Luzel Ramos, OFW who was reported to commit suicide in Kuwait

ESCAPE ATTEMPT. Luzel Ramos, an OFW, recounts her escape attempt from the hands of her abusive employer in Kuwait. ( photo by John Rizle Saligumba)

Thousands of OFWs end up as victims, and get only puny support from the Philippine government.

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Members of the Filipino crew of capsized cruise ship MV Costa Concordia, were quickly lauded by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for their ‘heroic’ act of saving passengers, with Secretary Albert Del Rosario saying, “We commend you for showing to the world the best traits of the Filipino seafarers.  You are our ‘sailing ambassadors’.”

News of heroism and praise, however, did not bring a smile to 36-year old Luzel Ramos, who used to be an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW).  Abused by her employers in the Middle East, she fled, only to end up in stitches.  She had been home since September last year.  And since then, she has not gotten any good news, only PhP 20,000 (US$ 464) as a form of government assistance.

Thousands of OFWs end up as victims, and get only puny support from the Philippine government.

Ramos fashioned a sturdy rope out of a curtain, but the fabric tore off, sending her in free fall from a three-storey building in Kuwait.  The building caretaker alerted her employer who, in turn, brought her to the Mubarak Al-Kabir Hospital.  She was rushed to the intensive care unit (ICU) and underwent a surgery.  Nearly unconscious, her employer did the talking and told the police that Ramos committed suicide.

Not at all rosy

In November 2010, Ramos applied in an agency offering a fly-now-pay-later package, the rates of which were unknown to her at first.  Later, she started earning 50 Kuwait Dinars (PhP 7,756.27 or US$ 179.58).

She had a portent of things to come when she stayed briefly at the recruiting agency’s building in Kuwait where about a thousand other domestic helpers like her were housed.

Sa agency, mga arabo na.  Mura kag piniriso.  Papag, magbutang lang kag karton unsa may hapin nimo para mahapin.  Taas siya ngabuilding.  Dagko rooms.  Naay mga Ethiopian, Sri-Lankan, naay mga Bangladesh nga mga katabang, dili mo pwede isagol-sagol.  Kung katabang pud nga run-away ka, lahi pud inyong room.  Dili pwede mogawas.  Ang kan-on nimo plastic, daghan pero wala’y lami, mura kog gilahugan, mura kog baboyI-topping ang karne nga lata.  Walay kutsara, baso.” (The agency is owned by Arabs (Kuwaiti).  You’re like a prisoner.  You sleep on the floor with cartons or whatever you have to sleep on.  It’s a tall building with huge rooms.  There were Ethiopian, Sri-Lankan and Bangladeshi domestic helpers.  We’re not allowed to mix.  Domestic helpers who ran away from their employers have a separate room.  You are not allowed to go out from the building.  You eat in a plastic plate.  The food is plenty but it tasted bland.  You’re like a hog being fed.  They topped the food with overcooked meat.  We have no spoons and glasses.)

Later, she worked as an all-around househelp to a family of three.  One time, her female employer became furious over a tiny stain on the wall; she then refused food for Ramos for a day.

Ramos told Davao Today, “Maselan man diay ni sila sa hugaw.  Ultimo gamay kaayo.  Naglimpyo gud ta, pero siyempre dako gud kaayo ang lugar.  Suko kaayo, murag kaunon nako niya.” (They are very sensitive to dirt.  I cleaned the house but it was huge. She was very angry like she wanted to devour me.)

Ramos pleaded her employers to return her to the agency, but only to be told that the agency has to pay them back.  Ramos asked advice from a Filipino staff at the agency, but she was told to bear it all if she wants to keep the job.  The agency had her transferred to another employer.

The wife of her second employer did not fare any better.  She often scolded Ramos, at one time, she collared her.  This got her to think of escaping.

But it was an escape plan gone awry.

In dire need to go home

Ramos was transferred to two more hospitals after her ICU admission in Mubarak Al-Kabir.  The second was in Al-Razi where she was handled by an orthopedic specialists and the third was in the state Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Hospital.

As she tried to heal her wounds at the hospital, her family, along with the help from the nongovernmental Migrante International, pressured the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the agency for assistance.  At that time, many OFWs were also in the hospital because of injuries after their own escape attempts.

Nagatawag akong bana sa ila, ang Migrante, akong mga anak. Kay ngano, pirting daghana ginaatiman ang OWWA kay daghan pud naa sa hospital.  Naay isa ka babae, nitakas gikan sa fifth floor, gituklod sa iyang amo.  Giputol jud iyang kamot.” (My husband, Migrante and my children have been calling OWWA.  The agency was very busy attending to other patients in the hospital.  There was a woman who escaped from the fifth floor, her employer pushed her.  Her arm was amputated.)

After long and painful negotiation, Ramos was able to secure from her employer a return ticket to the Philippines and one month salary.  Back home and recuperating in this city, Ramos and her family sought for more assistance from the OWWA and the agency.  While OWWA gave her PhP 20, 000 (US$ 463), the agency only gave her PhP 1,500 (US$ 34.69).  She was also refused disability assistance by her insurance and by the PhilHealth because she was told that she can still move, even though her doctor told her spine was badly hit.  

Data from Migrante International show that since 2010, about 4,200 to 4,700 OFWs leave the country everyday while six to 10 return home dead.  Migrante also noted 10 “mysterious deaths” of OFWs last year.  The deaths included the case of domestic worker Violeta Cortez who was found dead under mysterious circumstances after she repeatedly appealed for immediate repatriation at a local radio program in Syria.

Lito Estrera, Vice Chairperson of Migrante-Davao, said OFWs have remitted a total of US$ 23 billion (PhP 991 billion) in 2011 but the government has not done enough for their safety and instead made policies worse than the previous Arroyo administration.  Last October, DFA’s Del Rosario announced plans to close down 12 Philippine embassies and consulates by the end of 2012 during a hearing of the Senate finance committee.  Adding salt to the wound, Philhealth has imposed a 150 percent hike in premium fees to the National Health Insurance Program, effective July 2012 and will affect all members and enrollees of Philhealth, OFWs included.  The health premium will increase from PhP 900 (US$ 20.84) to PhP 2,400 (US$ 55.57).

“We are angered by this most recent fee imposition especially in light of the present global and local economic crisis, budget cuts on direct OFW services and other questionable onerous fees and hikes that are being imposed on OFWs without proper consultation with the sector and other stakeholders,” Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, said.

Meanwhile, Estrera scored the Aquino government for continuing with its labor export policy.

“Wala jud naningkamot ang gubyerno nga mag-generate og local jobs.  Ang kapobrehon jud nagtukmod nga mogawas ang mga Pilipino.  (The government has no concrete steps in generating local jobs.  Poverty has been pushing Filipinos to go out of the country to work.)

Ramos, for her part, urged the government to produce domestic employment and to support OFW victims like her who cannot work for her family anymore because of her condition.  (John Rizle L. Saligumba/

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