Statement of DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association

DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association stands with Filipino domestic worker Marichu Baoanan in her fight to seek justice against her previous employers Lauro Baja, former Philippine Ambassador to the UN, his wife Norma Baja, his daughter Elizabeth Facundo and the Baja-owned Labaire International Travel agency. We support Marichu’s following demands:
  • The Bajas should pay for her unpaid wages and other compensation;
  • The Bajas should issue a public apology;
  • The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should conduct a full investigation and hold accountable the former UN Ambassador.
We condemn human trafficking, modern-day slavery and racketeering that Filipino workers, especially women, suffer from corrupt Philippine officials and predatory Filipino employment agencies. We oppose abusive employers, particularly the Philippine diplomats and their families, who are more vicious in exploiting their fellow Filipino domestic workers.

The civil case filed by Marichu further exposes the greed and corruption in Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s government. The Philippine President herself and her family have been at the centers of huge corruption exposés in the Philippines. Indeed, graft and corruption in Gloria’s administration is not new in the United States, nor unique to New York. Last year, the mother of a consul in the San Francisco Philippine Consulate was made to pay $78,000 for exploiting the Filipina domestic worker who worked for her.

As bad as it is, graft and corruption in the Philippine government is not the primary reason why ten percent of the 86 million Filipinos are forced to leave the country. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo not only is running a corrupt bureaucracy—she also maintains and worsens the plaguing poverty and unemployment in the country by not developing basic industrialization and not implementing genuine land reform. She maintains the role of the Philippines in the global economy as a market for surplus goods and surplus capital and a source of cheap skilled labor and raw materials for imperialist countries like the US.

As a result of the chronic economic problems, even educated middle class Filipinos, mostly women like Marichu, are forced to leave the country to work abroad. They do whatever they can to work overseas— borrowing money, even mortgaging their homes like Marichu did. Filipino workers pay an estimated P13 billion in Philippine pesos in various government fees in order to go abroad.

This year alone, migrant Filipino workers will send an estimated US$16 billion in remittances to the Philippines through formal channels, and more than $20 billion including informal channels. Their yearly contribution easily surpasses the loans and direct investments that Gloria begs from the US government and investors. But despite their huge contribution, this workforce remains unprotected and vulnerable to abuse and exploitation not only by white employers but also by wealthy and Filipino employers—including the very people from their own government who should set standards and protect the overseas Filipino workers.

Upon coming to the US, Marichu found herself in work conditions that she never imagined—18 hours a day, 7 times a week of forced labor for the inhumane low wages of six cents per hour. This is neglect and abuse, and an atrocious violation of her human dignity. And yet her story is not isolated—it reflects the experiences of a significant portion of the Filipino domestic workers.

According to the preliminary results of the DAMAYAN survey of 210 Filipino domestic workers in the New York metropolitan area, 63 percent reported wage and hour violations, and 34 percent of survey respondents reported being abused.

In New York, abuse and exploitation is not unique to Filipino domestic workers. The majority of women domestic workers from poor third world countries have suffered the same work experience as Marichu’s. Despite the importance and significant contribution of domestic workers to New York’s economy and to the personal wealth and leisure of the rich and famous, their labor is seen as inferior women’s work—devalued and unprotected, even excluded from US federal and state labor laws.

To this day, Marichu’s abuse by the Bajas continues as the former UN Ambassador, in retaliation for Marichu’s complaint, has gone public with veiled threats about her immigration status, claiming that she is an “illegal immigrant” and “could get deported”. Though she is no longer enslaved in their household, they continue to abuse their positions of power to threaten her.

But Marichu has moved on. After gaining the courage to free herself from the Bajas, she joined DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association and together with fellow Filipino domestic workers, has been active in fighting for rights, respect, dignity and fair labor standards. Filipino domestic workers are part of a statewide coalition fighting for a New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Last year in Atlanta, Filipinos joined their fellow workers from across the US in organizing the National Domestic Workers Alliance. The alliance held its first national congress in New York last June and elected a five-member national lead body that includes DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association.

Marichu’s story will not just be another sad and hopeless story of an abused Filipino domestic worker in the US. It will be a turning point because today, we have the support not only of the Filipino and non- Filipino domestic workers in the state of New York and all across the ten key cities of the US. DAMAYAN is calling for all Filipinos across the globe, who still believe that we can have an honest and efficient Philippine government that will have the political will and determination to help its people back home and overseas, to support Marichu’s campaign for justice! We acknowledge Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and Troutman Sanders in standing for justice with Marichu. We are also calling on our allies from the domestic workers national alliance, the immigrant workers organizations and all the human rights and social justice organizations locally, nationally and internationally to join Marichu’s campaign for justice.

Justice for Marichu!
End the trafficking of Filipino women workers!
End the Modern day Slavery!
Down with bureaucrat capitalism in the Philippines!

No comments: