MANILA, FEBRUARY 6, 2012 (abs-cbn) by Sally Lopez - Editors Note: The story is from the book “Migrants’ Stories, Migrants’ Voices 3" published by the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch (PMRW) with the support from CEI (Conferenza Episcopale Italiana) or the Italian Bishops' Conference. The book contains a collection of 12 stories of the realities of migration as faced by Filipinos abroad and their family members in the Philippines. obtained permission from PMRW to publish the stories online.

I first decided to work abroad in 2007 after the elderly woman I had been employed to care for in Marikina, passed away. Considering that wages for caregivers are much greater overseas, I decided to apply for a job abroad.

That December, just a month after I applied, I was lucky enough to gain employment in Singapore.

Despite only working two months for my first employer, I already faced many difficulties. Although I was employed as a caregiver for an elderly woman, I was also expected to undertake the roles of a maid and a cook, not only for her but also for the 3 families who lived in the adjoining condominium units, which are owned by my employer. This meant that I had to cook 3 meals for 15 people daily, in addition to my other household chores.

I shared my position with two other employees, an Indonesian and a Filipina. Unfortunately, they were neither helpful nor kind to me. I believe they may have felt threatened by my employment, as they were fearful one of them may be replaced and sent home.

Indeed, the Filipina had been employed for 11 years, and was over 50 years old. She could not retire or leave however, because she was still in need of money, despite often being in pain from the strain of her duties.

In my opinion, I believe I was employed to learn from this woman, so that I would then replace her in her role.

As my employment was interpreted as a threat, neither was very kind to me, and at times they would make my life even more difficult than it already was.

We were all assigned roles and chores to complete each morning. Mine was to clean the kitchen, whilst the Indonesian employee was to clean the receiving area. Every morning she would wake up at four or five in the morning and move all of her tasks into the kitchen, hiding things beneath the refrigerator. She would collect all the swept dust and empty it outside, on all the shoes of my employers.

Each morning, I then had to move the refrigerator to clean beneath it, and remove each shoe, one by one, in order to clean the dust.

Despite this vindictiveness, I did not complain. I was new there and I did not wish to fight so I kept quiet. I knew it was not my place to complain.

After two months, I returned to my agency where they kindly transferred me to another employer. My second position in Singapore was as an all around maid in a three story house for a Chinese family of four.

Every day, I was expected to clean both cars and the garden in addition to the three story house, most of which I completed alone whilst the family was at work from 8 in the morning to as late as 10 in the evening. I did not mind the loneliness; for me it was okay, although I did tire of cleaning.

I worked for this household for a year and five months, and during this time I was only permitted one day off every three months. I was forbidden from owning a hand phone, and if it was not my day off, I was only permitted to leave the property to clean outside the gate.

As a result I had no social contacts outside the house. There is the perception in Singapore that Filipinas are flirts, so my employers feared contact with fellow Filipinas may have a negative influence on me.

Despite it being forbidden, I kept a hand phone in secret under my pillow. For me, this is a personal thing and they did not have the right or authority to deny me. One night, 16 months into my contract, another Filipina contacted me, wanting to be friends and suggesting we meet the following weekend.

I knew I would have to gain permission from my employer first, however I hoped and assumed they would allow me as the day was a Singaporean national holiday. My employers, however, did not want me to go out. For four days I asked but again and again they would deny me permission. When Sunday came, my employers left the house to participate in the holiday celebrations, leaving me alone in the house. As soon as they had left, I changed my clothes and wrote a short letter explaining that I was going out for the day. I apologized for not waiting for them, but I had done all I could, asking permission for four days. I thought it was unreasonable to be denied the right to go out, and I promised to be back as soon as possible.

I returned at around 9:00 that evening, to find both my employers waiting. The wife was furious, whilst the husband tried to make her quiet, telling her in their Chinese dialect to ‘stop scolding her; I don’t think she has eaten yet’. She obeyed his request and turned back to the television. However this was not the end of her anger at me.

I returned to my work as usual, but my female employer refused to talk to me. I did not attempt to speak to her as I was shy. Unfortunately I think my silence was interpreted as ‘fighting back’, when really I was just too shy. She began to scold me and talk down to me, but I would not respond or converse with her.

When I was a child my mother always taught me to never answer back, for answering back is just like fighting back. My mother said that one does not need to fight back, one should just remain silent. For me, being quiet means I surrender, I’m sorry.

Unfortunately, for my employers, they want you to fight back, they don’t want you to remain silent and be quiet.

I had no knowledge what my employers were planning so, in silence, I continued my work as usual. Every morning of my employment for this family, I would wake up to clean the cars, sweep the garden and wash the clothes before the family left for work.

So, on the 19th of August, 10 days after I had gone out for the national holiday, I woke up as usual and began to clean the cars. The wife came out as I was mid-way through cleaning and said, “Sally, stop cleaning the car.”

