Statement of Marichu Suarez Baoanan

July 9, 2008
Baoanan v. Baja et al. Translation from Tagalog to English, by DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association

Good afternoon. My name is Marichu Baoanan and I am 39 years old. I was born in Cavite, Philippines. I graduated from Unciano Paramedical College with a nursing degree. I have a husband and three children. I had a small business, like a deli or grocery store. But the business slowed down because of the economic crisis in the Philippines. I thought about other options that would be able to provide for my family’s needs. I thought about going abroad.

I met Nanay Babes. She said that she knew someone who would be able to help me go to America. She introduced me to Ma’am Norma. Ma’am Norma is the wife of the Ambassador of the Philippines, and he was stationed in New York. Ma’am Norma asked me to give her money for a package deal – transportation to the US, a US visa, working permit and she would help me get a job in a hospital as a nurse. I mortgaged the title of the lot of my house so that I could give the money to Ma’am Norma. We met at the office of Ma’am Norma in Labaire International in Makati. Ma’am Norma and her employees at Labaire arranged my papers. I gave Ma’am Norma and Labaire P250,000, and she had me sign a contract that I was not allowed to read. Ma’am Norma went with me to the Department of Foreign Affairs to process my passport. An employee of Labaire went with me to the US embassy so that I could get a visa. My documents were easily fixed and I was able to leave the Philippines on January 12, 2006.

When I arrived in America, I was taken straight to the townhouse where the Bajas lived. The very first day of my arrival in their house, Ma’am Norma took my passport. When I asked about our agreement, she got mad at me and started to curse at me. She gave me tasks to do as a domestic worker. Then she said that I needed to work for her so that I could pay off my “debt” to her. This was not part of our agreement. I felt she tricked and lied to me.

My hardship began my very first day with them. Oftentimes, I would start my work even before the sun would rise. I had not slept more than a few hours, there was already someone waking me up. I would be the only one to clean the whole house. And if Ma’am Norma would go out to go grocery shopping or go to her appointments, she would have me go with her. At that time, it was the middle of winter. It was my first time to come to America so I did not have any idea how very cold it was during the month of January. The only clothes I had were from the Philippines: thin pairs of pants, t-shirts, and slippers. They didn’t even give me a jacket or any sort of protection from the cold. I endured it even if my entire body was shivering from the cold. I asked Ma’am Norma if she would buy me anything, even just a pair of shoes. But she ignored me. In addition to cleaning the whole house and accompanying Ma’am Norma, I took care of the then five-year-old son of Beth, the daughter of Ma’am Norma and Sir Lauro. I did everything for the child – cook, clean, and take care of him until Beth arrived passed 11pm. The earliest I would finish my work would be at midnight. My body ached from exhaustion and I felt so devastated.

Because Sir Lauro was an ambassador, there were always parties in the house. The visitors would not be any less than 30 people. I was only one person who did tasks as a domestic worker. I would start washing dishes from the party and I would wash non-stop for several hours until I was the only one left in the whole house who was awake, still working. All of them would be sleeping and I would be the only one cleaning after the party. They also did not feed me well. They would give me leftovers and if I was going to eat, I would be watched to the point that I could not swallow my food. One time, Sir Lauro saw that his grandson hit me with a broom, but he did not do anything. He didn’t even stop his grandson. I felt like they treated me worse than an animal.

Every time I would remind Ma’am Norma about our agreement, she would curse at me. I couldn’t do anything because Ma’am Norma said I couldn’t use or answer the phone. They wouldn’t let visitors see me and I was forbidden to talk to them. Ma’am Norma told me that I was not to leave the house. Even if I could have left I did not know anywhere to go in the city for help and I would not have been able to get back into the house. None of this was part of our agreement. She lied to me.My eyes became blurry from crying every night. It was like I did not have hope to escape or to continue to live. I thought about committing suicide because I was so depressed – I couldn’t even send money for my family’s food. I wholeheartedly thought that if I went to America, I would make a lot of money, eat good food, and that I would be able to send my children to a good school. I was wrong. I really felt like I couldn’t get help. Ma’am Norma and Sir Lauro are powerful people. While working for the Bajas, I found out that Sir Lauro was the Representative of the Philippines in the UN. It was a huge house. There were a lot of them and I was only one person. Because of Ma’am Norma and her family, my life was miserable. They didn’t treat me like a person.I always thought about my family. The only reason why I came here was to work and make money to support my family – for their day-to-day survival and so that they could have a good education. But that’s not what happened. I served the Bajas for three months – cooked, took care of the child, cleaned the really big townhouse, did the laundry, ironed and other tasks as a domestic worker. In return, they paid me with curses, insults, disrespect, and $100 from Beth. What do I call this kind of experience? Oppression. Slavery.

That’s why I am here today, in front of you, so that I can share with you what happened to me. It is a good thing that there are good people that helped me like DAMAYAN, AALDEF, and NYANA. What I want to say to people like me who were oppressed or will be oppressed: don’t be afraid to speak out or to come out in the open. Let us fight for our rights. We are not alone. We need to face people who abuse us and our weaknesses because if we do not speak up, they will continue to abuse us.

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