(12) 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: The Exploitation of Migrant Filipinas and the Struggle for Justice

The Exploitation of Migrant Filipinas and the Struggle for Justice
Day 12 of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Contact: Terrie Cervas
Vice Chair of Finance – GABRIELA USA

Coordinator for Mass Campaigns – Sisters of GABRIELA, Awaken! (SiGAw!)
(213) 537-8278


Members of SiGAw - GAB USA mobilize to oppose anti-immigrant legislation, May 1, 2010

Imagine 2,500 Filipinos leaving the Philippines every day. A country with a population of 92 million, the Philippines has become the largest exporter of labor in the world. The United States is home to the largest group of Filipinos outside of the Philippines with four million Filipinos residing here, of which 24% are undocumented (source “Ating Kalagayan: The Social and Economic Profile of U.S. Filipinos”).

How do we explain this massive migration? The answer lies in the socio-economic conditions of the Philippines. In a country where no genuine land reform exists to allow for the peasants to survive on the land they grew up on, they leave in droves to search for employment in the cities. However, because of government policies that do not build and develop national industries, the economy can’t generate the jobs necessary to employ the thousands who graduated with college and university degrees in various fields including medicine, engineering, and teaching. Hence, they are forced to migrate abroad in search of employment.

Dependent on multi-national corporations for imports of pricey finished goods in exchange for its cheap raw materials, the trade imbalance and payment deficits keep growing. The intervention of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (IMF-WB) adds to the country’s looming debt and financial difficulties. The Marcos dictatorship created the Labor Export Program (LEP) under the guise of easing the unemployment problem, fixing the debt and trade deficits. However, until now, the LEP is just another scheme to perpetuate an unjust social system that uses Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) for their remittances, which keep the country from complete collapse. Keeping its people out of the country helps prevent social unrest from developing from within.

After being hit with a load of expensive fees from employment agencies and high interest loans while in the Philippines, OFWs are shipped out to other countries where they are vulnerable to greater abuse and exploitation due to inadequate laws favoring their employers over their basic human rights. Acts of violence in the forms of murder and rape are commonly committed against women compatriots.

Alliances such as GABRIELA USA were formed to arouse, organize, and mobilize overseas compatriots to fight for their rights and welfare and to participate in the movement for social change in the Philippines. We hold the banner of the national democratic movement in the Philippines high for all Filipinos across the globe. On the twelfth day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence
GABRIELA USA honors all migrant working women by highlighting excerpts of interviews of undocumented Filipinas in their everyday struggles. Names have been changed to protect their identities and privacy.

Interview of Nanay Beng

When I came here it was just plain. It was just my clothes. I wasn’t sure even when I come here if I would be with my husband because he was playing with someone. I asked him if he still wanted me. I think I was only carrying USD$150. That was from my two brothers. When I reached immigration, they didn’t even ask me. I came on a business B1B2 visa.

My plan was to look for greener pastures and follow my husband. We found the jobs but we’re not happy, we’re starting to file the petition with the father and then he passed away. Visa expired after 5 yrs. When my husband died and employer died, the immigration office wanted $250 to file and the sponsorship from employer. The lawyer said I could still file but I told him the employer died. It’s hard because they won’t accept you if you say you don’t have green card. They have to ask you, “are you a citizen, do you have a green card?” If they’re going to hire you illegally they’re going to fine you. It’s not acceptable to the employer. It’s really hard. That’s why Filipinos become caregivers if they don’t have papers because they don’t ask for papers.

When my mom died, I couldn’t go to the Philippines because when my husband died, I used all my money to take care of my husband’s funeral. I cried a lot and it was painful and hurting. I left behind two sons. Other family always takes care of them. Whatever I have–$20–I put money to them. I didn’t see them for 17 years. When I left the Philippines [in] 1992 the second was 5 years old. Now eldest has a child now.

Very sad about this life. I’m tired of working like this. I’m also with the agencies, but I pick the employer that pays me. Agencies pay in 2-3 weeks, depends on the case of the patient. Some agencies pay the caregivers. So every time I have my work I get money.

My responsibility is work, cook, take care of my kids, go to doctor’s appointment. Sometimes I can’t do all anymore. It’s so tiring. It’s kind of hard; the responsibility of a single mother is hard. I work hard. Sunday up to five up to Wed to five. I was given a full-time job but I gave up 2 days because children are still in school. Three days isn’t really good but I’m trying my best to adjust to this kind of life.

