HONG KONG – Apologize or we’ll sue. Or take our grievance to the streets in protest.
This is what several Filipino migrant organizations in Hong Kong are threatening to do after a local politician said that “a large number of Filipino domestic workers” are seducing their expatriate employers and ruining marriages.
In an article published by Chinese language newspaper Ming Pao, executive councilor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said that during her time as immigration chief, she had received complaints that the government was “allowing Filipino domestic helpers to seduce their husbands.”
Ip went on to chastize international media for only reporting on abuses committed by some employers and not on these supposed illicit relationships.
“I think that besides reporting on the misconducts of Hong Kong employers, shouldn’t international media also pay more attention to the issue of a large number of Filipino domestic helpers being turned into sexual resources of male foreigners?”
Ip also suggested that Filipina maids who get into such relationships are driven by monetary considerations.
“It is understandable,” she said, “that a weak woman, who has traveled all the way to work in a foreign place with no familial connections – and who might need to feed the old and young in her family – would accept the good will of a boyfriend or employer to take care of her.”
The article, which was also originally posted on Ip’s Facebook page, has since been taken down. Ip, who is said to aspire to become Hong Kong’s next chief executive, has refused to apologize.
In an interview with Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post, an unrepentant Ip asked: “Why should I apologize? I have really received such complaints about the maids and I am only stating facts.”
Her comments have prompted the Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong to express concern, and the biggest organization of Filipino migrant workers to react in disgust.
Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, chairperson of migrants group United Filipinos in Hong Kong, said Ip’s remarks made her very angry.
“First, it is racist since we Filipinos were singled out. Second, it is anti-women because it labels us, Filipino women as ‘malalandi (flirts)” who seduce male employers and wreck families.”
She said Unifil, the largest umbrella organization of Filipino migrant groups in Hong Kong, is mulling filing its own racial discrimination case against Ip with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).
She did not rule out holding protest rallies either, saying Ip’s remarks could be seen as a reflection of the sentiments of Exco, the government’s policy-making body of which she is a member.
A similar case for discrimination was filed with EOC earlier by Hong Kong legislator Claudia Mo, who accused Ip of “blatant racism.”
Ip blamed the furor on an assistant’s wrong choice of headline, and said the protests it generated were “a big fuss out of a small issue.” She also said there was no need for her to apologize.
Mo shot back on her Facebook account, “Just how does one talk back to shamelessness?”
Edwina Antonio, executive director of Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge, a shelter for distressed migrant women, said it was disgraceful for a politician, a woman especially, to be making such anti-women statements.
“She should be banned from holding public office,” Antonio said. “She should not be in government if she thinks that way.”
Much less should she be Hong Kong’s next chief executive, said Antonio. “She should never be elected,” she said.
Antonio recalled that Ip, a rabid supporter of Beijing, had always been anti-migrant. In the court case for right of abode filed by several migrant workers for example, Ip felt compelled to ask the central government to intervene in case the courts sided with the petitioners.
“But this is the worst statement she has made against migrant workers,” said Antonio. She said a meeting will be called this week with other migrant support organizations so a joint statement could be drafted denouncing Ip.
The Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong has come out with its own statement expressing concern over Ip’s remarks,
“The Philippine Consulate General is concerned about Mrs Ip’s unfortunate choice of words. However, the Consulate General believes that it is not a reflection of the general sentiments of the Hong Kong community.”
While careful not to label Ip’s comments discriminatory, the Consulate’s statement went on to say, “Discrimination should have no place in any society, especially in Hong Kong, which prides itself as Asia’s World City.”
The Consulate’s cautious stance is understandable. After all, the 4-year standoff over the hostage crisis in Luneta was resolved only last year. The backlash from that tragedy, in which 8 Hong Kong residents were killed by a crazed gunman, is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
But the Hong Kong government would do well not to ignore the Filipino community’s indignation either. Six years ago, Filipinos staged the biggest anti-racism rally ever seen in Hong Kong, after a columnist wrote a satirical article denouncing the Philippines as a “nation of slaves.” – Rappler.com