Friday, April 27, 2007

Street Harrassment Summit Workshop

FiRE will be conducting a workshop called "How to DEAL" at the Sisters in Strength Strikes Back: Our Struggle with Street Harassment Summit, which was organized by Girls for Gender Equity. Please come check us out!

Saturday May 5, 2007 * 1pm - 5pm
Grand Street Settlement Beacon Center
at Marta Valle Secondary School
145 Stanton Street, New York, NY

The Street Harassment Summit is a free public event for education, community interaction, and the sharing of personal stories. War Zone (directed by Maggie Hadleigh West) and a short film created by the Sisters in Strength interns will be screened and workshops will be offered on different issues such as strategies for ending street harassment, how women can respond to street harassment safely, how street harassment effects the GLBTQ population, and how men can be allies to victims of harassment. Women, MEN, girls and BOYS of all ages are welcome to attend
and learn about this overlooked issue.

All attendees will receive a gift bag including items from our sponsors.

For more information on the work of Girls for Gender Equity visit For updates about the Street Harassment Summit or to RSVP, visit or email

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Paper Dolls Recap

The April 26 screening of Paper Dolls at the International Action Center was a successful invitation for the community to begin a dialogue around issues faced by Overseas Filipino Workers. The film provoked the audience to question how their personal histories of migration were affected by the Philippine economy and its accompanying migrant worker population. The conversation eventually led to an understanding that the story of the Paper Dolls is universal and replays itself in local narratives where migrant workers seek communities for support and familiarity. Ultimately, Paper Dolls serves as a testimony to the Filipino peoples’ innate resilience and ability to adapt for survival. FiRE members Charlene and Sandy facilitated the audience driven discussion after Kabalikat co-coordinator, Lorena Sanchez, shared touching accounts of her experience as a domestic worker formerly living and working in Israel.

Again, FiRE would like to urge you to read the New York Times article on OFWs printed in this past weekend’s NYT Magazine. It can be found on our blog at the following URL:

A deep felt thank you to those who attended FiRE’s first public event! Your support was incredibly appreciated. We would also like to extend our gratitude to AnakBayan, BAYAN, and Pinay Brunch women for filling the crowd! Of course, thank you to the International Action Center for providing the incredible venue.

Paper Dolls Screening

Paper Dolls Screening (Sponsored by FiRE)

photo still from Tomer Heymann's Paper Dolls

What: Film Screening of Paper Dolls and Discussion
When: Thursday, April 26th 7-9 pm
Where: International Action Center
55 West 17th Street between 5th and 6th Ave, 5th Floor
Take N, Q, R, W to 14th Street/Union Square
We look forward to seeing you there!

The Philippine Diaspora is certainly not limited to the most well known migrant destinations of Western Europe and the United States. A few weeks ago some women of FiRE and the monthly Pinay Brunch Collective shared our experiences about our own encounters with fellow Filipinos abroad and were especially intrigued by the issue of Filipino workers in conflict areas such as Israel. This screening of “Paper Dolls” is a way for us to continue the conversation. In the light of the recent death of Fely Garcia, a domestic worker from the Bronx, NY, the screening of "Paper Dolls", a documentary released last year about transgendered Filipino caretakers and domestic workers working and performing in Israel is a start to a much needed dialogue in our community. The film will begin promptly at 7 pm and the discussion and Q and A will follow. We are honored to have Lorena Sanchez, Coordinator of KABALIKAT Domestic Workers Support Network, share her stories about working in Israel and knowing some of the actual Paper Dolls.

This event is sponsored by Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE). Please learn more about us by visiting our or

Email us:
Or contact Sandy from FiRE: 917.340.0927

Gabriela’s 3rd Nominee is an Igorot Woman, Ex-OFW

Original article posted at here:

Gabriela’s 3rd Nominee is an Igorot Woman, Ex-OFW

Igorot woman, mother, and migrant leader, Flora Baniaga-Belinan exemplifies Pinay power that is woven on the loom of the women’s struggle for empowerment, justice and equality. A nominee of Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP), she will be the strong voice in the House for those who can’t be home – OFWs who are separated from their families and country, and indigenous peoples (IP) who are stripped of their land and cultural identity.

By Voltaire Tupaz
Pinoy Era
Posted by Bulatlat

Igorot woman, mother, and migrant leader, Flora Baniaga-Belinan exemplifies Pinay power that is woven on the loom of the women’s struggle for empowerment, justice and equality.

A nominee of Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP), she will be the strong voice in the House for those who can’t be home – OFWs who are separated from their families and country, and indigenous peoples (IP) who are stripped of their land and cultural identity.

Woman warrior: her Sagada roots

Flora was given the Igorot name “Konyap” when she was born to the Kankane-ey tribe of Sagada, Mountain Province on March 12, 1958. She was raised in an indigenous peasant family and community. Her father was a World War II veteran while her mother was a farmer.

