Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Usual Can Be Criminal

We Filipinos needed to re-calibrate our understanding of what’s usual or normal, the instant we began to move out into the world en masse.

Unfortunately, that has been difficult, because of the re-feudalization accompanying migration, particularly for women. The necessary re-definition of relationships – from the most basic (family relations) to the most complex (labor relations) – has been frustrated by the very nature of the work into which majority of exported Filipinas are funneled.

Household work has been historically women’s slave shackles, rendering her a service unit in the family power structure, stunting her growth and development, erasing her sense of self.

It is much more so when one works in a foreign household. Here, one’s needs, one’s hopes, come absolutely last – after the father’s, the mother’s, the children’s, the pet’s, the guest’s… Here, one is told what to do every minute of the day, how to look at events, what to think … One is forever a junior member of the household, isolated even while ensconced in the family bosom.

I had to tell a friend who had been an organizer, an activist and a former political prisoner to quit being a nanny when she turned out to be the only one among us who could finish the “I’m a teapot short and stout” song. Your brain has turned to oatmeal, was my reaction.

The irony is that most Filipinas who leave the country do so with a vision of achieving an Angelina Jolie-Laura Croft personality: self-sufficient, independent, adventurous, treasure-seeker... Many do have adventures galore but there’s hardly ever a treasure at the end; only drudgery and the black hole of a demand for money that becomes the family they left behind. The de-skilling of nurses and even doctors, of those holding degrees and doctorates in various fields, of artists and writers, is tragic to watch.

In an effort to re-calibrate the essence of household work, we call our women domestic workers, so that work standards may be set, employer-employee relations may be modernized and even the processes of entering into such relations brought into congruence with modern labor standards. As a consequence,, we miss the essentially feudal and patriarchal nature of this work into which we send millions of Filipinas.

The women have to be maintained in a docile state, beholden to a patriarchal system of power and obligation. Domestic workers are prime targets for religious recruitment by fundamentalist sects and cabals of all kinds. Whenever a domestic worker visits, she leaves behind inevitably a pamphlet or two about this-that charismatic group, the crudeness and inanity of which can take your breath away. Who’s this so-called prophet with a keyboard around his neck, singing in the worst voice possible?

But we ignore what it means really to tie women to kitchen and bed and children. And in a 30,000 year tradition, we accept that as normal and usual.

Hence, Marichu’s adversaries can make such claims as she was recruited in accordance with normal procedures, hence no trafficking was involved; or she’s filed a complaint against a man with an astonishing curriculum vita, more’s the pity he will be sullied on the word of only a maid…

Well, an intern’s word and a blue dress nearly impeached the president of the U.S., remember that.

We should remember that:

If one recruits for one category of work and substitutes another -- that is considered fraud and deception and will land one in the realm of trafficking.

Trafficking is not limited to the sex trade; it includes labor – as in slavery and peonage, and even debt bondage.

These definitions we Filipinas helped create, through the 11-year Purple Rose Campaign of GABNet.

They do not go far enough in bringing us to a thorough understanding of re-feudalization and the patriarchal surge that accompany the sale of women as domestic servants.

Yes, I know, that phrase is not the correct one. I use it deliberately, in the hope that we will come to a comprehensive understanding of the nature of this unconscionable situation into which we place roughly half a million Filipinas every year; and having come to that understanding, we can take full cognizance of all the issues and problems attendant to it.

As a Canadian reporter said to me, what Marichu underwent, this is normal treatment of servants in the Philippines, no?

Yes, I said to him; but this is not limited to Filipino employers. Something happens to the human psyche when one has control over another human adult. I was thinking of the Stanford prison experiment (see wherein students fell into their roles of guards and prisoners.

Unfortunately, for lack of radio time, I couldn’t develop my thesis: that having a household servant impacts even the employer who slides into this semi-feudal role of patriarch and patron. I hope others will seriously develop a political economy of housework. A serious one.

Please note: The U.S. GAO report on the abuse of “private employees” by diplomats was revelatory in what wasn’t said. Of the top ten countries bringing in household staff for diplomats (“A” visas for employees of foreign embassies, consulates and governments; “G” visas for employees of international organizations like the World Bank) -- four are likely to use Filipino domestic workers: Manila, of course, which leads the pack with 1,775 visas issued; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (558); Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (509); and Doha, Qatar (502). And although only 42 cases of abuses have been reported and hence, documented, like most cases of abuse and violence against women, it is likely that only one in ten reaches the ears of authority. -- ##


The SONA (State of the Nation Address), usually delivered by the President of the Philippines at the start of the annual session of Congress, at the Batasan (Legislative) Building.


Best Comment on the SONA:

TV Reporter: What is the significance of the SONA to Filipino-Americans?
Interviewee: It is significant because it is important…

SONA of my dreams: The President arrives to find the red carpet still rolled up. Except for the occasional jeepney, the streets are empty. Even the vendors of ices, fans, hats and what-nots have gone elsewhere. The police have gone away. Media’s disappeared. No radio or television crew. The House security guards are just leaving. Inside, the congressional hall is empty. Just rows and rows of vacant seats.

If one cannot move the 90% to action, perhaps they can be moved into inaction – a Zen point of passive aggressive resistance.

Hard to stay awake listening to Gloria.

Amazing that, considering all the money from corruption floating around Manila government offices, they can’t even hire a better speechwriter. Were a SONA speech to carry as banal a truism as, say, “tomorrow is another day,” 80 million people would go into instant shock and die applauding, so used are we to the boring fabric of lies and spin that partisan political speeches have become. If one were to string together all the pages of SONA speeches, they will reach to the moon and back, “all sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Same as last year, when in the aftermath, the attempt was made to hold the GABNet 3 at the Ninoy Aquino Manila International Airport and instead three women took down the so-called "terrorist" list of 500 names created by minions of Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum Gonzales.

I make a point of this because women are so deprived of historical signification. --#