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September 1996, Volume 3, Number 9

Philippines Maid Returns Home

Philippine maid Sarah Balabagan came home to a hero's welcome in August, after being jailed in the United Arab Emirates for nearly two years for killing her 85-year-old employer in self-defense. Instead of being hanged, Balabagan was given 100 lashes and made to pay $40,000 blood money. Balabagan says she is 17, although her documents say she is 30.

Balabagan is now a millionaire, having received more than a million pesos from a French non-government group called "Save Sarah Balabagan Movement." A German movie company has offered her $5 million for the rights to her story.

The ILO office in Manila reportedly estimates that there are 4.5 million Filipinos employed abroad, half working as illegals. An additional two million Filipinos live permanently abroad, including 1.1 million in the US, according to the International Alliance of Filipino Migrant Workers, known by its acronym Migrante.

The ILO, in a recent report, noted that Filipinos are likely to continue to emigrate for decades: even if "macro-economic recovery was quick, robust and sustained, the time taken to come within sight of the turning point in the domestic labor market might have to be measured in decades, not years."

The Philippine economy grew by almost six percent in 1995, and the country created 500,000 to one million new jobs for the 700,000 work force entrants. The unemployment rate is officially eight percent. In 1994, some 775,000 persons joined the labor force, while 719,692 persons left for work abroad.

The ILO estimates remittances to be $3 billion per year, equivalent to more than 20 percent of export earnings, and as much as four percent of GDP.

According to Migrante, there have been at least 40,000 documented cases of abuse of Filipino migrant workers. Migrante says there are 400 Filipinos in Saudi jails, including 40 on death row, although the government reports that there are only 50 Filipinos in foreign prisons, and only 10 sentenced to death.

There are over 500,000 Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia, including 160,604 who were deployed there in 1995. Most are professionals or skilled and semi-skilled workers--about 15 percent of the Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, or 75,000, are maids.

In 1995, some 51,701 Filipinos were deployed to Hong Kong, followed by Taiwan, 50,538; United Arab Emirates, 26,235; Japan, 25,032; Malaysia, 11,622; Singapore, 10,736; Qatar, 9,961; Kuwait 9,852; and, the US, 7,456.

The Philippines first began to encourage migration for employment abroad in 1974. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is now discouraging Filipino women from going abroad as maids by requiring that they be least 25 years of age.

The Philippines in August implemented new guidelines for the recruitment of maids to work in Singapore. On August 8, 160 Singaporean recruitment agents were briefed on Manila's new guidelines for the deployment of Filipino domestic workers.

The recruiters, all members of Local and Foreign Workers Employment Agents Association of Singapore, signed an agreement with the Philippine Overseas Labour Office in Singapore, pledging to deposit S$5,000 as a security bond with the Philippine Embassy. Violations of the new rules will lead to a forfeiture of the bond and possible loss of accreditation.

The recruiters predict that the number of Filipino domestic workers in Singapore will increase 50 percent after the new guidelines are in place.

Some of the agents reportedly fear that Singaporeans who want to hire maids will recruit them privately, via maids already working, and bring them in as tourists to avoid the bond.

In Hong Kong, plans to require employers of Filipino maids to post a HK$200 deposit with the local consulate were reportedly delayed by too few staff to collect the fee. Hong Kong employers currently pay HK$425 to the consulate to process contracts, and the extra HK$ 200 was to be used to authenticate contracts.

Nirmal Ghosh, "Manila briefs 160 Singapore recruiters on new guidelines on maids," Straits Times, August 9, 1996. "Filipina maids' number in Singapore to rise 50 percent recruiters," Agence France Presse, August 8, 1996. Jason Gutierrez, "Migrant workers' woes haunt Philippines," United Press International August 9, 1996. Johanna Son, "Balagaban returns, many more look abroad," Inter Press Service, August 1, 1996.