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Pinoy Abroad

Pinays under duress: Naked dancers in Saipan

May 2, 2007 12:22am
GARAPAN, Saipan - Tourists consider Saipan a dream tropical vacation island due to its pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, bright turquoise skies, flaming sunsets, warm tropical breezes, and clean environment — and the fact that it’s part of the United States.

But when night falls, over a hundred women from foreign countries — mostly from the Philippines, China, and Russia — would dance naked in front of a mixed audience of Japanese, Americans, Chamorros, Koreans and Filipinos, among others.

Dancing naked legal

Hazel (not her real name) was only 18 when she left the Philippines in 2005 to work as a strip dancer on Saipan, the capital the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

Like most of her former colleagues at the Stardust Club, her relatives — except her mother — never knew that she used to dance naked in front of strangers six nights a week to be able to remit US dollars back home at least twice a month.

She started working the day she arrived on Saipan. “I was so nervous on the first night. After the first night, I had to start dancing naked," she said.

It is legal to dance naked in night clubs in the CNMI. Other women in skimpy clothes would line up in front of the clubs to entice male customers to come to their clubs. Women working in CNMI night clubs are mostly paid the minimum wage of $3.05 an hour.

What is not legal is to hire minors, and soon the owners and managers of Stardust Club and Starlite Club were arrested and charged with up to 226 counts each of criminal violations, including the hiring minors from the Philippines as nude dancers and human trafficking in 2006.

The case against the now defunct night clubs and their owners remains pending at the CNMI Superior Court. Many of her former colleagues stayed on in Saipan and moved to another employer.

Hazel herself decided to go back home to finish high school and never to return to the same kind of job.

Hindi alam ng tatay ko. Hindi ko rin sasabihin sa mga kapatid ko (My father didn’t know about it. I wouldn’t even tell my brothers and sisters)," Hazel said in an interview a few days before leaving Saipan in 2006.

'Good American jobs'

Philippine Consul General Wilfredo DL. Maximo earlier told Saipan media that the Philippine government is duty-bound by the Philippine Migrant Workers Act to repatriate minors found to be working as dancers.

But most of them are now at least 18 years of age, and were allowed to find temporary jobs on Saipan while their cases were still pending.

Moreover, of the estimated 100 Filipinas working in night clubs and bars, only about 40 went through the Philippine Consulate General's office for age and other qualification verifications.

Other dancers admitted to submitting fake birth certificates in the Philippines to be allowed to work on Saipan.

While Hazel endured a year working in a night club and with alleged violations of her and other workers’ labor rights, she was luckier than other Filipinas who were also lured by the promise of “good American jobs" on Saipan, which is not always the case.

Raped by customers

Kayleen D. Entena, 23, from Laguna province in the Philippines, was offered a job to work as a waitress in a restaurant on Saipan in September 2005 for $400 a month.

Her father died when she was in grade school and her mother sometimes worked as a housekeeper. Being the eldest, she eagerly took the offer, which turned out to be work in a massage parlor, not a restaurant.

On her first night in Saipan, her employer’s wife, whom she called “Mamasang," came to her room and gave her a box of small yellow pills and a box of condoms.

An hour later, Mamasang knocked on her door, telling her to massage a guy she believed was Korean. She said the man raped her, followed by four other 'customers.'

She testified about her ordeal before the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources during an oversight hearing on the CNMI’s labor, immigration, law enforcement, and economic conditions on Feb. 9 in Washington, DC.

Some US senators wanted to federalize the CNMI immigration system to secure the territory’s borders, and help deter labor abuses and human trafficking, among other things.

“I did not know what I was going to do. I was scared. I started crying. I told him ‘I don’t like, I don’t like.’ He then started to rape me," Entena said, almost in tears as she related her ordeal at the hearing.

“This kind of thing went on for almost 10 days to me and another girl (also) from the Philippines," Entena said.

Fortunately, she and another Filipina were able to escape with the help of several young Filipino males they had met in the massage parlor.

Entena and the other Filipina testified at the criminal trial against their traffickers who were found guilty on all counts but two. The employers were sentenced to three years in jail and ordered to pay a fine of $8,000.

'Please change the system'

In her written testimony, Entena asked the US senators to help change the way the government functions in the CNMI.

"If there’s no change or people are not held responsible for their actions, it will continue to happen to innocent victims. I hope you will hear my wish," she said.

The CNMI’s estimated population of 70,000 includes about 30,000 workers from foreign countries, mostly from the Philippines and China.

Unlike in the US states and other territories, a long-term stay in the CNMI does not grant automatic permanent residency to alien workers.

Entena and another woman from the Philippines were brought to Saipan legally on tourist permits, according to Lauri Ogomuro, a social service worker who also testified before the US Senate committee.

Ogomuro works with Karidat, a non-profit nongovernmental social services agency in the CNMI.

“These young women were never told that tourist permits would not allow them to lawfully work," Ogomuro said in her testimony.

Forced into sexual acts

In March, a CNMI Department of Labor hearing officer, Barry Hirshbein, asked the CNMI Attorney General’s Office to investigate a possible case of human trafficking by Bienvenida C. Camacho, Felipe SN. Camacho, and Michelle Corp. — owners of the now defunct Benny’s Place in Saipan.

Workers from the Philippines were allegedly taken there to work as waitresses but were coerced by their employers into performing sexual acts with bar customers.

These workers were also not paid their hourly wages or overtime, were illegally confined in their barracks, and had illegal deductions made from their wages, among other labor violations.

On March 28, the labor hearing officer issued an administrative order awarding $110,000 in wages, damages, and liquidated damages to Filipino workers Marites A. Aurelio, Ronna D. Santo Domingo, and Rosalina C. Oliva.

Three of their former co-workers, who testified in the labor case, also suffered the same abuses from the employers.

The workers testified that their employers would not pay their wages and overtime if they didn’t perform “acts of a sexual nature."

Far from perfect

In some instances, the employer would instruct the workers to fly from the Philippines to Hong Kong and from there fly to Saipan as “tourists" to avoid the Philippine Overseas Labor Office’s requirements of authenticated contracts.

Early this month, Federal Labor Ombudsman Jim Benedetto said the number of human trafficking victims in the CNMI is closer to 40 than 30 as earlier reported.

But the CNMI, with the assistance of the US government, has come a long way in improving its labor and immigration since the US Congress began to take a hard look at the CNMI labor conditions in the 1990s.

This was the testimony of David B. Cohen, deputy assistant secretary of the US Department of the Interior for Insular Affairs, when he testified before the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Insular Affairs in Washington, DC, on April 19.

Cohen, who has established rapport with alien workers in the CNMI, including those from the Philippines, said the CNMI was able to enact an Anti-Trafficking Act of 2005 and created a local refugee protection program, among other things, in response to calls for improved labor and immigration systems on the islands.

But he recognizes that the CNMI labor situation “remains far from perfect" and there continue to be a number of concerns.

'Who can we trust?

Three weeks ago, dancers at another night club said they fear filing a labor complaint against their employer for various alleged violations of labor laws, for fear of retaliation.

They also fear that the case may only be dismissed because, according to them, ranking CNMI Department of Labor officials frequent the night club and are “close" to the club management.

One of the Filipina dancers said: “Sino pa ang pagkakatiwalaan namin? Mismong officials ng Labor eh customers ng club at malapit sa manager ng club? (Who else can we trust? How can we file a complaint with Labor when Labor officials are also customers of the club and are close to the club management?)." - GMANews.TV
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