More than 50 members of the local Filipino community recently rallied in support of Filipino migrant workers outside the Philippine Consulate in memory of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipina maid hanged in Singapore for a double murder that the Philippine government believes she did not commit.
Carrying signs reading "Justice for Flor, Justice for Migrant Workers" and a coffin draped in black, the marchers on April 13 demanded greater legal support for Filipinos. The Filipinos, like Contemplacion and millions of others in the United States and elsewhere, have sought employment overseas because their own country's debt-strapped economy cannot accommodate them.
"The government right now encourages export labor," said Fe Koons, a Filipina who came to the United States 10 years ago. "Migrant workers are their No. 1 dollar earners."
Taxes taken out of earnings sent back to relatives in the Philippines help boost the country's economy while diminishing unemployment at home, so foreign jobs are encouraged. More than 4.5 million Filipinos work outside their native country, many of them placed through a government agency that works with foreign recruiters.
"Workers would not leave if there was work in my country," Koons said. "I wouldn't have left if there was work. But if the government wants to export workers, they should have a support system for them. At least a legal support system, so they know where to go."
Roy Gorre, public information officer for the consulate, said that although recruiters are screened, the system is not foolproof. Once overseas, things can--and do--go wrong.
"This leaves lots of room for exploitation," Gorre said. "Flor Contemplacion has come to symbolize our combined anguish over the social consequences of having Filipinos work abroad. She was not the first, and unfortunately will not be the last. When you are working in the privacy of someone's home, you are so vulnerable. Who knows how many nameless others are being beaten or raped in their bedrooms at night?"
Contemplacion, 42, confessed to killing Delia Maga, another Filipina maid, and her 4-year-old Singaporean ward, but before her death claimed her confession had been coerced. Two new witnesses stepped forward with evidence pointing to Maga's employer as the killer, but despite pleas from the Philippine government to delay the execution, Contemplacion was hanged March 17.
The Philippine embassy in Singapore did not have the funds to hire a lawyer for Contemplacion,
Gorre said, and this is "a fact that has to be dealt with."
"At that time (of Contemplacion's plight), I'm sure there were many other Filipinos overseas in need of legal assistance," he said. "We are forced to confront this reality."
The Philippine government plans to review ways to bolster legal support for Filipino migrant workers, Gorre said. Philippine Labor Secretary Maria Nieves Confesor resigned April 17 over the incident.
Since the execution, the exportation of workers to Singapore has been banned in the Philippines, Gorre said. Several uneasy workers have been brought back home, and both countries have withdrawn their ambassadors.