5 OFWs treated as slaves by a retired Saudi general seek justice; Ople Center seeks probe into POLO’s case handling

5 OFWs treated as slaves by a retired Saudi general seek justice; Ople Center seeks probe into POLO’s case handling

By Ernie Reyes

MANILA — Five domestic workers from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia sought the
help of the Philippine government in running after a retired general
of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and his family for treating them as
slaves during their employment.

While under quarantine, the five women sought the Blas F. Ople Policy
Center, a non-profit organization that assists victims of human
trafficking. All five workers arrived in Manila from Riyadh, Saudi
Arabia on September 2, 2022.

According to their testimonies, the women experienced physical and
verbal abuse from employers, General Ayed Al Jeaid and wife, Fetnah
Metrek Al Qahtani as well as the head Filipino housekeeper or
“mayordoma”, Anita Cielo.

The overseas domestic workers said their
employer’s 25-year old daughter was a drug addict who also subjected
them to beatings especially when the latter was high. The women’s
mobile phones and passports were confiscated on their first day of
work, with warnings given against contacting any member of their
family.

Refusing to use aliases, the five women said they wanted the former
Saudi general to know that they will continue to fight for their
rights and all other abused Filipino domestic workers now that they
are back in their home country. The five women are: Analyn Villena,
Mary Grace Bag-O, Ma. Cristina Quiachon, Annaliza Parayno, and Ely Mae
Merioles Ocampo.

“We will use our real names because we want the general to know that
we have not given up the fight, and that we have informed our own
government of how they treated us like slaves while working in their
mansion,” Analyn said.

She said they decided to come out in the open
to shame their employers and also to ask the government to investigate
perceived lapses in the handling of their case by the Philippine
Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Riyadh.

They also called on the
immediate recovery and repatriation of five other Filipino domestic
workers that the said family were still able to employ even after the
complainants were turned over to the Philippine Embassy.

Showing copies of their e-tickets, the workers said that POLO Riyadh
negotiated a settlement with their employers worth 12,000 riyals which
included payments for their air tickets home.

However, they alleged
that POLO Riyadh promised to include them in the government’s
repatriation flights so that they could save on the air ticket fees
and bring home the 12,000 riyals to their families. Instead, the POLO
staff booked them on commercial flights using the 5,000 riyals from
their settlement to pay for the air tickets.

In a press conference arranged by the Ople Center, the five OFWs
appealed to the labor department to reimburse their payments for the
commercial air tickets so that they have more to bring home to their
families.

They also sought the help of the government in investigating
the continuous hiring of Filipino Kasambahays by the abusive general
and his family considering the string of complaints against them
dating back to 2019.

This year, the said employer was able to hire two
Filipino domestic workers who lasted only three months, and two
months, respectively, due to incessant beatings, lack of sleep, and
deprivation of contact with their families.

Susan Ople, president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and a former
labor undersecretary, noted that the same employer was able to hire
the five “Kasambahays” by using different names on POEA-approved job
contracts.

OFW Mary Grace Bag-O’s contract was processed by Leila
International Services, Inc, while ERRX Recruitment Consulting
recruited OFWs Ma. Cristina Quiachon and Analyn Villena this year.
Annaliza Parayno and Ely Mae Ocampo were recruited by WiseRecruit Corp
to work for the general’s family in 2019.

According to the OFWs, the POLO staff told the maltreated women that
the wealthy, retired general had enormous clout within the Kingdom and
it would be difficult to ask the employer to appear before the POLO.

“Ang sabi po sa amin ng taga-POLO kung magpupursige kami sa pagkaso sa
heneral baka abutin kami ng taon doon sa Saudi at baligtarin lang kami
ng aming mga employers,” the women told the Ople Center. (“We were
told by POLO that if we continue with the case against the general we
could be in Saudi Arabia for years and our employers can also turn the
table against us.”)

Susan Ople, an anti-human trafficking advocate, said that such an
attitude on the part of POLO officers and staff was inexcusable.
Instead of giving the workers hope, the POLO staff merely aggravated
the fears and anxiety of the OFWs.

“They could have viewed this case
as a possible forced labor trafficking violation, and sought the help
of the ATN officer, the DSWD attache, and the Saudi firm enlisted by
the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh to assist distressed OFWs.

All the elements were there: confiscation of passports, deprivation of
freedom, and the use of force and intimidation. From the start, this
should have been treated as more than just the usual labor
violations.”

25-year old Elle Mae Ocampo told reporters that they were slapped
multiple times every day, and that the employer’s wife would grab and
pull their hair leaving them with bald spots.

Mary Grace Bag-o also experienced being beaten up by her employers and
having to eat outside the bathroom with food brought by the other OFWs
because she had no time to eat or rest.

Analyn, one of the OFWs, said she feared for her life, and wanted her
family to know what was going on but they were not allowed to
communicate with their families.

They were only allowed to leave the
household by batches after they threatened the general of exposure
through media channels in the Philippines. The general relented and
allowed one of them or two of them to leave until all five were able
to seek refuge in the embassy.

The employer’s daughter also demanded that Analyn roll her drugs,
which alternated between shabu and marijuana. Fearful for her life,
Analyn told the female employer that her son was high, which led to
more beatings from the son’s enraged mother.

At one time, the OFW fell asleep due to sheer fatigue and the daughter
pressed a lighted cigarette to her throat to wake her up.

“There was not one day when we were spared from physical abuse,” the
women told the Ople Center.

The Ople Center said that it would formally write to the DFA to ask
for legal assistance in behalf of the aggrieved OFWs so that proper
charges could be filed against the former general and other abusive
household and family members.

The policy center would also write the
DOLE to seek a probe into how the case was handled, and why the
general was still able to hire OFWs as domestic workers despite a long
string of complaints filed by former employees.

“We have hired a lawyer to help the ‘courageous five’ in the legal
battles ahead. OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac has also pledged to
help the five victims through OWWA’s livelihood and scholarship
programs. Philippine Ambassador to Riyadh Adnan Alonto also promised
the Ople Center that it would look deeper into the case and that the
embassy has filed a Note Verbale with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
to request for assistance,” Susan Ople said.

Based on the testimonies of the five women, the Ople Center observed
the following gaps in the embassy’s handling of their case, which the
policy center hopes can be further investigated by the Philippine
ambassador as well as DoLE, the DFA, and IACAT:

  1. They were not asked if they needed counseling and/or medical
    treatment while under the POLO’s care despite their account of what
    happened. The POLO could have referred them to the DSWD attache for
    appropriate care.
  2. They were not given the chance to face their employers for
    conciliation, with the POLO dealing instead with an emissary that
    brought the 12,000 riyals in an envelope for the workers to receive in
    exchange for a waiver in pursuing further charges against the
    employers and/or agencies concerned.
  3. They could have boarded a repatriation flight instead of a
    commercial flight so that they could bring home the money given by
    their employer for air tickets, on humanitarian grounds.
  4. They could have been given access to a Saudi lawyer who could have
    fought for their rights and a much bigger settlement considering that
    the case goes beyond the usual labor contractual violations.

“Let’s walk the talk when we say no Filipino is a slave by making sure
that this sadistic family is exposed to the public and reported to the
Saudi authorities for harming our women,” Ople said, adding that the
POLO should be the first to raise hell over such abuses instead of
being in a hurry to ship the women home for fear of reprisal from the
abusive, retired general. (ai/mtvn)

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