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Rights body reminds Filipinos in HK of their rights

First Posted 05:39:00 08/28/2010

MANILA, Philippines?Filipinos working or living in Hong Kong who may suffer discrimination as a result of the hostage bloodbath in Manila need not take things sitting down, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission.

The Hong Kong-based AHRC said Filipinos in the Chinese territory could turn to Hong Kong?s Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), which investigates cases of discrimination.

A Hong Kong ordinance protects and provides legal remedies to ethnic minorities who are racially discriminated against, and Filipinos should be made aware of this, the AHRC?s Filipino program officer, Danilo Reyes, said in a phone interview yesterday.

Some Philippine officials have expressed fear of a backlash against Filipinos in the aftermath of the hostage-taking incident at Manila?s Rizal Park, where eight Hong Kong tourists were killed.

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas estimated the number of Filipinos in Hong Kong as of December 2008 at a little over 155,000, most of them female domestic workers.

The Hong Kong-based Reyes said that for instance, domestic helpers who get fired because they are Filipinos as a result of their employers? anger over what happened could file complaints in the EOC. Under the law, the EOC is required to investigate the matter and determine if labor laws were violated.

Complaints could be filed up to two years after an incident takes place, he added.

Protection mechanism

?There is a remedy for Filipinos who want to complain, there are laws they could turn to. They will be provided legal aid, and there is a protection mechanism,? Reyes said.

Reyes sent the Inquirer a copy of a statement from the EOC urging the Hong Kong community to be calm and to ?refrain from shifting our anger towards an innocent group, particularly Filipinos who are living or traveling in Hong Kong.?

The EOC also said it understood the Hong Kong people?s ?strong feelings? about the ?poor way? that Philippine authorities handled the incident.

?The people of Hong Kong have every reason to take pride in the racial harmony of this city, and we should guard against any action which may cause racial hatred or discord,? the EOC said.

Hate-induced violence

Reyes said he had heard stories of Filipino domestic workers being given tickets to return to the Philippines because of the hostage-taking incident, being told to stay home to avoid any backlash from Hong Kong residents, or telling people they are Indonesians, not Filipinos.

No one has come out to confirm the reports. But Reyes said that just because no Filipino had formally complained about being fired or abused over the hostage incident, it did not mean no such incidents had occurred.

He said some Filipinos simply may not want to speak up but they may need assurances of protection.

Speaking on radio dzBB, the Philippine Consul General in Hong Kong, Claro Cristobal, denied reports that a Filipino had been stabbed dead or attacked by acid in the Chinese territory, but added that the consulate would look into the reports further.

He said stories about hate-induced violence would only aggravate the situation.

Fear remains

Cristobal said domestics continued to feel they could be fired or that their employment contracts would not be renewed. ?That worry remains,? he said.

Cristobal said he was able to clarify the reasons behind the termination of the work of two domestics in the aftermath of the hostage tragedy.

?One said her employers wanted to take care of their children on their own. The second maid said her employers were not satisfied with her service,? Cristobal said.

He said that if the Filipino domestics felt they were being mistreated as a result of the hostage incident, they should speak to their employers.

He recounted the experience of a Filipino maid working for a Hong Kong resident whose sibling and brother-in-law were among the casualties in the hostage incident.

?Naturally, the employer was angry and she received harsh words. But she later told her employer, ?I?m here to work and serve for my family back in the Philippines. I was here when the painful tragedy took place. I have nothing to do with it. My countrymen and I are also horrified by the outcome and I am with you in your sorrow.?

The domestic said her relations with her employer were normalized the following day.

Also yesterday, the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a second statement reiterating the Philippine government?s condemnation of the hostage bloodbath. It said the government would undertake a ?full, thorough and transparent investigation? of the incident.

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