The challenging circumstances of her childhood nurtured the fighter in her at a very young age. The fourth among seven siblings, Flora at 13 had to help raise her family when her mother passed away. From the small barrio in Sagada called Madongo, she transferred to the town center to live with relatives. While attending high school at St. Mary’s School, she would help sell her aunt’s homemade brownies and would work in her relatives’ farm during weekends.

To continue her studies, Flora mainly supported herself as a working student and domestic helper in Baguio City (246 kms. from Manila). After finishing high school in Baguio Colleges Foundation (BCF), she went to Saint Louis University (SLU) where she obtained her B.A. Social Work in 1982.

Mother and social worker

Flora started as an organizer of the urban poor in Baguio City. Unemployed after graduation, she joined the Urban Poor Assistance Center upon the invitation of an activist uncle. Hence, the beginning of her social involvement.

Flora became very active in her engagements as a social worker. In the course of her organizing work, she immersed with the urban poor and was exposed to their gut issues as well as to the plight of other marginalized sectors. Eventually, she participated in various protest actions and other community activities. Then came her resolve to be part of the movement for social transformation at a time when the political and economic crisis in the country continued to worsen under the crumbling Marcos dictatorship.

Organizing changed many aspects of Flora’s life. In fact, it paved the way for her meeting with Paul Belinan, her husband of 25 years. Paul was also from Sagada but he only met Flora in Baguio. An advocate of workers’ rights, he has been working for the Cordillera Labor Center for quite a long time already.

Flora and Paul have raised two children – Michael, 24, who is now working with a progressive local paper; and Michelle, 16, a nursing student.

Woman migrant leader

Flora and her husband were committed to their social causes but it was hard for them to support the needs of their family from their limited income. Confronted with the urgent need to survive, Flora made the difficult decision of leaving her family to work as a domestic helper in Hong Kong for 12 years.

However, Flora unwaveringly pursued organizing work in Hong Kong. She founded and headed the Pinatud A Saleng Ti Umili (organization of domestic workers from Cordillera) even as she was still adjusting in the foreign land. She also served as an adviser to the Cordillera Alliance-Hong Kong.

Tirelessly, she gathered and organized fellow OFWs. They would maintain communication through the phone and meet at a common place every weekend. Amidst her preoccupation, she still found time to do volunteer work for a counseling institution for distressed OFWs.

Under the banner of Migrante International, Flora was at the forefront of various major advocacies and struggles for the rights and welfare of migrants, especially of women Filipino workers, in Hong Kong. Among these were the victorious campaigns between 1998 and 2003 to stop wage cuts and to scrap state exactions such as authentication fees. At present, together with Filipino migrant groups, she is vigorously campaigning for the scrapping of the new POEA Guidelines which seek to collect more fees and not to protect domestic workers.

Flora has always stood staunchly against violence perpetrated on women migrants including rape and other forms of sexual abuse, maltreatment, and trafficking. She is now taking the lead in the campaign for justice for OFW victims of violence and government criminal neglect.

While in Hong Kong, Flora also promoted indigenous peoples’ rights to land, life, and resources, firmly opposing policies and projects in the homefront that particularly cause the destruction of the environment and exploitation of women indigenous peoples and children.

In 2005, she returned home and founded the Migrante Chapter in Metro Baguio. Recently, she was elected deputy secretary-general for external affairs of GWP.

For her steadfast stance and commitment to promote and defend the rights and welfare of women migrant workers, she was nominated as one of the top three standard bearers of GWP, joining Mindanaoan educator Luz Ilagan and Rep. Liza Maza. Pinoy Era / Posted by Bulatlat.

© 2007 Bulatlat ■ Alipato Publications

Permission is granted to reprint or redistribute this article, provided its author/s and Bulatlat are properly credited and notified.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

FiRE Supports Gabriela Partylist Nominee

Statement and Urgent Call to Action
April 26, 2007

FiRE Supports Gabriela Partylist Nominee, Flora Baniaga-Belinan
Stop Targeting and Political Killings of Progressives!
The Woman’s Place Is In The Fight!

In the face of increasing harassment and disappearances of congressional and senatorial nominees, the Gabriela Women’s Partylist nominee, Flora Baniaga-Belinan, stands steadfast against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s scare tactics. Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) supports Baniaga-Belinan to represent the issues of women, indigenous people and migrants in the House of Representatives of the Philippine government.

Hundreds of women’s organizations in the Philippines under GABRIELA, have and continue to represent the women’s existing issues: wide-scale poverty, adverse health support, lack of social service, landlessness, prostitution and the labor brokering policy, shipping over 3,000 women overseas as migrant workers. In the US, a primary receiver of Filipina migrant workers, Filipino women are consistently trafficked into working as nurses, domestic workers, nannies, caregivers and sexual slaves. The recent death of Fely Garcia, a Filipina domestic worker found dead in her Bronx home last March 14th attests to the Filipino women’s struggle even when they are not in the Philippines.

