by Raïssa Robles
This was what Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Jose Brillantes told me when he was still a Department of Labor and Employment undersecretary.
He said this to explain why many Saudi employers treat Filipino domestic workers inhumanely and abusively, such as kicking, punching or branding them with a hot iron if they make mistakes or take daily baths; or working them half to death with little rest and food; or sexually abusing them.
I was shocked by his explanation. I could not use it of course because I was then writing for Saudi newspaper Riyadh Daily.
In recent days, amid an announced ban on recruitment of Filipino and Indonesian domestics imposed by the Saudi government starting yesterday July 2, I confirmed from two separate sources that what Brillantes told me years ago was true.
A Muslim ambassador recently shared this startling bit of info: Unknown to us Filipinos, the Saudi government used to stamp on passports of Filipino domestics being deployed to the Kingdom words in Arabic that stated what Brillantes had told me. That the bearer of the passport was a household worker whom the employer could treat in a sub-human manner. Like slaves.
The other instance of confirmation came from news reports following the Saudi government’s beheading of a female Indonesian domestic worker who repeatedly stabbed her Saudi employer to death in January last year after being berated constantly.
Saudi authorities had refused to give Indonesian diplomats access to Ruyati Binti Sapubi because they said she had already confessed to the crime. Indonesia tried to ask for clemency and a chance to defend her in court. But over a week ago, it learned from news reports her head had been chopped off with a sword.
The beheading prompted Salim Said, a former Indonesian diplomat-turned-political analyst, to state bluntly to Joe Cochraine, my fellow correspondent covering Jakarta for South China Morning Post:
In Saudi Arabia, they do not have a tradition of having maids or helpers – their ancient tradition is having slaves. So the mental attitude of their culture is treating their helpers and maids as if they are slaves.
Said even shared the information that when he was Indonesia’s ambassador to Prague, his embassy became a de facto shelter for runaway domestics whose Saudi employers were vacationing in the Czech Republic.
The beheading had further inflamed Indonesians who were earlier enraged by the abuse that Sumiti Binti Salan Mustapa, 23, had suffered in the hands of her female employer.
Saudi’s ban on Indonesian domestics preempted a moratorium on their deployment that Indonesia said it would impose. Hikmahanto Juwana, an international law expert at University of Indonesia, told Jakarta Globe he agreed with a ban because:
Migrant workers do not go abroad to commit crimes. If they do commit a crime, it must be because of the violent treatment they get from their employers.
In sharing these stories with you, I am not trying to denigrate the Saudis. I am trying to put their recent ban on Filipino and Indonesian maids in a wider context. And to say, no need to press the panic button and accede to Saudi’s request.
I find it very interesting that despite the previous government’s aggressive deployment of Filipinos overseas, it was loath to share statistics on the actual number of those currently deployed, including Filipino maids in the Kingdom.
According to a 2008 New York Times article, Saudi Arabia has around 1.5 million domestic workers, mainly from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Nepal. The bulk or from 600,000 to 900,000 were Indonesians. A recent news report put the number of Filipino domestics there between 200,000 and 300,000.
So you can see, Indonesian and Filipino household workers altogether account for over a million of the 1.5 million maids in the Kingdom.
You will notice that the Saudi government did not say it was sending home the existing maids there, but only freezing new hires.
Well-off Saudi families, including members of the royal family, cannot exist without their Indonesian and Filipino maids.
And that’s where back channel negotiations can be made, before any more beheadings are carried out. There are 216 Indonesians and at least eight Filipinos on death row there.
I remember that during the time of Labor Secretary Pat Sto. Tomas, she had this initiative where every legally deployed Filipina domestic was sent over to the Kingdom armed with a letter saying she was under the protection of the King of Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
Personally, I have often felt that the Philippine government’s deployment of Filipina domestics to Saudi was tantamount to pimping them because the circumstances of their employment rendered them quite vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse.
joesphine garcia says
kaya marami tayong mga kababayan rin naabuso ng mga arabo dahil minsan takot sila, dito sa muscat oman,marami ako alam na kahit inaabuso ng amo, ayaw umalis takot sila,kahit alukin muna sila ng tulong para makaalis ayaw nila dahil sa sobrang takot nila.yan ang nakakalungkot, ang mahirap pa kapag nagkasakit ang isang housemaid nila bihira lang ang mga amo na tutulungan ka, minsan kahit pambili ng gamot di ka mabigyan,kung tutuusin nakalagay yan sa kontrata na shoulder ng mga employeer ang pampagamot, but karamihan di sila sumusunod,pabayaan ka nalang nila.pero may isa tayong kabbayan na natulungan ko kung paano nakauwi sa pinas.itong pinay nakita ko siya sa labas ng mall kasi pupunta ako sa kapatid ko, so nadaanan ko siya nakaupo at tanong ko kabayan bakit andito ka nakaupos sa labas at tanghaling tapat.sabi nya sa akin meron daw siya inaantay, sabi nya pupunta ako ng dr, pero wala daw siya pera kaya dumaan daw siya sa mall nagbakasakali na isanla ang kanyag relo,dahil inutusan lang siya ng amo nya na pumunta ng dr, pero kahit isang sentimo di siya bingyan, sobrang naawa ako sa kanya dahil namamaga na pala ang kanyang isang hita patungo sa paa nya.so ang ginawa ko bingyan ko siya ng 2,,000, sabi ko pumunta ka ng dr,at ibingay ko yong tel no ko sa kanya, kung sakali kailangan nya tulong ko tawagan lang nya ako.dahil naikwento nya sa akin na ang kanyang amo kahit daw halos di na siya makatayo, pilit pa rin siya pinapatrabaho.simula nagkita kami, after 3 days tumawag siya sa akin, na gusto daw nya tumakas kaso lang natatakot siya,nagkataon naman na malapit lang yong bahay na pinapasukan nya sa kapatid ko, kaya noong tumawag siya sa akin,ibingay ko ang tel no. ng kapatid ko sa kanya.sa totoo lang dito mahirap makialam sa mga ganoon sitwasyon dahil ikaw ang pagbabalingan ng kanilang employeer.kaya ang ginawa ng kapatid ko meron siya kilala na taxi driver yon ang pinasundo nya sa kababayan natin, tumakas siya sa kanyang employeer at pumunta sa phil embassy.kaya nagpapsalamt ako dhail nakauwi rin naman siya.dito naman sa muscat oman hindi naman tottally lahat na omani masasama ang ugali, meron pa naman natitira na ok.