MANILA, January 17, 2004 (MANILA TIMES) In the 1980s the buzzword among overseas Filipino workers was “homesick versus dollar.” Today, especially among female domestic help, it’s “rape versus dollar.”

This continuing abuse of Filipino housemaids is alarming, to say the least. In a report yesterday, the Innabuyog-Gabriela, a group dedicated to protecting women’s rights in Baguio, said the incidence of rape of Filipino housemaids has risen in the last six months, particularly in the Middle East.

Innabuyog-Gabriela’s executive director, Vernie Diano, pointed to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates as the Arab countries with the highest incidence of such rapes.

Diano gave no figures or statistics but cited several infamous cases of abuse. Among these is the teenager who was raped in the UAE when she hitched a ride after attending a party.

Another is the case against three Kuwaiti policemen who raped an 18-year-old Filipino housemaid who had run away from her employer.

That case has a positive development. According to a Kuwaiti newspaper, even if the three policemen denied the charges, they are in detention. Tests also conclusively show that the suspects had indeed raped the complainant.

This is not the first case of rape committed on a Filipino housemaid in Kuwait. In November a Filipina was gang-raped by nine teenagers in a desert camp.

That incident angered the late Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople, who summoned the Kuwaiti chargé d’affaires in Manila and expressed his outrage especially because the rape took place during the holy month of Ramadan, when sexual relations are prohibited among Muslims. But the case seems to have been buried.

Another controversial rape case involves a 20-year-old Ifugao woman who worked as a housemaid in Singapore. Because of her tragic experience, the woman became insane and could not shed light on the case.

Since November 2003 The Manila Times has been urging the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Department of Labor to come up with measures to protect Filipina workers abroad.

The government praises these workers as “modern-day heroes” because of the dollars they bring into the country from their remittances, but the authorities are not lifting a finger to ease their plight abroad.

Many of these women suffer in silence because they know that the government will not be able to help them.

These women consider it a terrible embarrassment to be raped. We can only imagine how many other cases go unreported in exchange for keeping their jobs and earning dollars.

What other papers say

A less than noteworthy precedent

On Wednesday, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian became the first president in office to be summoned as a witness in front of a prosecutor for a case under investigation. The event by itself is significant for two reasons—it highlights the prosecutorial independence of this country and the sacred principle of equality before the law. As for Chen himself, his compliance with the summons and his performance throughout showed not only his respect for the rule of law but also his down-to-earth style, which in turn should work in his favor in the eyes of the voters. Under the circumstances, the pan-blue camp’s criticism of this event sounds like sour grapes.

Nevertheless, the summons for Chen remains controversial. The president, just like any other ordinary citizen, is obligated to serve some of his civic duties—including taking the witness stand when legally required. Even with ordinary citizens, however, some minimum thresholds must be met before they are summoned. First, genuine reasons must exist to persuade the prosecutor of at least a reasonable likelihood of a crime. In this regard, whether the open policy proposal of a candidate even comes close to constituting “vote-buying” is by itself highly controversial, as it is virtually unheard of.

Even if one assumed that a crime may truly have taken place, then there are still the issues of relevance and of necessity—that is, is what the witness has to say relevant and necessary for the prosecution of the case?

After all, the cost of Chen carrying out his civic responsibilities is high. The Chinese-language media estimate that it cost NT$1.5 million for Chen and some staff members to travel to Hualien for his meeting with the prosecutor. This is not to mention all the time Chen could have otherwise spent handling national affairs.

Summoning the president to give testimony should be an extraordinary measure to be adopted only when extraordinary needs exist. Such a dire need is not evident in this case. It is unfortunate that the precedent of the president taking the witness stand could not have occurred in a more worthy case.

On the other hand, Chen’s actions—walking to the prosecutor’s office (instead of being dropped off at the front entrance), standing throughout his interrogation, escorted by only two court ushers in entering the office—highlight his respect for the law, which is truly admirable. —The Taipei Times

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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