VICTORY FOR IMMIGRANT WOMEN WORKERS
New York—Nearly one year after Marichu Baoanan filed a civil case of trafficking, forced labor and modern-day slavery against former UN Ambassador of the Philippines Lauro Baja, Judge Victor Marrero of the New York Southern District Court on Tuesday denied Baja’s motion to dismiss the case on the basis of diplomatic immunity.
The charges against the former Ambassador, his wife Norma Baja, their daughter Elizabeth Facundo and the Baja-owned LaBaire Travel Agency will proceed without the barrier of diplomatic immunity that has protected Baja.
Marichu states, “The fact that I was able to file a case in the legal system was already a victory. What’s an even greater victory is that the judge was not blind to the merits of the case. The truth will always prevail. This is all the more reason why domestic workers need to continue to speak out, not be in hiding and to fight.”
Led by DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association and its ally organizations, the campaign demanding justice for its member Marichu and all victims of trafficking and modern-day slavery mobilized local, regional, national and even international support. A website, endtrafficking.blogspot.com, was also created to give campaign updates. According to DAMAYAN, Tuesday’s decision is the result of the media attention, grassroots organizing and community pressure demanding accountability, not diplomatic immunity.
The legal team, led by Attorney Ivy Suriyopas of (AALDEF) and Attorney Aaron Mendelsohn of Troutman Sanders, was also instrumental in the advancement of the case.
"I would like to extend my deep gratitude to fellow domestic workers and organizations for their relentless efforts in helping me legally, emotionally and physically in bringing these violations of my rights to the attention of the courts and to the world," says Marichu.
“This victory is a testament to the organizing work and the unity of Filipino domestic workers, and to the growing movement of domestic workers regionally and nationally,” said Mona Lunot, Chairperson of DAMAYAN.
The campaign work around the case has also helped to bring light to the abuse of domestic workers by diplomats with immunity.
Just weeks after Marichu’s case was filed, the Government Accountability Office published a report about the human rights of domestic workers. The report identified 42 domestic workers who alleged that they were abused by foreign diplomats with immunity, from 2000 through 2008. Recognizing that the total number is likely higher, the GAO cited diplomatic immunity as one of the main reasons why the cases do not come to light.
“The denial of diplomatic immunity in this case sets a precedent,” said Lunot. “The diplomat abusers should be afraid. We are going to continue to fight on behalf of our fellow domestic workers who have been abused and hold the diplomats accountable whether they have immunity or not.”
This development in the Marichu case is integral to the broader struggle of domestic workers for their rights locally. This struggle includes the NY State Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, now waiting to be introduced to a vote in the State Senate before legislative break on June 23. If passed, the Bill of Rights would provide basic labor standards to this vulnerable workforce. For information on the campaign and upcoming actions, contact DAMAYAN at firstname.lastname@example.org.