By MARK ROBERT A. DY
DOOMED TO BE FREE
THE Philippines is the oldest democracy in Asia. In our minds, we believe strongly in equality, freedom, justice and human rights.
In our minds.
We are one of the poorest nations in the world and yet we have the most number of servants per household. We live in a country where it is customary to leave the care of our children and our homes to people we pay a very minimal amount of money and provide very few benefits to.
The rich down to the middle class have become so accustomed to this social setup that they see no reason to stir the waters with inconvenient change. The poor who constitute the ‘informal service industry’ also do not complain, either because of innate Filipino meekness or simply because they feel ‘lucky’ to even have a job at all.
Worse than the low wages are the ‘house rules and conditions’ we impose upon them. We confine them in our homes inside tiny living quarters with bad ventilation and nothing but a straw mat to sleep on, while we sleep soundly on soft mattresses inside air-conditioned rooms. They do nothing but work all day everyday and are always on call, often disturbed from their sleep late at night to open our gates as we come home from clubbing or a poker game. The next day, they wake up before the sun to water the plants, sweep the floor, cook breakfast and walk the dogs, so that when their masters wake up, everything is in perfect shape. We always eat before they do and provide them with either our leftovers or unhealthy canned goods and noodles. We give them a day off but expect them to come home in time to prepare supper. We prohibit them from dating because we fear losing their services should they decide found a family of their own.
Of course, I speak of averages. The worst ‘masters’ among us shout at their helpers and even call them names. In the very worst scenarios, physical abuse is an everyday thing.
The best of us offer education and health benefits to our domestic companions and even give them opportunities to augment their income through livelihood programs. Some employers always have their helpers with them at the same table no matter where they choose to dine. Few even get to travel around the world for free. But this, of course, is an anecdotal rarity.
Nonetheless, most of our house helpers suffer the very worst working conditions in and outside the country. Even Philippine labor law treats them as sub-human workers who deserves much less than everyone else who works as hard or less.
This unspoken Filipino caste system has gone on for so long that we even export our helpers to every country in the world who would have them. Some foreign employers have inherited our habits and take the atrocities even further by confiscating their helper’s passport and locking them up in their houses.
It is no revelation that foreigners see the Philippines as the number one outsourcer of help. Our people manage and maintain the households of thousands upon thousands of people all over the world, and they get very little in return. Few complain. Few earn enough to live decent lives and die with dignity.
Why do we allow this? Because it is convenient.This is something we do not bother to even talk about. Maybe it took a few heart piercing words by a Hong Kong writer to make us see our own errors. Indeed, the truth hurts. But what do we do about it?
These are the people we trust with our most precious possessions: our homes and our children. Do we really want to treat them badly?
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