I came to Tzu Chi University in Hualien City, Taiwan Republic of China to study Mandarin Chinese, and after finishing my language course, I decided to stay here in Taiwan to work for and serve the migrant workers from the Philippines. I was 43 then, not yet too late to live the life of service for others.
I came to know Tzu Chi University as an ideal place to study, a conducive place to learn, and a "fertile soil" to grow intellectually and spiritually. I found Hualien City a shangrila, a haven of natural beauty where the mighty Pacific ocean meets the majestic mountains. Everywhere and anywhere I looked at seemed to me a picture of esthetic and an intricate image of balance and order. But not until I visited St. Paul's Catholic Church at 34 Min Guo Road.
So, after finishing my Mandarin Chinese course in Tzi Chi University, I decided to stay in Taiwan, not so much because of its astounding beauty and amazing qualities but because of my sense of Christian love for others and the strong urge within me to work for and serve my people, the Filipino migrant workers in Hualien. I talked to Fr. Richard and expressed to him my desire to help and assist him in his mission for the migrants and work as catechist for the Filipino church-goers. That was the commencement of our partnership in our mission program for the migrant workers.
Right now, I work full-time and round-the-clock as catechist and social worker for the Filipino migrant workers. I work hand-in-hand with Fr. Jean-Pierre Richard, MEP in running the Catholic Migrant Chaplaincy of Hualien or CMCH formerly known as the Filipino Catholic Community Apostolate or FCCA which Father Richard and I formulated and instituted. The CMCH is a Catholic, non-profit, humanitarian, and socially-oriented mission program for the migrant workers in Hualien most of whom are Filipinos. The role of CMCH is to attend to the pastoral, spiritual, and other support needs of the workers and to help in their labor-related and other personal problems. The life of a migrant worker is not easy, it is a life of utmost sacrifice, it is a life beset by problems that range from the ordinary to the most bizarre like the following:1. difficulties in adjusting to and coping with the Taiwanese culture and social order
2. language problem
3. extreme homesickness
4. loneliness and depression
5. marital and domestice problem back home
6. adulterous relationship
8. unbearable workloads
11. occupational accident
To address these problems, the CMCH has the following activities to offer them: Sunday Mass, confession, Marian cenacle or prayer meeting, hospital and factory visit to the sick workers, actual caregiving to sick workers in hospital, spiritual guidance counseling, or by just talking and listening to them.
1. illegal charging of exorbitant placement fee
2. violation of contract (illegal employer, illegal transfer, and illegal work)
3. unpaid salary
4. undue termination of work contract
5. no day off
6. no overtime pay
8. physical and verbal abuse
9. forced repatriationThere are existing malignant anomalies and corruptions within the overseas employment scheme in Taiwan which the poor and vulnerable Filipino migrant workers fall into. On top of this is the overcharging of employment placement fee by the Philippine private employment agencies in-cahoots with the Taiwan employment brokerages. To be able to get an employment slot in Taiwan, an applicant is asked to pay an exorbitant amount as employment placement fee which is way above the legal amount. The legal amount of placement fee in the Philippines is equivalent to one month salary of a factory worker which is NT$17, 280 ( PhP24,192) , and of a domestic helper and caregiver which is NT$ 15,840 (PhP22,176), plus the documentation costs. However, the placement fee being charged to the worker ranges from PhP90,000 to as enormously high as PhP150,00. Thus, a Filipino agent and a Taiwanese broker form a criminal partnership that victimizes and preys on the would be migrant worker.The applicant then borrows money from loan sharks and usurers at exorbitant interest rate just to satisfy the greed of the Filipino agent and Taiwanese broker. Usually, the full payment of placement fee is demanded and extracted two days or the day before the worker is scheduled to leave for Taiwan. The pitiful applicant is then left with no choice---it's take it or take it situation for her or him. The worker pays without receiving any receipt of the actual amount the she or he has paid. Thus in Taiwan, the worker works doubly hard for to reasons: to send money to his love ones back home, and to pay his debts. It is a common knowledge among Filipino migrant workers in Taiwan that a worker does not really earn for the first year of his 3-year work because almost all his earnings for 1 year are used up to pay for his debts.
To address these labor related problems, my office has telephone hotline that a worker in distress can call anytime in case of immediate assistance. I listen the problem of the worker, diligently taking notes of the details, assess and evaluate the case and then I connect and discuss the problem with other agencies, offices, or organizations . Most of the times, I seek the assistance of the Philippine Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taipei City. I also call the local office of Taiwan's labor bureau, the Council for Labor Affairs of CLA. In some cases, I have sought the help of other religious organizations and agencies that also do mission works for and serve the interests of the migrant laborers like the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul in the nearby county.
The first case of Filipino migrant worker in-distress that I handled was the case of Madel, a young Filipina who was working as all-around domestic helper in the nearby Taitung County. In her letter sent to me, she wrote, "I am afraid...I don't know what to do...I need your help so that I can solve my problems here. You and God are my only hope." Madel is a classic epitome of migrant worker from the Philippines who dream for a better paying employment in Taiwan, but suffered from horrible nightmare instead. She fell victim to an scrupulous Taiwanese broker and a slave driver Taiwanese employer. In her work contract, she was supposed to work as caregiver for an old sick woman. She had already prepared and trained herself to work as caregiver only to find out upon meeting her employer that she had to work an assortment of back-breaking jobs under three other employers related to each other.In her letter, she recited the litany of her everyday calvary from 4:00 am as restaurant all-around servant, onto 2:00 pm as house cleaner and laundry washer, then back to the house as cook and dish washer, then back to the restaurant at 3:00 pm as steamed-bread (mantou) baker, then back to the house as cook and dishwasher at 6:00 pm...and lastly, as stacker in an appliance store until 8:00 pm. Only then she could attend to her personal chores before she could finally lay her nearly-broken back to rest. She was physically exhausted and emotionally drained, felt gravely cheated and could not carry on. And worst, she had no day-off and barred from using cellphone to communicate and talk to other migrant workers in the area.Through the concerted effort of Father Richard, of Sister Teresa and Sister Maty of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, of OWWA-MECO in Kaoshung City, and yours truly, we were able to help Madel, save her from the hell she fell into, and send her back home in Pangasinan, Philippines, bringing with her all her compensation benefits, her bitter memories, and a story of her encounter with God through His faitfull servants.