Modern Day Slavery: It Exists and It Must End
US Filipinos Respond to Atlantic Article “My Family’s Slave”
The Atlantic released an article in the June 2017 magazine issue entitled “My Family’s Slave” by journalist Alex Tizon. In his written account, Eudocia Tomas Pulido or “Lola” – a term for grandmother – was “gifted” to Tizon’s parents by his grandfather in order to care for the family for generations, without pay, essentially becoming the family’s slave. NAFCON shares the sadness and outrage that our communities feel in the inhumane treatment of Lola. Unfortunately, Lola’s experiences are not unique, and to this day the Filipino community is still all too familiar with modern day slavery, not only in their own homes here in the U.S. and in the Philippines, but also in the homes of families across Canada, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. NAFCON has received numerous stories and has taken on campaigns of Filipinos who survived modern day slavery and trafficking in every corner of this country. We are one with the community in seeking justice for all victims of slavery and trafficking by launching campaigns and addressing the root causes that allow for this to happen in the first place.
Lieutenant Tom in the Philippines in 1943
“Lieutenant Tom had as many as three families of utusans living on his property. In the spring of 1943, with the islands under Japanese occupation, he brought home a girl from a village down the road. The lieutenant was shrewd—he saw that this girl was penniless, unschooled, and likely to be malleable. Tom approached her with an offer: She could have food and shelter if she would commit to taking care of his daughter, who had just turned 12. Lola agreed, not grasping that the deal was for life”
The Philippines is a country whose land is continually ravaged. It has gone through centuries of foreign domination, from the Spaniards, the Americans, the Japanese, to the current relationship with the United States. The feudal culture that views women as property has been reinforced in the colonial Philippine society to date, from using them as a way to pay off debts to tying their roles in the family to household chores. During American occupation, the Tydings-Mcduffie Act was enacted. It established the 10-year transition of the Philippines from an American colony to a nominally independent country. The act specified a number of unequal provisions that not only benefitted U.S. interests, but also required approval of the constitution by the U.S. President and the Philippine government. This act established limitations on Filipino immigration to the United States, institutionalizing the exploitation that Filipino farmworkers in Hawaii and the West Coast already faced, leading many migrant workers to be undocumented or TNT as Tizon explained. To date, U.S. forces still function in the Philippines through unequal military agreements between the two countries, with devastating impacts on the Philippine environment, women and children, and communities.
Why are the people of the Philippines, whose natural resources are valued at more than a trillion dollars, living in poverty?
“While she looked after us, my parents went to school and earned advanced degrees, joining the ranks of so many others with fancy diplomas but no jobs. Then the big break: Dad was offered a job in Foreign Affairs as a commercial analyst. The salary would be meager, but the position was in America—a place he and Mom had grown up dreaming of”
The Philippines is not industrialized, and the vast natural resources are being mined and exported by primarily foreign corporations. At the same time, the country is filled with government officials who are businessmen seeking profit, not looking after the preservation of our natural resources or the welfare of everyday Filipinos like Lola Eudocia. This leads to a widening gap between the rich and the poor, with 7 out of 10 seeing themselves as poor. Government officials enact policies that further line the pockets of themselves and their landlord and business friends, including collaboration with foreign corporations, and when workers and people resist, they are met with repression by the police, military, and even U.S. military forces protecting American interests in our homeland.
This leads to countless individuals who are forced to migrate to provide for themselves and their families due to extreme poverty, political instability, and no livelihood opportunities in our home country. In the era of globalization, migration is forced, not a choice, but one of the only means to survive.
How does the Philippine government’s Labor Export Policy encourage modern day slavery?
On average, 6,000 Filipinos leave the Philippines every single day in order to work overseas. Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are pushed into the global market to find jobs in order to find better opportunities. They hope to rise from the impoverished state of their communities and the country, from landlessness, and from a government infected with corruption.
The Labor Export Policy (LEP) of the Philippine Government encourages emigration. The policy hails OFWs as modern day heroes as the country depends on the LEP Program for economic survival. The system has both a private and public component. Private agencies are proliferating as middlemen to facilitate the recruitment and placement of poverty-stricken Filipinos to serve employers abroad. Public agencies further facilitate this system of exploitation, offering few and inconsistent support for vulnerable migrant workers, like pre-migration training and eligibility for pre-departure and emergency loans. At the same time, LEP government agencies like the POEA, OWWA, DOLE, and CFO charge fees, while the workers see little to none of the benefits, protections, or services from those agencies.
NAFCON believes that the LEP, a policy which commodifies Filipinos and pushes them out of our homeland as cheap labor commodities, makes Filipino forced migrants prone to abuse by employers abroad because of weak monitoring or enforcement of any labor or migration laws. Keeping the migrants under the system of forced migration has never been the solution to the people’s or the country’s economic problems.
Are there other Lola Eudocias out there?
These are just several examples of how Filipinos experience modern day slavery. Desperate to provide better lives for themselves and their families, they are put in a vulnerable situation away from loved ones, into an unfamiliar culture and society with inadequate protection of their human rights.
CALL TO ACTION
Let us end trafficking and slavery altogether through education, organizing, campaigns and actions that address the immediate needs of survivors, hold perpetrators accountable, and change the conditions that leave Filipinos vulnerable to modern day slavery. If change is what we seek, action is what we need. NAFCON member organizations exist in over 23 cities in the US, and we urge you to advocate with us for justice for trafficked survivors and empowerment of immigrant workers.
We also invite you to join NAFCON this summer in New York for our Mission to End Modern Slavery (MEMS)’s Summit:
Affirming Dignity and Justice for Trafficking Survivors: Guestworker Trafficking in These Times
Saturday, June 24, 9-5pm
Christ Church, UMC
524 Park Avenue
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