Ex-domestic worker recounts story of ‘modern-day slavery’

Community News & Features Aug 17, 2008 at 1:56 am
About 60 domestic workers and their supporters at Aug. 1 rally. Two photos from endtrafficking.blogspot.com

About 60 domestic workers and their supporters at Aug. 1 rally. Two photos from endtrafficking.blogspot.com

Rally participants infront of the Philippine Consulate in New York City

Rally participants infront of the Philippine Consulate in New York City

New York—Hundreds of people passing by the Philippine consulate during last Friday’s rush-hour heard the voice of Marichu Baoanan projected up and down Fifth Avenue, as she recounted her story of being deceived into modern-slavery in the household of former UN Ambassador Lauro Baja.

“What I want to say to people like me who were oppressed or will be oppressed: don’t be afraid to speak out or to come out in the open,” said Marichu. “Let us fight for our rights. We are not alone. We need to face people who abuse us and our weaknesses because if we do not speak up, they will continue to abuse us.”

Last July 15, Baja filed a motion to dismiss all 15 civil charges, including trafficking, forced labor and racketeering, brought against him, his wife Norma Baja, their adult daughter Maria “Beth” Facundo and the Baja-owned Labaire Travel Agency. Baja has invoked the Vienna Convention and is seeking the shelter of diplomatic immunity.

In front of the consulate, over sixty community members and allies held hand-painted banners and placards demanding accountability not immunity, and an end to modern-day slavery. They also distributed flyers and newsletters, and gathered signatures for a petition demanding that Baja be held accountable by RP’s Department of Foreign Affairs, the body ultimately responsible for Baja.

Though public cries have been made to waive Baja’s diplomatic immunity from within Philippine Congress, by Congresswoman Liza Maza, neither the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Philippine Consulate Mission in New York, nor the Philippine Mission to the UN in New York—Baja’s former post—has taken action on Marichu’s case, though they have publicly claimed that they do not tolerate trafficking and abuse.

Before the action last Friday, Marichu and DAMAYAN met with officials of the Philippine consulate and submitted a letter to the DFA, the Philippine Mission to the UN, and the Philippine Consulate General to formally request for assistance as a Filipina overseas national.

“I am appealing to all of you to waive the diplomatic immunity that is being sought…” Marichu states in her letter. “I am an ordinary Filipino citizen, a struggling mother with three children but I had to file the civil suit against former Ambassador Baja to get justice for the abuses and sufferings that I endured… If Ambassador Baja believes that he did nothing wrong, he should have the opportunity to present his case in a court of law.”

DAMAYAN has stated that a lack of action by agencies responsible for the welfare of overseas Filipinos signals approval and complicity.

“The shelter of diplomatic immunity in this case must be waived in order to allow the pursuit of justice to continue,” said one worker who delivered a statement at the speak-out on behalf of DAMAYAN. “Many predatory employers, especially diplomats who are supposed to protect overseas compatriots, are allowed to exploit their vulnerabilities and walk away without facing consequences.”

“This happened here, in the US?” asked one passerby in disbelief. Two other tourists remarked that they had heard the story in Spain. Seven weeks after the civil case was filed by Marichu and her lawyers, Ivy Suriyopas of Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and Aaron Mendolsohn of Troutman Sanders, the campaign has made international news and gained international support.

The speak-out came on the heels of a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last July 29, 2008, which revealed a larger pattern of the abuse of domestic workers by diplomats with immunity.

One domestic worker, of Andolan Organizing South Asian Workers, testified at the speak-out about her two years of work for a former diplomat, who paid her $40 per month. According to the worker, that entire amount was sent directly to her family abroad, and she never laid eyes on American money for two years.

Posted by DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association (Aug. 6, 2008)

Ex-Ambassador Lauro Baja

Ex-Ambassador Lauro Baja