These very particular issues that are specific to Filipino women and their lives are manifested in the GWP nominee, Baniaga-Belinan. Her seat in the House will in fact speak to her experiences as a woman, a migrant leader and an indigenous person. She will push through for and defend the rights and welfare of women and Filipino migrants.

The primary tool of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration to quell the clamoring of the Filipino people for representation and political participation has been through the execution, kidnapping and harassment of political leaders. As the Permanent People’s Tribunal found GMA guilty of crimes against humanity, apparent by the state-sponsored political killings, her administration has become more and more fearful of the growing mass movement in the Philippines and in the Filipino diaspora.

Baniaga-Belinan, side by side with other nominees representing the wide mass movement in the Philippines, will stand as opposition to this truly UN-democratic government. FiRE recognizes her ability to lead and forge a fight for the women, indigenous people, and migrants’ voices rarely heard in the House!

FiRE calls on all citizens of the Philippines with voting rights to cast their vote for Baniaga-Belinan as a representative in the house who can stand for the rights of indigenous people, women and migrants!

We stand in solidarity with the broad women’s struggle in the National Democratic movement in the Philippines, and fully support Baniaga-Belinan in her campaign!

Vote for Baniaga-Belinan, Gabriela Women’s Partylist Nominee!
Stop the Killings and Targeting of Political Leaders!
Protect the Vote!


FIRE is an organizing committee working around local and global issues that affecting Filipino women. We are an anti-imperialist, Pro-People, Pro-NationalDemocracy organization representing the women's sector and is a member organization of BAYAN-USA (

BAYAN-USA is an alliance of progressive Filipino groups in the U.S. representing organizations of students, scholars, women, workers, and youth. As the only international chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN-Philippines), BAYAN-USA serves as an information bureau for the national democratic movement of the Philippines and as a campaign center for anti-imperialist Filipinos in the U.S.

Sentosa Townhall Meeting


Sentosa Townhall Meeting
Sun, May 6, 2007 @ 2p
Hosted by Philippine Forum

54-05 Seabury Street, Elmhurst, New York 11373.

To get to the Philippine Forum office, take the V, G and R trains to Grand Avenue/Newtown Station in Elmhurst, Queens. Exit on Southside of Queens Boulevard . Walk towards 54th Avenue and turn left on Seabury St . Take the side entrance to the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown.

Children Fly to NY to Take Fely Garcia's Body Home

News Release
April 26, 2007

Reference: Rico Foz, National Alliance for Filipino
Concerns, NAFCON, email:

Children Fly to NY to Take Fely Garcia's Body Home
Community Wake Set for Sunday, April 29th

New York—On Sunday April 29, 2007, Felisa "Fely" Garcia, 58, a Filipina domestic worker found dead in her Bronx home last March 14th will be received by her sons, Garry and Gliff who are flying into New York city to retrieve their mother’s body. After weeks of campaigning for a second investigation, full financial support for the Garcia’s repatriation, the Queens-based community based organization Philippine Forum through their domestic workers support network program, KABALIKAT were able to secure their visas to attend the Garcia’s wake.

From the breaking news of Garcia’s death, Philippine Forum/KABALIKAT have been in contact with the Batangas-based family, consulting Garcia’s children on the steps they wanted to take during the campaign. The presence of Garcia’s family at the funeral service this upcoming Sunday, April 29 was a major priority for the community members, the funds raised from the Justice For Fely campaign covering Garry and Gliff’s airfare from the Philippines to New York.

“We are honored to have Garry and Gliff come to New York City to pay their respects to their mother and bring her home for a proper burial,” states Rico Foz, the Vice Chair of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, an alliance that has connected Garcia’s family with legal counsel, Atty. Arnedo Valera.

After a townhall meeting with community members, Atty. Leandro Lachica, Vice Consul, and Philippine Forum/KABALIKAT, demands for full financial support for complete repatriation and a re-investigation with alternative angles, a second round of autopsy still remain.

Although the Philippine Consulate has offered $4900 in repatriation fees through the work and pressure from the community, Philippine Forum/KABALIKAT found that this amount will only cover her trip back to Manila. These concession from the Philippine Consulate is inadequate and inappropriate for the treatment of a migrant worker, a “national hero” as the Department of Foreign Affairs ironically refers to thousands of Filipinos aborad .

The overwhelming demand in the community maintains that coverage should include proper burial costs in addition to the complete repatriation of Garcia to her family’s home. The Consulate’s inconsideration for Garcia’s travel home only adds insult to the injuries afflicted by the clandestine conduct of the Philippine government during this hard time.

Members of Garcia's family in the Philippines continue to doubt the New York Police Department’s conclusion that Garcia committed suicide. The family’s concerns are echoed by the voices in the community insisting on a thorough investigation of all parties involved with Garcia’s death.

“Despite the consulate's inconsideration for the family’s loss, failing to contact the family until 2 weeks after Garcia’s death, and lack of commitment to shoulder her transportation to her hometown, we will unite as a community and continue to fight for the justice she did not meet in her lifetime,” Foz added.