Although I was only half way through, I obeyed her and went inside to clean the clothes but she repeated, “Sally, stop cleaning the clothes.”

I knew then something was wrong. She then said, “You better pack your bag; you’re going back to the Philippines.”

Just like that. She never explained the reasons why, but I know in my mind it was because I went out. I know I was not supposed to go out, but I had asked for four days for permission, so I don’t think it was entirely my fault. I think I deserved a second chance.

The worst thing about these changes of employment as an OFW is the salary deductions you incur. When I first went to Singapore in 2007, I had a six-month salary deduction. However, as I stayed only two months at my first job, I was still required to pay the remaining four months. Fortunately, my agency transferred me to the second job. Now, however, I was attempting to pay for the outstanding four months, plus an extra two as incurred in my second position.

As a result, when I returned to the Philippines, I returned with only 20 percent of my earnings. I went back again to Singapore as soon as I could but this time I was not as lucky. I changed employment three times until I again returned to Manila.

People do not understand the life of a maid. Some days, there is no chance to rest until midnight, and then you are up to begin again at four in the morning. You are expected to work all day, without ‘siesta,’ and all you are given to eat is porridge.

I have an 11-year old son who is being taken care of by a family in Zamboanga. When I first left for Singapore, my son was only 7-years old. I felt no feelings of regret or pining for my son when I left because my mother had taught me to be tough from a young age, so I am tough.

Apart from my son, I do not have any other family. My mother died when I was 19, and my father is a retired US Navy Officer who only saw me at birth. My son was staying with the family of a friend I have in Manila. The family, which is based in Zamboanga, was always asking me for money. I understood of course, they were looking after my son after all, so I could not refuse them.

While I was abroad I would speak to my son on the phone as well as sending him money. These phone conversations were always conducted over loud speaker and I could often hear the family prompting my son on what to say, always asking for more money. We could never speak in private. My son has since told me that when I sent him the money packages of 6,000 to 9,000 pesos, he would only receive a daily allowance of 5 pesos to go to school. Every day, five pesos, never more. The couple had six children of their own so the money would not go directly to my son. Sometimes all my son would get to eat was rice with salt only. He learned how to plant rice to earn money for himself.

Last year, when I returned to the Philippines for two months, I stayed in Manila and found work in Antipolo. While I was there, the family looking after my son continued to call and message my phone telling me I had to pick up my son because they would not look after him anymore. They said he had become hard-headed and stubborn. But what could I do? I had no money, and to get to Zamboanga takes two days and two nights travel by boat. I also needed the permission of my boss. I told them they had to wait; I had to find money first.

At work I was always listening to the radio, as my boss allowed me to borrow his. One day I kept hearing in my head, you should call this person, you have to call this person. So I just called the radio station and they told me to come. They said that they would help with my travel expenses to get my son. All I needed was a boat ticket but the station gave me a return plane ticket. I was so thankful, as I was able to get my son, and I have now taken him to the same orphanage I stayed at when I was in secondary school. I believe he is happier in the orphanage than he was with the family in Zamboanga.

At the orphanage, I am now able to visit him once a month, on the third Sunday.

Unfortunately, I lost my job in Antipolo when it was handed over to my boss’s niece. It is okay, but now I have neither a job nor a house so I am applying to go overseas again. I cannot save here without work, and the salaries are so small anyway. Working overseas is the only option I know to earn more money. I am hoping, God willing, to gain employment in Hong Kong, and if I am successful I intend to work there until my son finishes school, another 10 years.

I do not mind leaving my son again. He understands our situation and is flexible, so our relationship is okay. Indeed, sometimes he is the telling me, “Okay, you go already, we need the money.”

Now that he will have access to the internet, staying in contact will not be too difficult. He is older and knows everything now. I do not have to worry he is being coached by others.

The hardest thing about being an OFW is sending so much money back home. Filipinos think that OFWs earn a lot of money but unless they have experienced working abroad they do not know how difficult it is, that it is more difficult than working here. The salary of one job is never enough; you have to do extra jobs on the side to have enough.

Filipinos think that overseas you become a queen, but that is not the truth. Overseas, everything is expensive. Also, the cultural barrier makes it difficult for Filipinos to fight back. Everything is always the maid’s fault, and Filipina maids will never dispute this or fight back because our culture stops us, and we fear we will lose our jobs. But if you do not fight back, in my experience, if they scold you or do something bad to you and you do nothing, they will not respect you.

My advice for other Filipinos thinking of working abroad then is that you must know how to express your feelings, to know how their culture works and how to comply with it to get yourself heard and to gain respect.

Also, if you think you cannot fight homesickness it is best not to work abroad because homesickness is very hard to cope with.

I do not feel homesick, even if I have a son who is living far away from me. This is because I have hardened my heart. But if you are courting someone and cannot live without them, or even your family, it is better if you just stay in your own country.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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