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Pinoy Abroad

Maltreated OFWs: Either you kill or be killed

October 18, 2007 3:32pm
Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have experienced “hell" in host countries could very well identify with the plight of Marilou Ranario and other OFWs who have resorted to harming their employers or have done unlawful acts in their host countries. During their most difficult times and darkest moments, two OFWs who likewise experienced maltreatment said, it is either you “kill or be killed."

Thorned Rose

Rosebelle Yu could have been declared a martyr for enduring four months of beatings from her madam, a Kuwaiti female employer. During those times, she felt as if she was about to reach the end of her life.

As a domestic worker, Rosebelle used to work from 4 a.m. up to 2 a.m. everyday. She barely had two hours of sleep daily, and had no day off. “Bawal umupo, tuluy-tuloy ang trabaho," (I was not allowed to even sit down. I had to work continuously.) complained Rosebelle, adding that there was also not enough food to give her overworked body the strength for the whole day.

She said she was allowed to eat only at 3 p.m., if there is left-over food. She said she survived on the biscuits that she brought from the Philippines otherwise she could have died of starvation.

She also complained of her “karneng kamay" (burned hands) which resulted from the chemicals she was ordered to use in cleaning the house and washing her employers’ clothes without protective gloves.

As if these hardships were not enough, she was also beaten up.

“You’re crazy! Go to hell!" These words hurt much more when accompanied by beatings. Rosebelle said her madam used to hit her head hard with a frying pan while verbally-abusing her.

Nahihilo na lang ako, parang may nakikita akong mga kumikislap," she recalled. “tinatanong pa ako bakit ako umiiyak. Sino kaya ang crazy sa amin." (I felt dizzy, whenever I was hit on the head, and felt like I was seeing bright lights. She even asked me why I was crying. Who then is the really crazy person between us.)

But like any other normal person, Rosebelle reached the limit of her tolerance. She was already planning to escape from her employer when, in March, her madam hit her head again. She parried the strikes of her madam who was hitting her again with the frying pan and punched her Kuwaiti employer on the face. Rosebelle then grabbed a kitchen knife and that frightened her madam who stopped hitting her.

“I went here to work," she told her employer. “Ayaw kong mamatay at ayaw ko ring pumatay ng tao." (I do not want to die and I do not want to kill somebody.)

Angel’s hell

In only a year in Kuwait, Angel, not her real name, had four employers.

Though she did not experience being beaten up in her 11 months of working with her first employer did not mean that she was treated any better, she said. Instead of giving her the left-over food, she said, her employer would take them all to their room upstairs. The left-over food would be left to spoil up to the next day, she said regretfully. She was not given any food and was also not allowed to go to the grocery to buy for her personal needs.

She was also prohibited to have a cellular phone. It was a problem for her because she had no means to inform her parents that she had remitted money or about her conditions there.

Because of these, she had an unpleasant relationship with her employer. She was sold to other employers. With her second employer, she was the only one doing the chores in a big house, plus taking care of the five children. Despite the workload, she was not fed at all.

“Baka maisipan kong mag-suicide kaya nagpabalik na lang ako sa agency," (I might think of committing suicide so I just asked to be returned to the agency.) she said, noting that her life is only equivalent to about P7,000 or 45 Dinars a month. She had two other employers who also treated her the same cruel way.

After her fourth employer, she was sent back to her first employer by her agency. She was ordered to stay in an unoccupied room. In the three days of her stay there, she was again not given any food. When she would ask for water, she was told to drink from the faucet in the comfort room.

Ano ba hinihintay ko rito, kamatayan ko?" (What am I waiting her for? for my death?) she recalled asking herself then.

When her employer left the house, she used the blanket to escape from the window.

Disappointment

Before Angel’s escape, she was able to make a call to the Philippine Embassy there using her mobile phone which she hid from her employers.

“"B’wisit talaga, napakabastos! Kahit nakagawa ka ng paraan para matawagan sila (Philippine Embassy), wala pa rin. Siguro kahit nasa bingit ka na ng kamatayan mamamatay ka na lang," (They are really a curse, so arrogant! I was already able to find the means to call them and they did not even respond. If you are about to die I think they would just let you die.) she said in dismay when the personnel she talked to told her that she should go to the embassy then hung up the phone.

Because her employer charged her with running away, she was sent to jail. She was transferred from one jail to another, experiencing hardships in three jails for 20 days. Ironically, she said personnel from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration were accompanying them to jails instead of protecting them from being detained.