Garcia's viewing will be on Sunday, April 29, 2007 from 4 - 8pm at Greenwich Village Funeral Home (199 Bleecker Street between 6th Ave and McDougal, 212-674-8055). Take A, C, E, F, V to West 4th St Walk South on 6th Ave, left on Bleecker or on bus take M4 to West 4th St.

Philippine Forum/KABALIKAT has also been raising community funds to help alleviate the family's financial burden. To make a donation to the Justice for Fely Campaign, make checks to Philippine Forum, write Justice for Fely on the memo, and mail to Philippine Forum at 54-05 Seabury Street, Elmhurst, New York 11373.

To sign the Justice for Fely Garcia online petition, visit

For more information on the Justice for Fely Campaign, contact the Philippine Forum/KABALIKAT via NAFCON by emailing ###

Pinay Sa Seattle in NYC!

On Sunday, April 22 members of FiRE and Pinay Sa Seattle were able to meet briefly for a resource share.

More details to follow!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

4/26 NYC Dignity Walk

If you can, please show your support for this international day of action:

"For the Dignity of Girls and Women Everywhere.. .Bear Witness"

Join Us on April 26th, 2007 @ 10:00 am for an
International Day of Solidarity
Japanese Consulate Building
50 Fremont Street
San Francisco (near Embarcadero BART)
On April 26th, 2007, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit U.S. President George Bush at the White House for a summit meeting.

see below for time/date for SEOUL

On April 26th, 2007, in a single moment, thousands of people all over the world will participate in DIGNITY WALK in support of the passage of House of Representatives Resolution 121 and calling for the Japanese Government to take full responsibility for its crimes against the thousands of girls and women who were enslaved and raped as "comfort women." We will draw attention to girls and women who are trafficked into slavery and victims of sexual violence. These events will occur simultaneously around the world.
All over the world, we will walk with a message of peace and reconciliation.

Join the Bay Area Coalition for Justice for 'Comfort Women' as we hold a peaceful demonstration to bear witness to the testimonies of the survivors who are still striving for a sense of justice and dignity.
Program will include short cultural performance.

On April 26th, 2007 at 10 A.M., in San Francisco, we will hold a peaceful demonstration in front of the Japanese Consulate.

On April 26th, 2007, at 1 P.M., in Washington DC, we will walk peacefully to the front of the White House.

On April 26th, 2007, at 1 P.M., in New York City, we will walk peacefully to the Japanese Permanent Mission to the U.N.

On April 26th, 2007, at 10 A.M., in Los Angeles, we will walk peacefully to the front of the Japanese Consulate.

On April 26th, 2007, at 10 A.M., in Vancouver, we will walk peacefully to the front of the Japanese Consulate.

On April 27th, 2007, at 1 A.M., in Tai Pei, we will walk peacefully to the front of the Japanese Embassy and hold a candle light vigil.

On April 27th, 2007, at 1 A.M., in Beijing, we will walk peacefully to the front of the Japanese Embassy and hold a candle light vigil.

On April 27th, 2007, at 1 A.M., in Manila, we will walk peacefully to the front of the Japanese Embassy and hold a candle light vigil.

On April 27th, 2007, at 2 A.M., in Tokyo, we will walk peacefully to the front of the National Parliament and hold a candle light vigil.

On April 27th, 2007, at 2 A.M., in Seoul, we will walk peacefully to the front of the Japanese Embassy and hold a candle light vigil.

On April 26th, 2007, at 8 P.M., in London, we will walk peacefully to the Japanese Embassy and hold a candle light vigil.

Through DIGNITY WALK, we will come together with one voice to stand up for the dignity of the survivors and the dignity of girls and women everywhere who are victims of trafficking and sexual violence. We will bear witness to the women's testimonies for our peaceful future together.

Fely Garcia's Wake

As the campaign for Fely Garcia is winding down since the autopsy results have been released and arrangements for the repatriation of the body are being made by the Philippine Consulate, one of the closure events that is happening is a wake. Thank you to those of you who have rallied around this cause, and please feel welcome to join the services honoring Fely Garcia's life.

Tita Fely's Viewing
Sunday April 29, 2007 (4 - 8pm)
Greenwich Village Funeral Home
199 Bleecker Street between 6th Ave and McDougal
212-674-8055A, C, E, F, V to West 4th St
Walk South on 6th Ave, left on Bleecker
Bus: M4 to West 4th St

A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves by Jason DeParle

A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves
By JASON DePARLE New York Times
Published: April 22, 2007

On June 25, 1980 (a date he would remember), a good-natured Filipino pool-maintenance man gathered his wife and five children for an upsetting ride to the Manila airport. At 36, Emmet Comodas had lived a hard life without growing hardened, which was a mixed blessing given the indignities of his poverty. Orphaned at 8, raised on the Manila streets where he hawked cigarettes, he had hustled a job at a government sports complex and held it for nearly two decades. On the spectrum of Filipino poverty, that alone marked him as a man of modest fortune. But a monthly salary of $50 did not keep his family fed.

