By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — In the 1970s, many engineers and skilled workers left the country to work in the Middle East. The Marcos administration exported the country’s skilled labor as a Band-Aid solution to the growing unemployment in the Philippines. Three decades later, the wound seemed to have never healed; the government continues to export its workers to boost the economy.
Today, more women are now leaving the country to work abroad such as domestic workers and health professionals as the demand for land-based migrant workers has dramatically shifted from men to women.
Maricar Evangelista, 35, a mother of four children, is one of the millions of Filipinos who left the country to find work abroad. Her story, of course, is also similar to the thousands of women migrant workers who have returned home after experiencing various forms of abuses from their employers.
Evangelista left the country last November 2007 to work as a domestic helper in Dubai. “I never thought my employers would maltreat me,” she said.
Evangelista said her employers were good to her during the first six months. But when the family decided to hire another domestic helper, her suffering started. “My fellow domestic helper who is also a Filipina went out on a date. My employer thought that I was her accomplice. We are both Filipino women so our employer thought that we are the same,” she said.
“I was slapped by my employer and they threw a chair at me,” Evangelista told Bulatlat. Evangelista’s first employer eventually sent her back to her agency in Dubai. But just as she thought her ordeal was over, she realized that another one was yet to begin, only much worse.
The manager of Evangelista’s agency Al Dookhi Labor Supply, a certain Dana, was very disappointed upon learning about Evangelista’s dismissal from her first employer. Dana then tried to send her again to other families based in Dubai who were looking for domestic helpers. But on three occasions, Evangelista was dismissed again weeks after she was employed for reasons that she did not know.
Each time Evangelista was employed, she would give her first salary to her agency. But since she was always dismissed weeks after she started working, Evangelista did not have the chance to save money for herself.
“They locked me up inside the agency for a month. The meal they served in the morning was supposed to last me the whole day,” Evangelista said.
“I have already told my brother about my situation in Dubai,” she said. Evangelista is the sister of Randy Evangelista, public information officer of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) party list. When the agency learned about her calls, it confiscated her cellphone.
“I left many cellphones at the agency because they kept on confiscating it so I would not be able to call my family,” she said.
But Evangelista said that her agency found a way to further demoralize her. She claimed that it was responsible for spreading rumors that she was having an extramarital affair in Dubai. She said the agency blackmailed her by bribing two Filipino women under their agency to tell her family about her so-called infidelity. She said she helped these women to find a way to go home by helping them contact their families. When the two were about to go home, the agency talked to them and bribed them to spread the rumor about her when they reach the Philippines. Evangelista said that she even prioritized them before herself. “I was the one who was left there and this was what happened to me in return,” she said.
“The only thing that I can say about her [Dana] is that she is greedy. She was able to get people to her side because she has the money.”
Last October 2008, Evangelista and a fellow migrant worker broke the glass window of the agency to escape their dreadful circumstances and sought the help of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration. “It was the only way we could escape,” she said. The two of them were charged with robbery but the case was later dismissed for lack of evidence.
Meanwhile, her brother Randy looked for various ways to keep his sister from the hands of her cruel agency. He sought the advice of Migrante International and Gabriela on how to immediately bring her sister back home. “We also asked Villar to help us raise the money for Maricar’s plane fare,” Randy said, referring to Sen. Manuel Villar, who has packaged his public image as a savior of OFWs.
Randy said that while his sister was in the custody of OWWA, some concerned Filipinos constantly checked on Maricar’s situation. He also told Bulatlat that the safe return of her sister Maricar to the Philippines is a “group effort” of all progressive groups that he had approached for help.