Marichu Baoanan, a Filipina domestic worker, filed a civil lawsuit of 15 counts (including trafficking, forced labor, peonage and slavery) against her former employers, UN Ambassador to the Philippines Lauro Baja (2003-2006), his wife Norma Baja, and their daughter Maria “Beth” Facundo. Marichu worked as a domestic worker in the Baja household for approximately three months (January-April 2006). Labaire International Travel, Inc, also a defendant in the civil case, facilitated the visa application process, collected fees, provided temporary housing, and organized Marichu’s travel from Manila to New York. Norma Baja was president, and Beth Facundo was vice president, of Labaire.

Marichu, a graduate nurse and a small business owner in the Philippines, decided to migrate to the United States when business became slow in 2005. In fall 2005, Marichu met Norma Baja through an acquaintance. Allegedly, Norma Baja offered Marichu a “package deal” – in exchange for Php500,000 pesos (about $10,000), Norma would provide Marichu with transportation to the U.S., visa, work authorization, and assurance with finding employment as a nurse.

When Marichu was only able to come up with Php250,000 pesos after mortgaging her house, Norma purportedly told her the amount was already sufficient. Marichu paid the amount in three installments. Labaire, in turn, assisted with the processing of her paperwork and housed her in an apartel for several days before her flight to the U.S.

According to Marichu, Norma had her sign a document that she was not allowed to read. To Marichu’s surprise, the document was an employment contract which made it appear that Marichu would work as a domestic worker for the Bajas.

Marichu arrived in New York on January 12, 2006 and went directly to the Baja house on East 66th Street in Manhattan. Allegedly, Norma told Marichu that she still owed Php250,000 pesos and demanded that Marichu work in the Baja house until that alleged debt was paid.

As per the lawsuit, During Marichu’s approximately three-month stay in the Baja household, the Bajas made Marichu work at least 18 hours a day, seven days a week, with no days off for three months for merely $100. In the Bajas’ five-story, eight-bedroom townhouse, Marichu’s duties included cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, ironing the clothes, monitoring the diabetes and blood pressure of Norma Baja, providing child care for Beth Facundo’s then-five-year-old son, Miguel, and other household duties. Marichu also had to prepare and clean up for the Bajas’ weekly parties, which consisted of at least 30 guests.

According to Marichu, these conditions of forced labor, abuse and isolation were extreme, and her basic human rights atrociously violated; that she was limited to eating only the Baja’s leftovers; and that sometimes Beth Facundo watched Marichu as she ate, humiliating Marichu and preventing her from eating further.

Purportedly, the Bajas restricted Marichu’s movement and kept her isolated by preventing her from leaving the Baja household unaccompanied, forbidding her from using the house telephone, and monitoring her movements and how he was taking of Miguel. She also said that the Bajas did not provide her with clothing suitable for the winter months; that when Norma Baja brought Marichu to go grocery shopping with her, Marichu wore only summer clothes, sandals, and no jacket during the winter months. Marichu declared that upon arrival to the baja home, Norma Baja immediately took her passport which she later found.

Marichu related that Ambassador Baja did not even stop and discipline his grandson Miguel when he witnessed the child hit Marichu with a broom, spit on her face, and kick her on the face. Purportedly, the Bajas verbally abused Marichu, calling her “stupid” and “slow”; yelled, denigrated, and cursed at Marichu on a daily basis. Allegedly, they verbally assaulted her further each time she asked why she was doing housework instead of being employed as a nurse, and when Marichu complained about her alleged debt to the Bajas.

In April 2006, after a good samaritan connected her to DAMAYAN and after being informed about her labor and human rights, Marichu courageously escaped. She was then referred by DAMAYAN to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) which provided her with legal education, counseling and legal representation.

** All information above are based on Marichu’s lawsuit against the Bajas et al, filed on June 24, 2008. She is represented by Attorney Ivy Suriyopas of (AALDEF) and Attorney Aaron Mendelsohn of Troutman Sanders. On July 9th, DAMAYAN launched the “Justice for Marichu! End Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery of all Filipina Domestic Workers!”

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