Monday, July 25, 2005

The maid's day off

I have been thinking about this post for some time, basically since my trip to Hong Kong in April. My recent trip to the Middle East brought me back to it, after being jammed in a 777 for 9 hours with 200+ Indonesians and Filipinos all riding along the 21st century's version of the "trail of tears". The coup de grace however was a post by Spike, examining possible speeches Gloria Arroyo will give today.

If you have ever been, or you get the chance to go to Hong Kong and are there over a Sunday, take some time to go over to the HSBC building, say about 11:30 a.m. Instead of a quiet office building you will find a throng of humanity sitting, talking, and eating. The building is an open air ground floor so the reverberation of the conversations sounds like 1000's of birds chirping, only louder. If you have not guessed by now I am talking about the huge crowd of Filipina's who gather there and in the park by the War Memorial:

I've always been amazed at this human procession every time I have seen it in Singapore and Hong Kong and to a lesser extent other Asian capitals. I gather it also happens in the Middle East, but in a different manner, because the customs are different and during the summer its too hot outside to gather outside for an entire afternoon. Either way it points out a disturbing fact about the Philippines. Their major export is people. There are a whole host of reasons for this exodus back and forth, but I think its a national disgrace for the government of the Philippines. Doesn't it bother them, that after over 60 years as an independent nation, they have to ship large contingents of their population overseas to work?

Its Filipino, Indonesian, and Bangladeshi labor that drives the economic engine of both the Middle East and selected Asian cities. In Diego Garcia, all of the grunt work for the US Navy there is done by Filipino laborers. For their services they are paid anywhere from a whopping 10-15K US dollars per year (plus room and board and food). In Hong Kong the average maid's salary is :

In Hong Kong, the minimum wage for a maid is HK$3670 a month(US $ 476) . In Singapore, unless the woman is protected by an individual contract, she can be paid as little as her employer chooses.According to Wee, the average income of Filipino maids in Singapore is about S$300 a month (US $230), while Indonesians earn between S$160 and S$200.But she says most Sri Lankan and Thai maids get considerably less and she is aware of one Bangladeshi maid paid just S$30 a month - far less than the global benchmark for dire poverty of US$1 a day.(Source:The Age newspaper in Australia).

Even the US government gets in on the act. As I said earlier, in Diego Garcia, a company known as DG-21 employs about 3000 Filipinos for a hell of a lot less than they would have to pay Americans ( Median yearly wage, 11,000 US dollars). I was astounded the first time I took a look at our pay documents for there. Yet I'm told its a lot of money back in the PI.

Go to a restaurant or bar in Bahrain, it won't be a Bahraini that serves you your food or drink. 95% certainty of a Filipino being on the service staff there.It will be a generally nice looking piece of Filipina tuna, who work a heck of a lot harder than I would care to, providing service to Arabs who treat them like S**t. The responses I have been given when I ask about it, is almost always the same. The money is better here and somebody has to help their family.

Many of these women ( and there are a lot of men too) leave children behind in the care of parents, at least if some of the girls I have met in Singapore and Hong Kong are to be believed.
Also in both Singapore and Hong Kong, not a few months go by with out some story of a maid who was abused badly , by her usually Chinese employers:

Purwanti Parji, 19, faces life in jail for the crime, the Straits Times said, in what is the second case in less than a week of an Indonesian maid before the courts for killing a Singaporean woman.
Sundarti Supriyanto, 23, was sentenced to life in jail on Friday after being convicted of murdering her boss, Angie Ng, 33, and the woman's three-year-old daughter, Crystal, in May 2002.
Sundarti stabbed Ng to death and then set alight with petrol the building the victim and her daughter were in. She avoided the death penalty after the High Court ruled Ng had abused her. Purwanti pleaded guilty to killing Har Chit Heang, 57, on Aug. 4 last year by strangling her while she was asleep in her bedroom, according to the Straits Times.
The High Court heard from the prosecution that Purwanti had become angry after Har scolded her. Purwanti had been forced to work weekdays for Har, and weekends at the woman's daughter-in-law's house.
A High Court spokeswoman said Tuesday Purwanti will be sentenced on Tuesday.(Source Jakarta Post 28 September 2004).

To make a extra money, some turn to other pursuits on the weekends.

In the end, money is what it is all about. Other countries have it to offer and so folks go where the jobs are. Thanks to the continual cycle of government mismanagement in the Philippines, of which Gloria Arroyo is just the latest version, the jobs are not in the homeland. FEDEX recently decided to pull out of Subic Bay and move to Guangzhou China. I can't help but think that the deteriorating economic and security environment had something to do with the decision.

Demonstration in Central, Hong Kong.

I have also found it more than a little astounding, that for a group that sticks together, as much as Filipinos do; that they have not fought back against this particular phenomenon. Being here in Japan has also given me an appreciation for Filipino culture, they are a talented people, but there are also some aspects that are distinctly troubling to me. Probably should leave it at that here, but someday I'll try to put it down on paper. (or on this blog). Its complex, but some things about Filipino society need to be changed and quickly. Their ability to stick together is both a good and a bad thing IMHO. I'll just leave it at that and try to avoid the hate mail.

I don't have a solution for any of this. I just am struggling to understand it. The only real solution lies with the Philippines itself. They need to do something to make their nation work well. Until then, it just represents untapped potential lying dormant. Would they be any worse off if they had remained a US possession? Somehow I doubt it.



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