Stephanie Sinclair for The New York Times
The Comodases with their granddaughter Precious Lara.

Stephanie Sinclair for The New York Times
Red-Carpet Treatment O.F.W.’s, or Overseas Filipino Workers, are often treated like heroes upon their return to Manila because of all the money they send home.;

Stephanie Sinclair for The New York Times
Christmas Bonus Globe Telecom is just one of many Filipino companies that award prizes to overseas Filipino workers and their families.

Stephanie Sinclair for The New York Times

The Next Generation? Precious Lara Villanueva with her grandmother Tita Comodas, who is raising Precious Lara while her mother, Rosalie, works abroad. Tita’s husband, Emmet Comodas, was an overseas worker for two decades.
Home was a one-room, scrap-wood shanty in a warren of alleys and stinking canals, hidden by the whitewashed walls of an Imelda Marcos beautification campaign. He had borrowed money at usurious rates to start a tiny store, which a thief had plundered. His greatest fears centered on his 11-year-old daughter, Rowena, who had a congenital heart defect that turned her lips blue and fingernails black and who needed care he could not afford. After years of worrying over her frail physique, Emmet dropped to his moldering floor and asked God for a decision: take her or let him have her.

God answered in a mysterious way. Not long after, Emmet’s boss offered him a pool-cleaning job in Saudi Arabia. Emmet would make 10 times as much as he made in Manila. He would also live 4,500 miles from his family in an Islamic autocracy where stories of abused laborers were rife. He accepted on the spot. His wife, Tita, was afraid of the slum where she soon would be raising children alone, and she knew that overseas workers often had affairs. She also knew their kids ate better because of the money the workers sent home. She spent her last few pesos for admission to an airport lounge where she could wave at the vanishing jet, then went home to cry and wait.

Two years later, on Aug. 2, 1982 (another date he would remember), Emmet walked off the returning flight with chocolate for the kids, earrings for Tita and a bag of duty-free cigarettes, his loneliness abroad having made him a chain smoker. His 2-year-old son, Boyet, considered him a stranger and cried at his touch, though as Emmet later said, “I was too happy to be sad.” He gave himself a party, replaced the shanty’s rotted walls and put on a new roof. Then after three months at home, he left for Saudi Arabia again. And again. And again and again: by the time Emmet ended the cycle and came home for good, he had been gone for nearly two decades. Boyet was grown.

Deprived of their father while sustained by his wages, the Comodas children spent their early lives studying Emmet’s example. Now they have copied it. All five of them, including Rowena, grew up to become overseas workers. Four are still working abroad. And the middle child, Rosalie — a nurse in Abu Dhabi — faces a parallel to her father’s life that she finds all too exact. She has an 18-month-old back in the Philippines who views her as a stranger and resists her touch. What started as Emmet’s act of desperation has become his children’s way of life: leaving in order to live.

About 200 million migrants from different countries are scattered across the globe, supporting a population back home that is as big if not bigger. Were these half-billion or so people to constitute a state — migration nation — it would rank as the world’s third-largest. While some migrants go abroad with Ph.D.’s, most travel as Emmet did, with modest skills but fearsome motivation. The risks migrants face are widely known, including the risk of death, but the amounts they secure for their families have just recently come into view. Migrants worldwide sent home an estimated $300 billion last year — nearly three times the world’s foreign-aid budgets combined. These sums — “remittances” — bring Morocco more money than tourism does. They bring Sri Lanka more money than tea does.

The numbers, which have doubled in the past five years, have riveted the attention of development experts who once paid them little mind. One study after another has examined how private money, in the form of remittances, might serve the public good. A growing number of economists see migrants, and the money they send home, as a part of the solution to global poverty.

Yet competing with the literature of gain is a parallel literature of loss. About half the world’s migrants are women, many of whom care for children abroad while leaving their own children home. “Your loved ones across that ocean . . . ,” Nadine Sarreal, a Filipina poet in Singapore, warns:

Will sit at breakfast and try not to gaze

Where you would sit at the table.

Meals now divided by five

Instead of six, don’t feed an emptiness.

Earlier waves of globalization, the movement of money and goods, were shaped by mediating institutions and protocols. The International Monetary Fund regulates finance. The World Trade Organization regularizes trade. The movement of people — the most intimate form of globalization — is the one with the fewest rules. There is no “World Migration Organization” to monitor the migrants’ fate. A Kurd gaining asylum in Sweden can have his children taught school in their mother tongue, while a Filipino bringing a Bible into Riyadh risks being expelled.

The growth in migration has roiled the West, but demographic logic suggests it will only continue. Aging industrial economies need workers. People in poor countries need jobs. Transportation and communication have made moving easier. And the potential economic gains are at record highs. A Central American laborer who moves to the United States can expect to multiply his earnings about six times after adjusting for the higher cost of living. That is a pay raise about twice as large as the one that propelled the last great wave of immigration a century ago.