Rosebelle, on the other hand, took refuge at the Philippine Embassy bringing only her winter jacket. But she was shocked when embassy personnel tried to send her back to her employer. “Kaya ka nga tumakas para di na maulit ang pananakit, tapos pilit nilang ibinabalik sa employer," (I escaped so that I would not experience beatings anymore and they still tried to send me back to my employer?) reasoned Rosebelle.

But Rosebelle was determined to leave Kuwait. She told the embassy officials and her agency that she could not be persuaded to work for any employer. She noted that everyday five to 10 OFWs who ran away from their employers go to the embassy.

Sasabihin nila wala tayong magagawa dahil teritoryo nila ito. Anong klaseng gobyerno ‘yun? Ang mahalaga sa kanila may laman ang bulsa nila dahil sa amin," (They tell us that they could not do anything because we were in a different territory! What kind of government do we have? The only thing that matters to them is that they have money in their pockets because of us.) lamented Rosebelle, adding that before their departure in the Philippines, they were assured of protection through the country’s embassies and consulates in host countries.

In order to speed up her repatriation, she volunteered at the embassy. But she said she was told at the embassy that she needed to work so she could have money to buy her plane ticket. “Anong ginagawa ng gobyerno?" (What is the government doing?) was her answer to them. In the end, it was the agency that bought her ticket.

When she arrived at the country in March, she said no government representative received her at the airport. Until now, Rosebelle stays at the Migrante International office and is still looking for money to be able to return to her family in Zamboanga.

Rosebelle experiences sudden fainting and frequent headaches. She said that even at the embassy in Kuwait, she was not checked by a doctor despite the personnel’s knowledge of her condition. She added that embassy personnel did not give her a copy of her picture, which was taken when she arrived at the embassy, showing her bruises.

Angel also stayed in the office of Migrante for six months before being able to raise the money for her boat fare to Davao.

Vecina and Ranario

While in Kuwaiti jails, Angel knew of OFWs who like her, have been “robbed of rights and justice." There she met May Vecina and Marilou Ranario, who are both in death row.

Vecina, who is currently languishing in death row after being convicted of murder, was taken to jail after she has been discharged from the hospital where she was treated for injuries acquired from jumping from the window of her employer’s house. Fellow OFWs, who included Angel, carry Vecina out of her cell whenever police interrogate her. Angel said that although Vecina was bleeding, she was only made to wear diapers. She was not checked by a doctor.

Meanwhile, jail guards in Kuwait regularly assign five OFWs every Friday to clean Ranario’s cell. Angel said those who have seen Ranario said she seemed to be in deep depression and has lost hope. She does not talk anymore and just lies down in bed. Fellow OFWs bathe her and change her clothes.

“Kakampi naman nila kami dahil alam namin pinagdaanan nilang hirap," she said. "’Di naman sinasadya (’yung mga nagawa nila), nagpunta nga ‘dun para magtrabaho." (We feel for them because we know what they went through. They did not mean to hurt anybody. They were just there to earn a living.)

Meanwhile, Rosebelle has seen a lot of OFWs, injured or have lost their sanity, being taken to the embassy by their employers. She said injured Filipinas who have run away from their employers are mostly maltreated.

In search of a better life

Rosebelle is a graduate of secondary education while Angel of a two-year vocational course in computer programming. They could apply as skilled workers but they grabbed the opportunity of being employed as domestic helpers despite the risks to be able to support their families. Rosebelle has a seven-year old daughter and aging parents who are still working in Zamboanga.

Angel and Rosebelle are now awaiting deployment to Dubai. They prefer Middle East countries because the costly placement fee is just deducted from their monthly salary once they are employed.

They almost met their end in Kuwait, but Angel and Rosebelle are willing to risk their lives again just to have something to feed their families in the provinces.

“’Daming isasakripisyo, pati buhay mo. ‘Di mo alam kung makakauwi ka pang buhay
," (We need to endure a lot of sacrifices and even risk our lives. We don’t even know whether we could return alive.) said Angel.

Meanwhile, Rosebelle knows how hard it is to be away from her family. It hurts her when she hears her daughter call her “ate" (older sister) and not “mommy" on the phone. “Pero ‘di ako titigil hanggang hindi ako nagtatagumpay," (But I will not stop until I have reached my goal.) said Rosebellle, in her desire to save enough money for her daughter’s future and for the retirement of her parents. - Bulatlat
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