Maria Victoria Cavanes and her fellow OFW Maricel Busbos, who are working as domestic helpers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, are being routinely physically abused by their employers. Their families are desperately appealing for their rescue.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Unlike the warm notes and happy lyrics that comfort a baby to sleep, the lullabies being sung by overseas Filipino worker Maria Victoria Cavanes, 40, are songs of despair and a cry for help. Through the songs that she sings, she describes her sufferings at the hands of her employer who has been beating her up for more than two years now.
Bulatlat.com learned that Cavanes would sing the lullabies while doing her chores as a domestic helper in a Riyadh home, but replacing the words with accounts of her ordeal.
A fellow helper in the same home, she once sang, was seared with a flat iron because she allegedly stole tomatoes.
Before going to sleep one night, Cavanes crooned, she and her compatriot were both slapped by their employer and their heads banged against the wall so the two would not forget to wake up early the following morning.
Somebody relayed all this to Cavanes’s husband, Boy Santos, who is now doing everything he can to get her out of Riyadh.
Cavanes had worked as a sales lady in a shopping mall in Marikina City but her income and that of her husband’s was barely enough to make both ends meet. This forced her to work abroad. She went to Dubai in 2007 but returned to Manila only after three months because she said she was homesick.
But life in the Philippines was simply difficult so Cavanes mustered the courage to work abroad again. This time, she went to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to work as a domestic helper. She left the country on June 2, 2008, with her friend Maricel Busbos.
Santos told Bulatlat.com in an interview that when his wife arrived at her employer’s house on June 3, 2008, Cavanes managed to send him a text message describing how her employer literally kicked out the domestic helper they replaced.
It was, as it turned out, a portent of things to come.
In the days since she arrive, Cavanes would send Santos text messages saying that they were being made to eat either leftovers or spoiled food, sometimes none at all. Then, on June 12, or barely a week after arriving in Riyadh, Busbos, who could no longer take the abuse, called up their agency and asked if they could leave their employer. The call, Santos said, made the employer’s wife even more angry at the two helpers.
The following day, Cavanes frantically sent a text message that read, “Daddy, our employer is about to confiscate our cellphones. Ask for help. They might kill us. (Our male employer) spat on Maricel’s face and (his wife) hit my back.”
“That was a Friday,” Santos narratd, recalling the day he received his wife’s text message. “Because the first thing that I did the following Monday was to go to Senator Manny (Villar)’s office and ask for assistance.”
Villar prides himself on being the champion of OFWs. His staff found it hard to believe that such thing could happen to somebody in a matter of two weeks. “Thankfully, they still gave me a referral letter,” Santos said. “But I am not very sure not if it was worthy anything.”
Santos went to various government agencies that could help him locate and rescue his wife, who, based from the last text message he received, was in danger. But, just like what other family members and relatives of OFWs in distress go through, he was told to come back some other time and that they would be the one to call him if there were updates.
One of the reasons, Santos said, that the government agencies could not help him is the fact that he does not know the exact address of his wife’s employer. “But that is supposed to be their job.”
Out of despair, Santos took the chance to air his wife’s situation over a national radio program. Through the help of a friend, he also posted their concerns and contact information on various websites. But despite all his efforts, his wife remains at her employer’s house.
After eight months, Santos received a “missed call” from an international number. He called back and was surprised and relieved to hear his wife’s voice. Unfortunately, though, they had to speak in English as Cavanes’s employer was listening in to their call.
“I think that it was even switched to loudspeaker mode,” he said. “Each time I spoke in Tagalog, I could hear her employer shout, ‘English! English!'”
“I asked how she was and she told me that she was okay,” he said. From then on, they were able to talk to each other, strictly in English, at least once a month, or every other month. Cavanes’s employer, however, kept on changing her cellphone number.
One day, Santos received this text message:
“I was wondering if someone from the agency could talk to her employer because it seems that they have no plans to let them go. They are given very little food, and it is spoiled most of the time. They are being spat on, slapped and their heads banged against the wall. She is so thin she looked like she was only 15 years old.”
Santos said he could not confirm this information provided by his informat because every time they talked on the phone, the employer would listen in. “All we could ask each other was how we are doing,” he said. “Despite what she is going through, she still manages to laugh.”
The text messages from the informant kept coming and each time, Santos could not help but be angry. “If only she was rescued right away,” Santos said. “I have to think of other means to help her. If only I was Superman I would fly to Riyadh right away.”
The situation went on until Cavanes’s and Busbos’s contract expired in June 2010. But their employer did not allow them to leave. Worse, they were never given a single cent for their services for two years.
Sometime in September, when Santos and Cavanes were able to talk again, Santos was able to speak with her employer and asked when his wife could go home. The employer replied that she would only allow Cavanes to go home if she could find a replacement.