All’s well that ends well

Being a domestic helper (DH) is a poor Filipino woman’s way of escaping grinding poverty in a country with an unemployment rate of 3.6 percent as of November 2023, which is forecast to rise to 5.08 percent this year.

Even college graduates, like teachers, have gone overseas to work as DHs in countries needing those workers—Hong Kong, Singapore, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, among others.

They are in luck if they find good and considerate employers, like the housemaid this writer met years back while covering for Arab News, a school program in Al-Khobar, 423.7 kilometers east of Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

She said that in 30 years of working in the Kingdom, she was employed by only one family who gave her, aside from salary increases, gold jewelry and extra cash benefits for her good work.

Many housemaids have complained of maltreatment while working overseas.They undergo a great deal of pain or agony at their worksite. Subjected to various kinds of harassment by their employers, they escape.

Some get injured jumping from the third- or fourth-floor window of a residential building. They eventually went, or were handed over, to the Migrant Workers Office (MWO), which used to be called the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), for repatriation.

Those who knew that running away from their employers was illegal because they would become a huroob, sent text messages to this writer appealing for help. A huroob is a person who stays away from work without permission from her employer, refusing to work or running away from the sponsor.

If the sponsor reports her to the authorities, she becomes an “illegal” and loses her legal rights, unpaid salaries, and service benefits, among other things.

I verify who is sending text messages because many DHs use aliases instead of their real names to conceal their identities. 

After taking down notes regarding their complaints, I would verify the information and cross-check the data they provided. Then, I would write short summaries of their complaints and send them to retired foreign service officer Rafael E. Seguis.

He would refer these to concerned officials— Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) Undersecretary and Officer-in-Charge Hans Leo J. Cacdac, Philippine Ambassador to Jordan Wilfredo Santos, Philippine Ambassador to Bahrain Anne J. Louis, Consul General Edgar Tomas “Gary” Q. Auxilian of the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah, Labor Attaché Hector “Hecky” Cruz of the Migrant Workers Office (MWO) in Al-Khobar, Attaché Saifoden “Ding” Manalao of the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, and Attaché Oxter Macalaba in Kuwait.

It is a great surprise when a DH sends a message later saying, “Sir, okey na ako” (Sir, I’m okay now).”

It is a complete reversal of her previous situation, which was problematic. Now she is enjoying light moments at work. 

A case in point is that of 25-year-old Trisha Mae Castro of Dammam. She is from San Manuel, Pangasinan. 

The mother of two wanted to be rescued from her employer because she could not clean a three-story house and look after three children alone. 

She also said that, due to overwork, she got sick, but her employer, Mohamed Salman Al Muhanna, was forcing her to work.

She told him she wanted to be returned to her agency. The employer agreed. But the agency, Masdar Alsharq Recruitment Agency, reportedly did not make any to pull her out.

It was quite a surprise when she texted, “Sir, withhold ko muna yung complaint ko.”

(I’m suspending my complaint for the time being.)

She did not elaborate, but she saved a job that contributed to the economy, no matter how small.

*Editor’s Note: This article was titled “DH’s moment of serendipity” when published on February 20.

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