OPINION By Dindo Amparo
My greatest fear is that after the mass repatriation program, the labor department will announce the decline in the number of runaways hence justifying the lifting of the deployment ban to countries where cases of abused workers are high.
Recently, more than a hundred Pinoy workers from the Middle East, mostly abused domestic helpers, returned home under the mass repatriation program of the Philippine government thru the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).
Majority of these repatriated workers are called “runaways,” a term used for workers who escape from their employers after being victims of abuse and various forms of maltreatment.
For several weeks or even months, they stayed in various shelters or half way houses provided by OWWA before they were repatriated.
In the Middle East, the number of runaway Pinay maids is usually high. During President Arroyo’s visit to Saudi Arabia in 2006, there were about a hundred Pinay domestic helpers inside the Philippine Embassy’s Bahay Kalinga (shelter for runaways) in Riyadh.
But Mrs. Arroyo’s busy schedule prevented her from seeing these runaways.
If she did, the President would have realized that about 90% of these women were victims of rape and other forms of physical abuse.
Distressed in Kuwait
Also in 2006, the Philippine embassy in Kuwait had the highest record of about 500 distressed workers inside their shelter. Most cases include physical and sexual abuse.
As one labor official noted, almost everyday, runaways would come and go in their shelters, indicating the number of abused workers, especially among domestic helpers. This is constant in every part of the Middle Eastern region.
The monthly salary they receive to endure sufferings averages about US$150-200 only, although the government had recently imposed a minimum of $400 dollars for the monthly salary of a Pinay domestic helper.
My greatest fear is that after the mass repatriation program, the labor department will suddenly announce the significant decline in the number of runaways inside OWWA shelters, hence justifying the lifting of the deployment ban of workers to some countries like Jordan, where cases of abused workers are high.
And soon after, runaways will start filling again every shelter of OWWA.
Same old stories
Images of female workers who are either abused, raped or beaten black and blue will again be watched on television news, the Internet and the newspapers.
TV sound bytes of workers saying, “di na ako mamamasukang katulong” or “di na ako babalik sa gitnang silangan” will once again fill the air.
Nothing new. Same old stories.
Our government simply does not learn from lessons of the past.
Instead of continuously sending Pinay maids to the Middle East, why can’t we impose a total ban in the region, then divert these women to other parts of the globe who have better respect and treatment for household workers.
In the Philippines, we call our maids “kasambahay,” and we treat them like a real member of the family.
On the other hand, our government brands them as supermaids.
But here in the Middle East, for most people, they are simply slaves.
The author is chief of the ABS-CBN Middle East news bureau.