Financially it’s not enough. When you have a family and you’re raising children and somebody in school, you have to figure out what their needs are in school. Mostly low-income people earn $2000, [which] is really ok. But now, with three days I’m only earning $1200-1500. I came here with my papers. This is my passport. I show them all. Then it gets approved. We’re safe with the food but sometimes we’re tight because if I get $1500 the food stamp gets low. My cable was cut off.

The rental here is $800. I spoke to the owner and sometimes I pay him half and he’s ok. He doesn’t say nothing. But it’s not yet enough. I have a problem with my teeth. Health care givers don’t have insurance. Other caregivers go to free clinic.

For now it makes me worried. But what can I do? I don’t know what to do. I just keep it going, whatever is there and keep working. It’s really hard to find a job. You can’t find a job.

I want to help other women. But help me first.

Interview of Nanay Rosie

I think husbands who lost their jobs and cannot provide any–it’s very devastating to them, being a man. So he looked for job everywhere here. At that time we had a problem with the economy here in California. So his cousin invited him in Chicago to have a business because he used to be a businessman. And so he went there, until he comes here every 3 months, 4 months later, every 6 months. Until he finally settled his job there with his business, until…Maybe he also found a woman, I don’t know. But uh, it’s my son who really made me strong to stand on my own two feet. Because I don’t have anybody to turn to, financially. You know, I had money from the Middle East, but we used it for business. It didn’t materialize. Our partner just left us. So we lost everything, everything–motel, apartments. We lost everything. We cannot sell because it’s not in the corporation.

I wanna go back home. My number one problem was, “When will I see them again?” My family–sisters, brothers, my mom, who was sick at that time. So I cried mostly everyday.

Oh my god. My chest was so heavy. Because first thing, when you didn’t have the paper and somebody is roaming around here like the police. I don’t go out. We moved from one place to another. When the police would come to you, I get nervous. All those [are] the effect of illegal stay here. But when I got it, as if the knife get out from my chest and you know, I was so happy. I don’t know, I spent so much. The lawyer let me pay like $12,000– one half first and then every month.

My first memories of violence…When I first started at work as a nurse, I still had a problem with pronouncing the words right. And when I’m talking to the doctor they will say, “Are you Korean? Filipino? I don’t understand you.” And then they will do like that, they will bagsak the telephone. They will just hang on me. And then I had to call because I have to get an order. And then she said, “Is there any RN I can speak with, with better pronunciation? I don’t really understand you.” And then I cry. I go to the bathroom and cry.

And then my second day of working was that, there was a guy who was encircling me. Because our apartment is just near the hospital and so you just cross the street. I didn’t know. Because what I really know about America, is it’s like gold. Nobody will snatch you or snatch your bag or hold up you and everything. But I have so many, like 10 experiences [of getting mugged]. The other one was two guys were trying to get me. I was still young those times. I was 38 to 39. My son was months old and my husband is supposed to come and pick me up, even though it’s just across. And then here comes two guys, trying to get me into their car. And what I did, when I had a chance to run, to go back to my work, I did it. And early in the morning I go visit someone. Somebody poked a gun here [points to her temple].

Nanay Beng and Nanay Rosie’s stories reflect the hardships and exploitative conditions that migrant OFWs face everyday. We must continue to oppose the anti-migrant and worker policies created by imperialist countries. GABRIELA USA recently joined the 3rd International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (iamr3.wordpress.com) to oppose the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), which attempts to force labor export policies on other countries around the globe. Migrants continue to be exploited by such policies, thus we must unite with our sisters and brothers for justice!

Legalization for All!!
Swift Reunification of Families Now!!
End Labor Export Policies! Oppose the GFMD!!

Sisters of Gabriela, Awaken! (SiGAw) is an organization serving Filipinas in the Los Angeles community. We strive to build a strong Filipina women’s mass movement, recognizing that the problems of the Filipina diaspora are linked to the root problems of the Philippines. SiGAw addresses the rights and welfare of women through education, organizing, campaigns, and cultural work.

SiGAw is a member organization of GABRIELA-USA, an overseas chapter of GABRIELA (General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality, Leadership, and Action). GABRIELA is the largest and most mlitant women’s alliance that is working for genuine democracy and freedom in the Philippines.

SiGAw is an LGBTIQ-(Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer/Questioning) friendly organization that is inclusive of gender-non comforming people of Philippine descent.

SiGAw is also a member organization of BAYAN-USA.