With about one Filipino worker in seven abroad at any given time, migration is to the Philippines what cars once were to Detroit: its civil religion. A million Overseas Filipino Workers — O.F.W.’s — left last year, enough to fill six 747s a day. Nearly half the country’s 10-to-12-year-olds say they have thought about whether to go. Television novellas plumb the migrants’ loneliness. Politicians court their votes. Real estate salesmen bury them in condominium brochures. Drive by the Central Bank during the holiday season, and you will find a high-rise graph of the year’s remittances strung up in Christmas lights.

Across the archipelago, stories of rags to riches compete with stories of rags to rags. New malls define the landscape; so do left-behind kids. Gain and loss are so thoroughly joined that the logo of the migrant welfare agency shows the sun doing battle with the rain. Local idiom stresses the uncertainty of the migrant’s lot. An O.F.W. does not say he is off to make his fortune. He says, “I am going to try my luck.”

A kilometer of crimson stretched across the Manila airport, awaiting a planeload of returning workers and the president who would greet them. The V.I.P. lounge hummed with marketing schemes aimed at migrants and their families. Globe Telecom had got its name on the security guards’ vests. A Microsoft rep had flown in from the States with a prototype of an Internet phone. An executive from Philam Insurance noted that overseas workers buy one of every five new policies. Sirens disrupted the finger food, and a motorcade delivered the diminutive head of state, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who once a year offers rice cakes and red carpet to those she calls “modern heroes.”

Bleary from the eight-hour flight, a few hundred workers from Abu Dhabi swapped puzzled looks for presidential handshakes on their way to baggage claim. Roderick de Guzman, a young car porter, took home the day’s grand prize, a “livelihood package” that included a jeepney, life insurance, $1,000 and a karaoke machine. Too dazed to smile, he held an oversize sweepstakes check while the prize’s sponsors and the president beamed at his side and a squad of news photographers fired away. When it comes to O.F.W.’s, politics and business speak with one voice. Message: We Care.

On the way to the photo op, I squeezed into an elevator beside Arroyo. A president and daughter of a president, she is a seasoned pol who attended Georgetown University (Bill Clinton was a classmate) and has a Ph.D. in economics. I asked why she called migrant workers “heroes” and gathered from her impatient look that it was all she could do to keep from saying “du-uh.”

“They send home more than a billion dollars a month,” she said.

“O.F.W.’s get V.I.P. Treatment, Treats,” reported the next day’s Philippine Daily Inquirer, which runs nearly 600 O.F.W. articles a year. Half have the fevered tone of a gold-rush ad. Half sound like human rights complaints.

“Deployment of O.F.W.’s Hits 1-M Mark.”

“Remittances Seen to Set New Record.”

“Happy Days Here Again for Real Estate Sector.”

“5 Dead O.F.W.’s in Saudi.”

“O.F.W. 18th Pinay Rape Victim in Kuwait.”

“We Slept With Dog, Ate Leftovers for $200/month.”

Nearly 10 percent of the country’s 89 million people live abroad. About 3.6 million are O.F.W.’s — contract workers. Another 3.2 million have migrated permanently, largely to the United States — and 1.3 million more are thought to be overseas illegally. (American visas, which are probably the hardest to get, are also the most coveted, both for the prosperity they promise and because the Philippines, a former colony, retains an unrequited fascination with the U.S.) There are a million O.F.W.’s in Saudi Arabia alone, followed by Japan, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates and Taiwan. Yet with workers in at least 170 countries, the O.F.W.’s are literally everywhere, including the high seas. About a quarter of the world’s seafarers come from the Philippines. The Greek word for maid is Filipineza. The “modern heroes” send home $15 billion a year, a seventh of the country’s gross domestic product. Addressing a Manila audience, Rick Warren, the evangelist, called Filipino guest workers the Josephs of their day — toiling in the homes of modern Pharaohs to liberate their people.

For the sheer visuals of the O.F.W. boom, consider Pulong Anahao, a village two hours south of Manila that has been sending Filipinezas to Italy for 30 years. Cement block is the regional style, but these streets boast — the only verb that will do — faux Italianate villas. For the social complexity, turn on “Dahil sa Iyong Paglisan” (“Because You Left”), a Tagalog telenovela. Each show explores a familiar type. “Dodgie,” a driver in Dubai, is livid at his wife’s profligacy. “Dennis” gets fleeced by crooked recruiters on his way to Singapore. “Carlos,” with a wife in Riyadh, is a hapless househusband; he cannot cook or wash, and his son is left out in the rain.

Manila Hospital was aflutter one morning with the taping of the episode about “Wally.” A seafarer home from Greece, he demanded to know where his money had gone, only to discover that his pregnant wife had spent it on antiviral medication. His port-of-call promiscuity had given her H.I.V.

