Letter to the editor, The Filipino Express

July 25, 2008

Dear Editor:

As a staff member of Damayan Migrant Workers Association, I wish to respond to the editorial entitled "The Motive" about the case of Marichu Suarez Baoanan and charges of human trafficking and forced labor against former UN Ambassador Lauro Baja, Jr and his family. The editorial appeared in the July 7 - July 13, 2008 issue.

The editorial asks, what was Marichu's motive? The answer is simple: justice. It is also Damayan's motive in supporting Marichu in this case.

I believe it's important for the readers to know Marichu's motives, but the Bajas's motives should also be scrutinized. According to the legal case, Baja and his family were paid P250,000 by Marichu in exchange for the so-called "package deal" that ultimately led to her trafficking and 3-month enslavement in the Baja household. This means that the Bajas profited from Marichu not just from her money, but also from her labor.

Is it so unbelievable that a Philippine government official is capable of greed, corruption and abuse? Or is so unbelievable that a women migrant worker would have the courage to stand up for her rights?

At the press conference organized by Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) on July 9, a reporter asked the same question about Marichu's motives and whether they were connected to her trafficking visa. Marichu answered very clearly. When she courageously escaped the Baja household, she knew she was out of status. She had been in the country just three months. She knew nothing of legal recourse or trafficking visas. Marichu's immediate concern, and the concern of any out-of-status immigrant mother, was for her family. This is her primary concern over and above her status, revenge or any other motive of which she is covertly accused by a few local media.

At the press conference, Attorney Ivy Suriyopas followed up with a logical and obvious, and yet completely neglected point. Marichu and her family already have the trafficking visa and visa derivatives. She does not need to pursue a legal case, except to win justice and affirm her human dignity.

The editorial's point about receiving a lead about this case many months ago was also addressed at the same July 9 press conference. Marichu could not go public until the case had been filed. Her concern was also for her family. Knowing that the Bajas are powerful people in the Philippines, she needed to ensure that her children were in the US safely before pursuing the case.

Damayan’s primary interest is to support Marichu and her family, and to empower other Filipina domestic workers to gain courage to confront abusive employers, including those who wield their power and position to abuse and profit from the vulnerability of women workers. With that said, Damayan could not go public with this case before Marichu and her family were ready. This would be a violation of the organization's principles of building the leadership of its members.

As sensational as this case has become, it is not only about Marichu and the Bajas but, more so, about the rampant graft and corruption in the Philippines. The inutile Philippine government is responsible for the widespread poverty that drives 1.24 million Filipinos like Marichu to go abroad yearly. Filipinos pay an estimated 13 billion in Philippine pesos to various government fees in order to go abroad. This year alone, Filipino im/migrant workers will send more than $16 billion in remittances to the Philippines through formal channels, and more than $20 billion including informal channels. Migrant workers support the Philippine economy and should demand their rights and protection from the Philippine government.

Once abroad, im/migrant workers are susceptible to abuses and violations of their human rights. According to the preliminary results of the Damayan survey of 210 Filipino domestic workers in New York City, 63 percent reported wage and hour violations, and 34 percent of survey respondents reported being abused.

For too long, our community has been silenced by the overwhelming odds against them. Marichu, along with the voices of other Filipina domestic workers, is now seeking justice, and her struggle is the same as millions of Filipina domestic workers in the US and around the world. Damayan stands with Marichu and all domestic workers fighting for justice, dignity and liberation from modern-day slavery.

Leah Obias
Staff Member
DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association

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