Manila probes case of domestic helper allegedly underfed by Singapore couple

Filipino maid Thelma Oyasan Gawidan outside the State Courts on Dec 15, 2015.
Filipino maid Thelma Oyasan Gawidan outside the State Courts on Dec 15, 2015.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

MANILA - The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) is looking into the possible liability of a recruitment agency that deployed a Filipino domestic helper in Singapore who was allegedly underfed by her employers.

POEA chief Hans Cacdac said on Sunday (Dec 20) that they were investigating reports that a Singaporean couple underfed Madam Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, the Philippine Star reported.

The POEA is gathering information through the Philippine Overseas Labour Office and the Philippine embassy in Singapore, Mr Cacdac was quoted as saying. It will also summon the recruitment agency, which the report did not name, to determine the kind of assistance it is providing to Madam Gawidan.

Mr Cacdac said if investigation shows that the employers had ill-treated Madam Gawidan, they will not be allowed to hire other Filipino domestic helpers, according to the Philippine Star.

He assured the public that the Philippines will work with Singapore on a measure to protect the welfare of Filipino domestic helpers.

Madam Gawidan, whose weight dropped from 49kg to 29kg in 15 months, said she had no way of buying food as her employers, trader Lim Choon Hong and his wife Chong Sui Foon, both 47, kept her salary from her, claiming they were saving it for her.

She testified during the trial that she could not call anyone as her employers kept her mobile phone. She was not allowed to go out on her own, nor get any days off while she was employed from January 2013 to April last year.

Head of Blas Ople Policy Centre Susan Ople on Sunday called on the POEA to stop the Singaporean employers from hiring other domestic helpers, the Philippine Star reported.

"Let us express our outrage, first through legal channels by making sure that Thelma gets the support needed to win her case, and second, as an act of solidarity, by declaring the Singaporean couple as persona non grata, and permanently barring them from hiring any Filipino worker ever again," she said.

She added that the Philippine government must adopt stricter screening procedures for foreign employers seeking Filipino domestic helpers.

"It is often the case that we get to know about the life story of the abused domestic worker but know so little about her abusers. In this case, it is important to check whether this Singaporean couple had previous cases of abuse involving foreign domestic workers," she said.

Ms Ople proposed that Philippine embassies and consulates immediately inform the Bureau of Immigration, in cooperation with the POEA, about cases involving maltreatment, abused and enslaved Filipinos so that the perpetrators are never allowed to enter the country, according to the Philippine Star.

She also proposed a government one-stop assistance centre for victims of abuse like Madam Gawidan who may soon be returning to the country after her case is resolved.