Two young women, aged 19 and 20, came out today to speak of their tragic experience in the hands of an Arab royalty. Having been harassed with suits of libel and estafa by their own perpetrators, the two women decided to disclose to the public the sexual abuse they suffered in a press conference organized by the Kanlungan Center Foundation, Inc. and the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP).
Anna and Lina were recruited to work as “chambermaids” in Saudi Arabia in January, 2005. During the processing period, they were made to “model” various hairstyles and were photographed and videoed. Their ages in their passports were changed, such as Anna’s, from 19 to 23. Before they left, they were accompanied to shop for expensive clothes – including make-up and t-back underwears – by their local recruiter.
When they arrived at the airport, officials noticed the inconsistency in their documents as their passport indicated that they will work as janitress, their employment contract cited ‘chambermaid’, and their POEA papers indicated ‘nurse’. A man, known to the local recruiter assisted them and facilitated their exit, towards Saudi Arabia.
Arriving in Dammam in April 2005, they were fetched and brought to an enormous house. They were not made to work for a week. When they asked the ‘caretaker’ inside the house as to what their work will be, Lina was told that they will be sex slaves. Anna and Lina were very scared and wanted to go home to the Philippines immediately but they could not leave the villa. The following day, a man referred to as the Prince or Chairman by the caretaker arrived and the women were ordered to enter his room and immediately take their clothes off. The two were shaken and begged the Prince to allow them to go home, as they cannot do what is being asked of them to do. They stated that they don’t like that kind of job, but the Prince was enraged and raped Anna first. Lina, who was sobbing uncontrollably and had difficulty breathing, was made to leave the room.
The next day, the Prince came back to use Lina this time. He also used Anna. The two were then forced to perform sexual acts, before money was thrown to their faces. When the Filipino recruiter called, the two young women narrated what were done to them but the recruiter allegedly did not believe them. They were called liars.
Lina decided to call her family and told them that she has become homesick and would want to go home, not disclosing what happened so as not to make her parents worry. Lina’s parents immediately went to the agency, and talked to the Filipina recruiter. In May 2005, they were able to return to the Philippines. After a week, the nightclub owner for whom the two women were made to work before going to Saudi Arabia, brought Lina to a doctor for medical examination. When Lina inquired on the medical results, the nightclub owner mentioned that she indeed was raped. Lina was suffering from deep humiliation but decided to keep the matter to herself. The nightclub owner and the recruiter promised Lina that they will give her a vehicle as long as she doesn’t reveal her experience to her parents. Lina still opted to file cases with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Department of Justice against her traffickers. She states, “Nagpumilit akong umuwi dahil hindi ko masikmura o hindi ko kaya ang maging prostitute.”
“I insisted on going home because I couldn’t stand being a prostitute.”
In March 2006, Anna was offered P25,000 by the recruiter to submit a statement countering Lina’s charges. In the same year, Anna was given an affidavit to memorize for the POEA hearing. Anna decided to take Lina’s side.
Both pray that justice will be served, even as at least ten libel and estafa suits have been filed against them and Lina’s mother to harass the two victims. Anna herself stayed overnight in jail after having been served an arrest warrant for estafa, filed by her recruiters against her. DOJ Secretary Raul Gonzales even blamed Lina’s parents for allowing their daughter to leave.
After having approached various government agencies, the victims came to Kanlungan Center Foundation, Inc., an NGO helping migrant workers who then sought the help of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP). Two legal groups are now helping the victims pro-bono, these are WomenLEAD, a member organization of CATW-AP and the Quisumbing Torres Law Office.
“The Anti-Trafficking Law understands the vulnerability of victims to trafficking, given dire poverty, thus the statement of the DOJ Secretary reveals lack of understanding not only of the law but the pervading situation of Filipinos who are desperate for a living,”
states Jean Enriquez, Executive Director of CATW-AP. Lina’s father is a driver, while Anna’s father is a janitor. The mothers of both are unemployed.
Loida Bernabe, lauds the victims’ courage, saying, “we hope that their brave disclosure will stop further victimization of Filipinas to sexual slavery, particularly in Saudi Arabia.”
Organizations such as WomanHealth, Bagong Kamalayan, the Women’s Crisis Center PREDA in Olongapo City, IMA Foundation, BUKLOD, SALIGAN, and other organizations fighting trafficking, came to the Press Conference to support the victims.
The Coalition is also pushing for the passage of the anti-prostitution bill, to complement the anti-trafficking law, as they mark today the International Day of No Prostitution. The bill intends to punish not only the business who profit from the system of prostitution but also the buyers.