The plight of Filipino domestic workers

by Maria Aleta Nieva-Nishimori, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Sep 06 2009 03:27 PM | Updated as of Sep 06 2009 11:37 PM

MANILA - Lilibeth Masamloc was just 13 years old when she started working as a domestic worker in Davao .

“First employer ko kasi kasisimula ko pa lang at wala akong alam sa mga makabangong teknolohiya, lalo na sa kitchen. Medyo mabait naman ang turing nila pero dumating yung time na nilalait ka na,” said Masamloc.

Masamloc belongs to a tribe called Blaan in Davao del Sur and was born to a family of farmers. The eighth of 12 siblings, Masamloc found herself working for four different families in a span of three years in the hopes of completing her elementary education.

She was 14 when she started attending Sunday school so she can continue her basic education.

Migration from countryside

Jerome Alcantara, chief of the Resource Center Unit of the Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. (VFFI), said majority of child domestic workers are from the rural areas.

“Most of them started working at a very young age, usually sa mga farms, tapos nagshi-shift sila kapag off season ng planting, nagta-trabaho sila as domestic workers,” Alcantara said.

“Kaya minsan madaling magtiwala ang mga magulang kasi kakilala nila ang nagre-recruit. Nahihirapan kami sa ganun sistema pero ang problema, yung accountability. Kapag may nangyari sa taong yun, sinong mananagot?” he asked.

Alcantara said women and child workers are both open to many abuses.

“Yung pagiging bata mo pa lang, may vulnerability ka na. Delikado ka na, madali kang maloko, at yung ibinibigay na mga trabaho ay hindi bagay sa edad mo,” Alcantara said.

He added: “Yung special na nature pa ng domestic worker, which is hidden behind closed doors of the employer…Kahit na anong bait ng isang kasambahay, kapag tinopak yung employer mo wala kang magagawa. May mga batas na covered sila pero hindi akma sa condition ng domestic work.”

Overworked, underpaid

Although she was not physically hurt, Masamloc recalled that one of her employers often tried to degrade her by calling her “taga bukid” because of the color of her skin.

At a very young age and with no immediate family close by to monitor her, Masamloc was left to fend for herself alone.

“Last na employer, mabait sila pero hindi ko nakayanan yung oras ng trabaho kasi ang nangyari doon, multiple yung tasks na ibibigay sa akin,” she said.

Her typical day at work started at 3 a.m. Her first task was to go to the wet market. By 4:30 a.m., she had four children under her care, cooked them breakfast, prepared their things for school, cleaned the entire house, and washed clothes.

“Half-day nun, doon naman ako sa tindahan nila kasi may konting eatery sila, tapos hanggang alas-12 na kami doon kasi dun sa eatery nila, parang may videoke bar din. Nagse-serve kami ng inumin sa mga naglalasing doon,” she explained.

“So, wala talagang pahinga tapos ang baba pa ng sahod, P1,500,” she added.
 
Alcantara said that most stay-in domestic workers are on call and do not have enough rest time.

Child labor

VFFI estimates that the number of domestic workers in the Philippines ranges from 600,000 to 2.5 million. Based on the Philippine Child Labor Survey, about 600,000 child laborers aged 5 to 14 years old are in the service industry.

In a document prepared by VFFI deputy director Roland Pacis on the Consolidation of Island-Wide Consultations on Decent Work Agenda for Domestic Workers in the Philippines, he stated that some domestics are as young as 10 years old despite the existing law, Republic Act 9231, prohibiting the hiring of children under 15 years old.

Pacis added that employers often use verbal agreements to encourage parents to let their children work as domestic workers.

“Ang perception kasi ng mga pamilya na kapag kasambahay, napaka-safe na trabaho iyan. Kasi nagta-trabaho ka lang sa loob ng bahay, saka yung mga ibang trabaho doon, ginagawa mo naman sa sarili mong bahay. Hindi nila natingnan kung gaano kadelikado,” Masamloc said.

Based on her own experience, the long separation from her family and the nature of work had strong impact on her.

No childhood


“Wala akong childhood. Na-realize ko lang ngayon na wala akong alam na nursery rhymes. Hindi ko naranasan yung development ng isang teenager kasi sa murang edad, nababad ka na doon sa trabaho na hindi dapat yun ang trabaho mo sa ganung edad. Yung pagiisip ko hindi na akma sa edad ko,” she said.
 
Masamloc left domestic work at the age of 16 with the help of VFFI and the Samahan at Ugnayan ng mga Manggagawang Pantahanan sa Pilipinas or SUMAPI, which she now heads.

Aside from her work in the organization, the 22-year-old Masamloc is now a 3rd year college student at the Philippine Christian University taking up social work.

Like Masamloc, “Ester” was 13 when she began working as a domestic worker to finish high school in Bacolod .

“Magte-three pa lang ako nang mamatay ang tatay ko. Pinangakuan ako ng nanay ko na mapapagtapos niya ako ng elementary pero hindi na siya sigurado kung mapapagtapos pa niya ako ng high school. Kaya pumayag na lang ako na (mag-work) doon sa mama ng amo ng nanay ko,” Esther said.

Ester felt lucky that aside from the very light household work, her employer supported her decision to join SUMAPI and avail of its services.

“Kung pagbabasehan mas ok yung kalagayan ko sa employer ko kasi binigyan niya ako ng pagkakataon na makapag-aral, tapos pinayagan niya akong sumali sa organisasyon,” Ester said.

Discrimination in school
 
Ester also had a taste of discrimination by her classmates because of her job as a domestic worker.

“Minsan nahihiya kaming maki-mingle sa mga kaklase namin na alam kung ano ang trabaho namin, kasi hindi na maalis na may tao talagang huhusgahan ka. Minsan nagiging weak point din namin na sumusuko kami,” she said.

VFFI and SUMAPI are now assisting Ester, who is a graduating high school student.

“Gusto kong maging lawyer,” she said. “Wala sa bukabolaryo ko ang manatiling kasambahay habang buhay,” she said.

Illegal recruitment

Meanwhile, the promise of a better pay drove a16-year-old domestic worker in Cotabato to try to leave the country illegally to work as a helper in Saudi Arabia .

Sheryl Loseno, VFFI coordinator for the Bahay Silungan sa Paliparan said “Olive” was part of the group intercepted by the government’s anti-illegal recruitment operatives at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport last August 12.

“Sixteen siya pero sa passport niya, 21 siya. Ang sabi niya, pina-late register para mag-appear na adult siya. Pero kung titingnan mo siya, alam mo na kagad na minor,” said Loseno.

Olive said poverty was her reason for wanting to work abroad. She added that her parents knew about her plan.

It was learned that the agency that processed Olive and her companions is actually suspended from deploying workers overseas.

“Pero nagpo-process pa din sila tapos ipinapasa nila sa legitimate agency na violation naman iyun sa POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration),” Loseno said.

Special attention needed
 
International Labor Organization (ILO) director Linda Wirth said special attention must be given to address child domestic workers. Wirth was the keynote speaker during the 2nd National Domestic Workers Summit held recently.

She said that the ILO estimates there are now more girls under the age of 16 are working in the domestic service sector.

“Their young age, isolation and separation from their families and peers, and near-total dependence on their employers exacerbate their vulnerability,” she said.