the excuse of the war to send them home with money still owed them in unpaid salaries. Unfortunately, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) has refused to give any money to the Lebanon returnees, with OWWA head Marianito Roque denying reports that returnees were getting 5,000 pesos each. “That’s not true. We will help them all throughout the repatriation process, and even after but not with handouts,” he said.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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