Latest repatriation of OFWs from Riyadh bares harrowing plight of ‘modern heroes’
MANILA, Philippines — Cory Marcelo flew back home to the Philippines with a severe spinal injury and the story of her escape from what could have been a dreadful fate.
The 33-year-old domestic worker from Cagayan de Oro was among the more than 100 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were flown to Manila from Riyadh on Friday.
“Nahulog po ako sa third floor dahil tumakas po ako,” ( I fell from the third floor when I escaped) she told reporters when she arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport together with her fellow OFWs.
This after her Arab employer, whom she started working for in August last year, sold her to a “fake police officer” in May 2019.
“Kaya ko po masasabing pekeng pulis siya kasi ang uniform po sa Saudi Arabia ng mga pulis malaking uniform po, ang sakanya po naka-skirt siya…Marami siyang tattoo, (He was a fake officer because he was wearing a skirt and he has tattoos) Marcelo said.
“Inakyat niya ‘ko sa third floor, nakita ko po dun yung mga kababayan nating Pinay, pang-pito po ako. Ni-lock kami sa room. Ang sabi ng mga kasama ko, binibenta daw sila don, five months na silang nagtiis do’n. Hindi sila makatakas kasi nila-lock yung room,” (Inside the room. I saw several other Filipinas. I was the seventh to be brought in. The other women told me that they too had been sold and that have been there for five months already) she added.
Five days after she was brought to the home of the man she was sold to, Marcelo said she tied up blankets and made her escape.
“Nakalabas na po ako sa bintana, nakabitin na po ako, may pumasok sa room…sa kalagitnaan po naputol po yung kumot, kaya bumagsak po ako. Ako lang po yung nakatakas,” (I was already out of the window when the blanket got ripped and I fell to the ground) she recalled.
Despite feeling extreme pain, she said she tried to run as three men started chasing her.
“Pinilit kong lumaban kahit tatlo sila. At hindi lahat ng Arabo masama, kasi ang tumulong sakin…binatang Arabo po, tumawag siya ng pulis kaya nasugod po ako sa ospital,” (I tried to fight them off even if there were three of them. Not all Arabs are bad. A young Arab man helped me and called the police) she said.
“Actually sabi ng doktor hindi na ko makakalakad pero himala po walang imposible sa Panginoon, nakalakad po ako,” (The doctor said I will no longer walk but there is nothing impossible with God. I am walking now). she added.
The Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Riyadh then took her in a shelter after being confined in a hospital for a month.
After three months in the shelter, she was finally able to board a flight back to Manila.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who was in the same flight as the repatriated OFWs, said government continues to monitor the condition of Filipino workers abroad.
“We will not allow our workers to be deployed kung sa tingin namin di natin maprotektahan ang kanilang kalagayan,” he told reporters in a separate interview.
According to Hans Leo Cacdac, the administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the batch of OFWs repatriated on Friday was among those under the repatriation program of the government.
Those who were flown home were either maltreated, were physically, or mentally abused by their employers while some opted to leave their job abroad due to poor working conditions or employment contract violations, Cacdac said.
Cacdac said that in 2018, 33,000 OFWs have been repatriated.
OFWs from Saudi Arabia, he added, comprised 30 to 40 percent of those repatriated.
Asked if she would still consider working overseas despite what had happened to her, Marcelo said: “Kung…maging okay na ako, hindi po ako susuko, laban pa rin. Maga-abroad pa rin, kasi naniniwala ako na kung may nangyari sakin ngayon, hindi lahat ganon.” (If I will be OK, I will still go abroad.)
Marcelo, who has five children, reminded her fellow OFWs not to allow themselves to be abused.
“Ang masasabi ko lang po, lalo na sa mga kababayan kong OFW, wag po kayong mawalan ng pag-asa, tsaka laban lang po, wag po nating pabayaan na mamatay tayo sa bansa ng mga dayuhan nang walang kalaban-laban,” (Do not lose hope. Do not allow yourselves to be killed in a foreign land without a fight) she said. /muf
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