Press Release
December 18, 2015


Sen. Grace Poe condemned the reported maltreatment of a Filipina domestic helper in Singapore, saying no Filipino here or abroad deserves to be treated cruelly by an employer.

Poe, the leading presidential candidate, called on concerned government agencies, led by the Philippines Overseas Labor Office in Singapore, to assist Thelma Oyasan Gawidan as she goes on trial against her abusive employers.

"The abuse of our workers is unacceptable. The government must take an active role in making sure distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) get the support and protection they deserve," Poe said.

"By providing all help urgently needed by our OFWs in abusive employment, we send a strong message to all destination countries that we will not tolerate the maltreatment of Filipino workers," the senator said.

Gawidan, 40, accused her employers of starving her for 15 months, causing her weight to drop to only 29 kg, or about the weight of an average grade-schooler.

In her testimony before a Singaporean court, Gawidan said trader Lim Choon Hong and his wife Chong Sui Foon only fed her instant noodles and bread twice a day. She said her employers watched her every move and prevented her from talking to anyone, even locking her phone in her luggage.

The Filipino helper said she was forced to work at night, sometimes for more than 24 hours straight, but was not given her salary or allowed to take any days off. Her employers let her shower only twice a week and would escort her to a public toilet whenever she needed to relieve herself.

"No Filipino should be uprooted from their families only to endure such abuse and become victims of unfair labor practices abroad," Poe said. "The government must intervene to protect migrant workers' rights and preserve their welfare and dignity."

Gawidan started working for her employers in January 2013 and escaped in April 2014. She is one of at least 167,000 OFWs in Singapore, many of them employed as domestic helpers.

"Every day, we hear about OFWs being abused or in crisis situations. We should be ready to assist them. Upon their arrival, our embassies and consulates abroad must make sure that OFWs know the services available to them so that they won't feel helpless and deserted," said Poe.

Aside from OFWs who end up with abusive employers, there are at least 6,000 Filipinos detained abroad, 90 of them on death row. There were 1,665 victims of trafficking from 2000 to 2013.

The protection of OFW welfare falls within the mandate of the following interrelated agencies: the Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Foreign Affairs, Commission on Filipinos Overseas, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

"Our economy has greatly benefited from the sacrifices of our OFWs: almost 10 percent of our country's gross domestic product comes from remittances. If our country cannot yet provide adequate opportunities here to encourage them to return home, at least let us make sure that they are safe, wherever they are in the world," Poe said.

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