STRUGGLE OF ‘FLORIDA 15’ TURNED INTO A COMMUNITY STAGE PLAY

By Don Tagala, ABS CBN North America Bureau

May 20, 2013

NEW YORK CITY – “Diwang Pinay” is a compelling stage play based on the struggles of four undocumented Filipino women from the group called “Florida 15.”

These are 15 Overseas Filipino Workers sent to Miami, but whose experience of abuse led them to sue their Filipino employer for alleged labor trafficking and wage theft.

This 3-nights-only performance is part of a campaign to stop labor trafficking, mounted by activist groups Gabriela USA, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FIRE) and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON).

“We’re hoping that those who have experienced trafficking and hear about the story will come forward,” said Candice Sering, cultural director for FIRE.

Stories of trafficked victims are almost all the same: employment agencies recruit Filipinos desperately seeking jobs abroad; charge them thousands of dollars in recruitment fees and have them sign lucrative labor contracts, promising a way out of poverty in the Philippines.

Already buried in debt before they could even start working, these workers will later on find themselves overworked, underpaid and threatened of deportation if they complained about their work conditions.

“They’re blinded usually by the allure of money, making money, but its really for a good cause to support their families back home,” said Monique Romero who plays “Tessie”.

Zarah Vinola plays the role of “Mara”, based on Trixie Balesteros’ story.

Balesteros left her son to work in the US so she could provide him a better life in the Philippines. Like many OFW’s separated from their families, Balesteros became a virtual parent – for many years she watched her son grow via Skype.

“She’s very much concerned about making sure that her son does not realize her absence,” Vinola said.

“Ok nandun yung homesickeness, you will be lonely, you will be all alone, but aside from that yung darker side is that there are people who will take advantage of you,” said Lorena Mcrae, who plays another victim.

One of the victims, Annabelle Sibayan, said that the only thing that set the Florida 15 apart is that they’ve fought back and found justice.

“Kasi kung alam mo yung karapatan mo, hindi lang isang bilang manggagawang Pilipino, bilang isang tao na rin, dun ka matututong lumaban, dun ka hindi matatakot, hindi ka magtatago lang,” Sibayan said.

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