As the famous essay by the late Pulitzer-winning Filipino writer Alex Tizon pointed out, there are slaves in our midst today.
On my street alone, there are around four or five slaves. I know because I counted the friends of my kasambahay E in our area. These modern-day slaves make anywhere between PHP2500 to PHP4000 a month doing all-around work for their masters. Some unfortunate ones work for free their whole lives by virtue of being a blood relative or close to a blood relative (like Tizon’s case) with nowhere else to go. The chores they do may include washing the soiled underwear of their very adult and very capable masters, a terrible task I will never inflict on my worst enemy.
Day-offs are not optional – their requests can be easily refused, and they have no choice but to work on Saturdays or Sundays while the whole city is having a field day watching all the pretty Alexes and unpretty Empoys get it on the big screen. Merienda is also not part of their life; they have to make kaltas from their meager suweldo to buy themselves some pieces of pan de coco or fishballs to give themselves energy to serve their masters, often little kids who like to kick them in the face for fun.
The Kasambahay Law, which is supposed to provide protection for house help by requiring their employers to remit SSS or Pag-Ibig benefits every month, among other things, is easily circumvented. When the kasambahay starts to demand his or her rights, the master can simply refuse the demand, and the slave is asked to stay or leave. But in reality, there is only one choice, because in many cases the master will simply not offer any monetary support to enable the slave to make the decision to leave.
Ano ka sinuswerte?
Yes, slavery is very much alive and kicking in the Philippines!
If you are a master, like me, you can say what you want. You can say that our kasambahays are human and can therefore become abusive too. You can say that they are scheming and manipulative and use their employment as stepping stones to greener pastures. You can say that they filched money and food and clothing and twisted your kid’s arm one time and so they had to be let go. You can say that they are too frisky, that’s why they easily get pregnant after every boyfriend and must be let go. You have your own problems too and can’t be burdened by the lives of others.
Say anything to make you sleep at night.
But the reality is: you are the master. As Raymond Lauchengco (or Marco Sison?) once said: you’ve got the power, nothing’s gonna get in your waaaayyyy…
You got the money to pay them; they don’t. You are on a higher plane of existence than they are in terms of educational background, networks and overall bourgeois experiences like travels to foreign countries and knowledge of other languages; they don’t (except maybe a phrase or two from some malibog foreigners they met on Tinder). And because you’ve got the power, you also hold the key to improving (or destroying) your relationship with them.
However, there are a few complaints that every master will dread to make, such as: they kidnapped my child for ransom, abused her while I was away working. Or: there was an accident. In that case, I will pray for you. I will even cry for you, damn it. But I will also take a long, hard look at your situation. Something terrible went wrong in your journey. Aside from simple kamalasan, what happened to your leverage of higher education, social status and discernment? What happened to your power? I want to understand.
Could it very well be that you did not have enough money to pay them, but that you badly needed a helping hand? In that case, you must ask them what they want so they will work for you for free. It could also very well be that you had so much money to pay them that you thought you owned them and they could be your personal robots working 24/7. In that case, you must still ask them what they want so that they will really work for you for that much money. Ask them gently and nicely.
If you don’t do this, they will leave, in most cases, as they should. If you block the door to prevent them from leaving, that automatically makes you an oppressor and I hate oppressors like the lice that infested my hair when I was eight years old. If I hear about it (about your being such a louse), me and my kasambahay E will find a way to make them escape. (Yes, we’ve helped a few escape their oppressive masters, and I’m prouder of this fact than all my other accomplishments in life).
Today is an apt day to ask the following questions, if you are employing a kasambahay:
1. Are you treating him/her more as a slave or as a friend?
2. Is he or she happy with you? Do you laugh or cry together?
3. Have you done enough homework as employer to mitigate any accidents from happening with your kasambahay? Do you know about his/her health or physical disabilities, for instance? Can you properly discern if he/she’s the right fit for your home?
4. Does he/she have ample time to rest from her chores?
5. Is he/she happy with your work arrangement?
6. Does he/she eat thrice a day plus merienda? Will you afford whatever diet he/she’s on?
7. Are you willing to do his/her chores yourself, if he/she’s unable to for whatever reason?
8. If he/she starts to fail and grow old, are you willing to continue providing support?
9. Can you support his/her dreams and goals one step at a time? Are you willing to let him/her go when the time comes?
True love is letting go, or so they say. But how can you let go if you never really loved your fellow human being as yourself in the first place?
Today, more than any other day, will be a great day to love your kasambahay as yourself, because I’ll recognize you as a National Household Hero and memorialize you on my blog for all time.
August 28, 2017
My heroes are small but very relateable