“Qui-et!” the director bellowed, with Wally about to learn of his own infection. It took the actor five takes to summon a sufficiently chilling mix of fear and remorse. A giggly nursing student, fresh from a cameo, paused to chat. She was getting a degree to — what else? — “go abroad and try my luck.”

While the Philippines has exported labor for at least 100 years, the modern system took shape three decades ago under Ferdinand Marcos. Clinging to power through martial law, he faced soaring unemployment, a Communist insurgency and growing urban unrest. Exporting idle Filipinos promised a safety valve and a source of foreign exchange. With a 1974 decree (“to facilitate and regulate the movement of workers in conformity with the national interest”), Marcos sent technocrats circling the globe in search of labor contracts. Annual deployments rose more than tenfold in a decade, to 360,000.

The “People Power” revolution of 1986 replaced him with Corazon Aquino, who as the widow of his slain rival was a figure as un-Marcosian as they come. But the surge in labor migration continued. By the end of her six-year term, annual deployments had nearly doubled. There is no anti-migration camp in Filipino politics. The labor secretary, Arturo Brion, greeted me by saying that he, too, had been an O.F.W., having worked as a lawyer for seven years in Canada. When I asked how a nationalist candidate might fare with a vow to keep workers home, he looked confused. “Nobody would vote for him,” he said.

The political issue is not migration but migrant safety. The formative moment in O.F.W. history, its Alamo, was the 1995 hanging of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipina maid in Singapore. Though she confessed to killing another Filipina maid and a Singaporean child, she did so in an uncertain mental state with weak legal representation; an 11th-hour witness fingered someone else. President Fidel Ramos’s calls for mercy failed, and the martyred maid’s coffin received a hero’s welcome at home. Congressional elections followed, and the new Legislature passed what is variously called Republic Act 8042 and “the migrant workers’ Magna Carta.” It pushed the government’s responsibilities beyond migrant deployment to migrant protection.

Woe now to the Filipino pol who appears not to have migrant welfare in mind. After a Filipino truck driver was kidnapped in Iraq in 2004, Arroyo not only banned all contract work there but also withdrew from the American-led military coalition. Even state visits have the tenor of bail runs. The president triumphed in Saudi Arabia last spring when King Adbullah freed more than 400 workers who had been jailed for petty crimes. But the war in Lebanon last summer threw the Arroyo government into a crisis by displacing thousands of Filipina maids. They returned home with harrowing tales of prewar abuse, including beatings and rape, endured in pursuit of salaries that averaged $200 a month. Embarrassed (and seemingly surprised), the government proposed a “Supermaid” program, a short-term training regimen that would lift the maids’ skills and demand a doubling of their wage. Those not cringing at the name fretted that a pay raise would leave the maids displaced by Bangladeshis.

While every country’s migrants face risks, what makes the Philippines unique is a bureaucracy pledged to reduce them. There is no precise analog for the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration — O.W.W.A. — or its savvy director, Marianito Roque, who is one part international rescue worker and one part domestic fixer. A bureaucratic survivor who rose through the ranks, Roque understands the imperative of making the president look good. Christmas offered plenty of opportunity. With legions of workers coming home, Roque staged thank-you fiestas nationwide.

I pictured them as sedate affairs until I arrived at a mall in Cebu City. Five thousand people pressed against police barricades, aiming cellphone cameras at a fluttering pop star who urged them to buy her music and clothes. O.W.W.A. has its own chorale, which offered the workers “Lady Marmalade” — “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” — an odd choice in a country saturated with fears of overseas adultery. Roque raffled off a mountain of rice cookers and electric fans, and the crowd responded with game-show shrieks. He caught an early-morning flight the next day and stormed through two more fiestas.

When the last rice cooker had been claimed and the last voulez-vous belted out, I spotted a man grinning mischievously, as if he were in on his own private joke. An attractive woman hung on his arm with what I mistook as reunion bliss. The bliss, she happily explained, was in the pay. The man, Pepito Montero, boasted that he earned $8,000 a month on a Saudi oil rig, and a flicker of doubt must have crossed my face. His smile broadened at the chance to produce his retort — a mass of $100 bills the size of a tennis ball.

Emmet Comodas migrated to Manila before he migrated abroad. His parents, tenant farmers in the province of Leyte, died before he finished grade school, and he was handed off to an aunt in the capital, 600 miles away. She lived in a muddy squatters’ camp called Leveriza. The alleys were ruled by drunks and gangs, but Emmet wore his geniality as a shield and was quick to make friends. Drawn to commerce more than to school, which he left at 16, Emmet spent much of his youth dodging traffic to sell newspapers and cigarettes. When he grew weary of his aunt’s strictures, he slept on a city bridge.

Among his favorite vending sites was a nearby stadium, Rizal Memorial, though without a sales license he had to sneak in early and hide before events. The canteen manager, admiring his pluck, hired him as a cook. With a bounce in his step from his first real job, Emmet was walking home to Leveriza one day when he spotted a woman, beautiful but frail, in an alley ironing clothes. He was afraid to say hello.

