Pinay victims, advocates demand better protection against trafficking

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

May 12, 2014

Elmhurst, NY – For years, dozens of Filipina mothers and teachers say they were forced to spend many Mother’s Day celebrations away from their families.

That is one of the sad truths these alleged victims of modern slavery say they have to endure as undocumented immigrants in America.

Trafficking survivor Maria Filipina Ecleo, 38, said, “Napakirap bilang isang ina na ikaw dito nagtuturo ka ng ibang lahi pero yung sarili mong anak eh hindi mo maturuan, para lang mabigyan sila ng magandang kinabukasan.”

As early as 2003, Ecleo is among more than a hundred teachers recruited from the Philippines by Renaissance Staffing Support headed by Isidro Rodriguez.

They were allegedly promised high salaried teaching jobs with benefits in public schools in North Carolina and Washington, DC. But after paying their recruiter $18,000 to $20,000 in placement fees, expensive seminars and other immigration fees – these H1B category teachers came to the US only to find out that the teaching jobs Rodriguez promised them did not exist.

Today, most of these highly qualified educators are jobless, undocumented and are fighting to legalize their status.

“Nalaman namin na ang lahat ng aming dokyumento ay fraud, dumating kami rito na walang trabaho, inilalagay niya kami sa iba’t ibang day care center na hindi namin kayang sikmurain,” Ecleo said. “Nakaranas kami ng matinding depresyon, kahihiyan, at pagmaltrato ng iba’t ibang lahi dito.”

Another trafficking survivor Janet Basilan Gardoce said, “Naghanap ako ng paraan na makakuha ng trabaho dahil ang utang ko ay umabot na sa $30,000 dahil sa mga tubo na hanggang ngayon binabayaran ko, ngayon ay mayroon pa akong utang sa financing company sa Pilipinas na umabot ng $16,000 yung china-charge nila sa akin.”

Last Nov. 13, Rodriguez together with alleged conspirators Karen Llao Lee, Manilyn Flores Guerrero and Rosana Macatangay were arrested and charged with violations of the Migrant Workers Overseas Act of 1995 and large scale syndicated Estafa. But reports say Rodriguez was released from detention over the weekend.

Gabriela Washington, DC’s Jo Quiambao said, “It is definitely a concern. All of the Gabriela chapters are really advocating for, you know, to put more pressure on the Philippine government to hold these perpetrators accountable and provide stronger protections for migrant workers.”

The Polaris Project reports that there are 27 million modern slaves around the world and 55 percent of trafficking victims are women and girls.

During a summit on human trafficking in Elmhurst, NY on Saturday, former “Miss Saigon” star and Gabriela activist Monique Wilson said that the trafficking of Filipino women has got to stop.

Wilson said, “Ang ating mga polisiya, mga laws natin really do not protect our women inside and outside of the country so sa matinding kahirapan sa Pilipinas, nafoforce ma-traffic ang ating mga kababaihan.”

For many of these trafficking survivors, all they’re asking for now is for the US Government to legalize their status and get their dignity back.

“Kaya nga kami nakikipaglaban na makulong siya na ma-prosecute siya, dahil ayaw na naming mangyari ito sa iba at mapagbayaran niya yung lahat lahat ng mga ginawa niyang paghihirap sa buhay namin,” Gardoce said. “Yung utang mababayaran pa yun pero yung hirap na naramdaman mo at saka yung na-miss mo yung family mo, yun ang hindi mababayaran, hindi maibabalik so ang gusto lang namin magkaroon ng hustisya.”

You may contact Don Tagala at don_tagala@abs-cbn.com for more information.

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