LONG BEACH, California - After decades of living in virtual slavery, Fedelina Lugasan only needed two years to make an impact in the fight against modern day slavery. On Thursday, as a free woman, she passed away after battling respiratory problems.
Lugasan, the Filipina who lived through 65 years as an unpaid, abused domestic worker before regaining her freedom in 2018, died in Long Beach, California on June 11 at 83.
The Pilipino Workers Center, who had been helping “Nanay Fedelina” transition into her new life, told ABS-CBN News on Thursday afternoon about her passing. Lugasan had been hospitalized for several days with respiratory problems.
The Leyte-born Lugasan was hired as a house worker by a middle-class family in Manila as a teenager. She was then brought to America in the 1970s, where the employers had kept her in captivity without pay, and abusing her. She eventually served four generations of the original employer’s family.
She was rescued in 2018 while she was accompanying her sickly employer to the hospital, where staff suspected that she may be a human trafficking victim.
She eventually won a settlement against her female employer, but rather than putting her in jail, Lugasan requested the judge to show mercy. The trafficker died several months into house arrest.
“We are saddened and heartbroken by the sudden passing of my beloved grandmother, Fedelina Lugasan. Heaven has gained another great soul,” said her niece Tiny Abcede in a Facebook post.
Despite her advanced age and years of abuse, Lugasan was a very active voice in the fight against human trafficking.
With a large support network which included the PWC, community groups, and both the Philippine and U.S. governments, she had become a beloved member of the community and a symbol against modern day slavery as she shared her story with fellow Filipino workers.
After being isolated from her family, she eventually made contact with her only surviving sister Leonila Cinco.
Last March, Lugasan was reunited with her sister, along with her niece Luz Alabado, and Luz’s daughter Tiny. The family spent a couple weeks bonding and sightseeing in Los Angeles before the trip was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Lugasan, who was waiting for a human trafficking visa, was hoping to eventually return to the Philippines, where she could spend time with more relatives.
“On behalf of my grandmother Leonila and mother Luz, we are grateful for the incredible outpour of love and support that has been coming in today. We are blessed to have spent 10 days with you and those memories will be forever cherished,” Abcede said.
A day before Fedelina was hospitalized, a documentary which chronicled her journey towards freedom won the Northern California Emmy in the human interest program feature. The documentary titled “Kept: Six Decades of Servitude” was produced by ABS-CBN’s North America bureau.