January is human trafficking awareness month, and in Los Angeles, with the help of civil rights group. One Filipina woman has escaped from her alleged captors to file a lawsuit.
A 39-page civil lawsuit has outlined three years of alleged slavery for a Filipina woman.
Edelynne Bergado, a single mother from Pangasinan says she was kept in Marlon and Nellie Ann Velonza’s Los Angeles home for three years.
“She like many Filipinos was looking to earn money to support her children and her relatives and she was recruited directly by her traffickers her employers here in the United States,” said Christopher Lapinig. “The Velonza family.”
The case begins at the Velonza family’s cosmetics factory in San Pedro, Laguna, Philippines.
After a few months of working there, Begado was offered a chance to triple here 3,000 pesos a month salary by accompanying Marlon’s elderly mother in the US.
She was hesitant at first, but when Bergado arrived, the lawsuit claims she was subjected to 14 hour work days, forced to sleep on the living room floor or couch.
And when Marlon’s mother went back to the Philippines, Marlon and Nellie decided to keep her for another year, promising to fix her immigration papers.
“Edelynne had hoped to go back she thought that was the plan to go back with the mother. The Velonzas the couple here insisted that she stay, and they had already confiscated her passport so what had already turned into just a companionship, or accompanying this mother to the United States turned into almost three years of involuntary servitude,” said Christopher Lapinig. “Doing whatever the Velonzas wanted; housework and cooking and anything else around the house while Edelynne was basically getting no pay.”
On top of her domestic work, Bergado was also made to work for the family’s Etta Skincare business.
She produced skincare products by mixing household items and relabeling other brands.
She was then used as a so-called guinea pig to test the products.
She claims that she was denied medical attention when the experiments caused health problems.
The claim alleges that she was tightly monitored with restricted cell phone access.
As the work conditions worsened, the pay lessened, and she attempted to escape at least once.
Eventually in January of last year, Bergado told a friend thru Facebook about her plight, and police officers took her from the Velonza’s home.
She is now in the process of getting a trafficking visa.
“She is still very much recovering from the trauma of basically being imprisoned for years and she’s doing her best to rebuild her life and restart her life.”
The lawsuit also named several family members claiming they benefited from Bergado’s servitude.
“Under the federal trafficking victims protection act, a person or entity can be liable for human trafficking if you knowingly benefitted from someone’s human trafficking, and at least from our point of view, other individuals related to the Velonzas were aware of Edelynne’s situation and nevertheless accepted benefits from Edelynne.”
Calls and messages to the Velonzas and their lawyers have not been responded to. In previous media statements, the Velonzas have denied the allegations, calling them lies.
Court documents say the the Velonzas will formally file their response to the court by the end of this month. No trial dates have been set yet. Steve Angeles abs-cbn news Los Angeles.