Filipino maids as Saudi furniture?

MORE than a year ago, when Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Special and Ocean Concerns Jose Brillantes was still an Undersecretary of the Department of Labor and Employment, he was quoted as saying that “Saudis consider maids as part of their furniture.”

Brillantes’ statement was based on an interview he had with Ms. Raissa Robles, an influential investigative journalist whose popular political blog has been tied up with the ABS-CBN and is widely read in Manila’s political circle, especially during the impeachment trial of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Such derogatory statement attributed to Brillantes could not be easily ignored since he is not an ordinary government official at all.  He is a respected government official in the labor and foreign affairs fronts. To date, unfortunately, Brillantes has neither confirmed nor denied such offensive statement he gave to Robles.

Since then, Robles’ negative story has to date elicited 36 comments, some of which confirmed the abuses and maltreatment experienced by Filipino household service workers in the hands of their Saudi employers.  Recent comment is dated 16 February 2012.

While Robles was cautious that she does not generalize all Saudi employers as abusive, it leaves a lasting impression that Filipino domestic helpers are perennially abused because the Saudi society treats them as “slaves.”

Moreover, Robles quoted an unidentified “Muslim ambassador” who said that:

“Unknown to us Filipinos, the Saudi government used to stamp on passports of Filipino domestics being deployed to the Kingdom words in Arabia that stated what Brillantes had told me – That the bearer of the passport was a household worker whom the employer could treat in a sub-human manner. Like slaves.”

In my view, such article, which is permanently posted on Robles’ influential blog and which can easily be accessed and read around the world, creates a negative impression on the Saudi government and its society, culture and people.

Like other social media, this blog leaves a permanent scar that could sour the otherwise good relationship between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia.

If indeed he made such disparaging statement, Brillantes should be asked to issue a disclaimer or explanation as others might soon believe that the Saudi government indeed stamps Filipino domestic helpers’ passports with such racist and offensive annotation.

If Brillantes is not just misquoted, then by all means, the Philippine government should stop sending our Filipino domestic helpers in Saudi and end the current negotiations seeking to lift deployment ban on Filipino household service workers in the Kingdom.

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