CABANATUAN, Philippines – Despite the death sentence looming over overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso in Indonesia, her older sister Maritess still took a chance at a job abroad.
Although afraid, given the fate of the younger Veloso, Maritess Veloso Laurente said she had to show a brave face for her 5 children.
“Eh kasi alam ko naman kapos na talaga kami. Kapit na lang ako sa patalim nun, kasi walang wala na,” she told Rappler on Monday, March 30. (Because I knew we were really in a terrible bind. I had to grip on a knife’s edge, because we really had nothing.)
Maritess’ younger sister Mary Jane is set to be executed for alleged drug smuggling, a charge she and her family deny. (WATCH: The fate of Mary Jane Veloso)
In her own narrative, Mary Jane said she was tricked into a domestic work offer in Malaysia. After 3 days in Kuala Lumpur, her recruiter and godsister Christine allegedly told her to go meet a friend in Indonesia and gave her a luggage to place her newly-shopped clothes in.
It turned out that the luggage had 2.6 kilograms of heroin in aluminum foil beneath its linings.
Mary Jane was meted with the penalty of death, months after her arrest in 2010.
Four years later, Maritess would find herself in the same predicament Mary Jane was in – to go or not to go abroad for a higher-paying job.
This time, Maritess chose to go through the legal process.
Her job was in Bahrain, also as a household service worker.
“[Nag-apply ako] sa agency kasi ayaw ko magaya sa kapatid ko,” she said. (I applied in an agency, because I didn’t want to end up like my sister.)
The 34-year-old said she was extra cautious with her luggage, not allowing anyone to send packages through her.
“Inayos ko talaga ‘yung bagahe ko…. Kahit mabait ‘yung nakakausap ko, hindi ako nagtiwala,” she said. (I really prepared my baggage myself…. Even though there are kind people trying to talk to me, I did not trust easily.)
She said she had to pawn their family’s motorcycle for her expenses in applying for the job.
Maritess left for Bahrain in February 2014, but was forced to go back home in a little less than a year after she formed a gallstone.
In need of surgery, Maritess arrived in the Philippines on January 10 this year.
“Awa ng diyos, nabayaran ko naman mga utang ko,” she said. (In God’s mercy, I was able to earn enough to pay off my previous debts.)
Like Mary Jane, Maritess only finished first year high school.
Now back in Nueve Ecija, Maritess set up a small business in their village selling halo-halo, a popular Filipino dessert.
She is unsure how long her halo-halo store would prosper. She admits she does not have much choices for a living.
Unlike her brother, she said she is not “madiskarte sa hanapbuhay (resourceful when it comes to livelihood).”
Still going back
Having recovered from her surgery, Maritess still wants to give overseas employment another shot.
“Okay naman ‘yung naging trabaho ko dun. Nagkasakit lang ako,” she said. (My work in Bahrain was okay. I just fell ill.)
“Balak ko nga po umalis uli. Hirap po kasi ng buhay. Pero gusto ko sana cleaner,” she said in a separate text message. (I intend to leave again. Life is really hard. I want to apply as a cleaner.)
The Philippines is known as a labor-sending country. Of the estimated 10.5 million Filipinos overseas, some 4.93 million Filipino are permanently residing abroad and another 4.22 million are registered OFWs.
Still, there are Filipino migrant workers who go through improper channels to work abroad.
Some 1.34 million Filipinos are irregular OFWs, a number the government wishes to shrink.
Advice to would-be OFWs
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) urges would-be OFWs to first attend a pre-employment orientation seminar and determine for themselves if they are fit for work abroad.
The POEA also has an online database of recruiters with their corresponding statuses – whether they are in good standing, delisted, cancelled, forever banned, inactive, revoked, suspended, or denied renewal of permits.
A free POEA mobile app also shows the status of a recruitment agency, active job orders, as well as information about illegal recruitment and how to identify an illegal recruiter. (READ: Tech-based services needed to protect OFWs – research)
Under current state rules, only select OFWs – including domestic workers, caregivers, seafarers, and those bound to specified countries – are exempted from placement fees.
Otherwise, an OFW may be charged with as much as his or her one month’s salary. (READ: DOLE to endorse OFWs’ exemption from placement fees)
Newly-hired Filipino migrant workers are also required to attend a pre-departure orientation seminar.
While OFWs’ remittances boost the economy, President Benigno Aquino III envisions “a government that creates jobs at home so that working abroad will be a choice rather than a necessity.” – Rappler.com
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