HONG KONG - A Hong Kong Cabinet member who in an article called Filipino domestic helpers sex providers to foreign men here apologized and denied being a sexist or racist on Friday.
Regina Ip, the former security secretary-turned-legislator and Executive Council member known for her outspokenness, gave an apologetic statement to people in the Filipino community, including the city's 173,000 Filipino helpers, "who have felt offended."
The article at issue, published in Chinese language newspaper Ming Pao on April 17, "was to raise a question as to whether there is widespread exploitation of Filipino maids in Hong Kong."
"Unfortunately, the way my article was misinterpreted in some quarters has led many to believe that I was sexist or racist and was pointing a finger at the Filipino maids. I strenuously deny such allegations," Ip said in a statement posted on her personal website and Facebook account, using the Legislative Council letter head. "The misunderstanding caused is deeply regretted."
In the Ming Pao article, Ip accused foreign media for focusing on recent cases of Filipino people being abused while ignoring the issue of "sexual exploitation" of domestic helpers by foreigners.
"In Hong Kong, there are quite some cases where foreign employers have an affair with their Filipino maids," Ip said. "Why are these Filipino maids willing to live with their foreign boyfriends or employers without engaging in an official relationship? A weak woman going overseas and work in an unfamiliar place, who has no connections and may even need to send home money; it is only normal for her to accept being taken care of by her willing boyfriend or employer."
"Shouldn't foreign media pay more attention to the large number of Filipino maids becoming sex resources for foreign men other than reporting on inappropriate behavior of local employers?" she said.
Ip's article and her subsequent responses irked Filipino domestic helper groups, who protested at her office Thursday and planned for a rally Sunday to seek government's response, and criticisms from the Filipino consulate and media.
"We welcome the public apology made by (Ip)," said Eman Villanueva, spokesman for the Asia Migrants' Coordinating Body. "We do not of course accept that she was just misunderstood. But the fact that she apologized, we also welcomed it in the context that it is her way of acknowledging that she did something wrong and what she wrote has offended a lot of people, in particular the Filipino women domestic workers."
He called Ip's act irresponsible when she could not provide data to back up her claims, but he commended her willingness to apologize.
"Many Filipinos felt that they were branded, that they are marrying expatriates because of their money and not because of love, so suddenly they are like stigmatized. It's really unacceptable, it's very anti-women," he said.
Ip resigned as security secretary in 2003 after her failure in hard-pushing a national security bill that drew hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets. She had also made news with often provocative comments defending government policies.