Teresita Portagana came from a higher echelon of the Filipino poor. Her father was a farmhand in nearby Cavite province who managed to buy a few acres of coffee trees. Tita was raised on the farm, the oldest of 11 kids in a close-knit family who shared a single thatched hut. She left school after sixth grade to help her mother manage the growing clan, and when she turned 16 her father sent her to work in a Manila glove factory. She would live with an aunt and send home most of her pay.

Her excitement at the prospect of city living vanished when she saw her aunt’s neighborhood. Leveriza was not just crowded and dangerous; it stank. Stagnant estuaries, which doubled as sewage pits, were filled with discarded bundles of waste dubbed “flying saucers.” When her father learned that Tita was drawing looks from Leveriza boys, he hurried to Manila and moved her out. “One relative in Leveriza is enough,” he said. By then Emmet was pressing his case. Tita considered him plain-looking and “poor as a rat,” but his persistence carried the day. They married on the farm and moved back to Leveriza, where Emmet would be close to work. He was 23, and she had just turned 21.

Similar slums were spreading across the developing world, greeting provincial migrants with welcome mats of squalor. How people survived, and at what cost, was a mystery and a concern. As Tita and Emmet were settling in, F. Landa Jocano, an anthropologist trained at the University of Chicago, moved nearby in search of answers, which eventually formed a noted book, “Slum as a Way of Life.” The setting of his Leveriza-like camp was predictably grim — “wet and muddy,” with a “nauseating smell” and “cardboard hovels” holding six to nine people to the room. But what really stood out were the social conflicts. Despite the Filipinos’ reputation for prizing social accord, husbands beat wives, gangs murdered gangs and tsismis — gossip — was a constant preoccupation. “Envy, jealousy, hatred and other forms of ridicule” coursed through the alleys, and it took a special deftness to thrive. Tita, lacking it, withdrew into herself. “I was talkless,” she said.

Tita and Emmet had three children in four years, and two more later. Their second child. Rowena, was born seven weeks early with a heart defect that went undiagnosed for years. All they knew was that she was constantly sick. The family lived in rented shanties until Emmet won $90 on a horse race and bought a shanty of his own. It was so bug-infested that he burned the walls and rebuilt with secondhand wood. He moved to a pool-cleaning job at the stadium and sold cigarettes on the side.

Still, the holes in the roof meant the children got wet on rainy nights. When she lacked money for vegetables or fish, Tita served the children rice, and when she lacked enough rice for three meals, she served two. A Sikh they called the “boom-bay” lent money at the standard interest rate, 20 percent per month. Emmet borrowed about $130 to open a tiny grocery store, which he planned to run as a sideline with Tita’s help. The thief who robbed it during Holy Week seemed to know that they were busy with a marathon reading of the “Pasyon,” a 24-hour life of Christ. A few months later, Tita became pregnant with their fifth child.

By then the Marcos labor decree was five years old, and the machinery was humming. Saudi Arabia was modernizing overnight. It needed roads, schools, apartments, hospitals and laborers to build them. Filipinos worked hard, spoke English and took orders. Tita and Emmet had seen the workers coming home with the Look — leather jackets, Ray-Bans and enough gold around their necks to turn their skin yellow with a case of Saudi “hepa.” But most of the jobs were controlled by recruiting agencies, which charged placement fees of a month’s salary or more. Only the privileged among the poor could leave.

In the spring of 1980, Tita’s brother Fortz took a loan from his father to try his luck in Riyadh. He had just landed when Emmet’s boss asked if he wanted to do the same pool-cleaning work in Dhahran. “Yes, yes, yes,” Emmet said. The firm that managed the stadium had a contract there, so there were no recruiters’ fees. Tita’s brother Fering came the following year, and soon after, her brother Servando. Of the 11 siblings in her generation, nine either became overseas workers or married one.

“First timers” have it rough. Emmet shared a comfortable company apartment and a cook with three other Filipinos, but the loneliness was worse than anything he had known. Outside of work, there was nothing to do. Alcohol and churches were banned. Looking the wrong way at a Saudi woman was an invitation to arrest. (That is one theory behind the Ray-Bans.) Emmet paced Dhahran malls and stared at Dhahran skies, fantasizing that the planes overhead had come to take him home.

Tita’s loneliness was costly, too, but she had Emmet’s earnings. With a monthly salary of $500, he made as much in two years in Dhahran as he did in two decades in Manila, and he sent two-thirds of it home. Tita bought better food, and she bought Rowena medicine. She bought each child a second school uniform, so she would not have to wash every night. She bought an electric fan and a television — her habit of watching through a neighbor’s window was a source of alleyway discord. Emmet, who talked to the family on cassette tapes, surprised Tita by sending one with a $100 bill inside.

When Emmet got home in 1982, he gave himself a party, patched the walls and replaced the leaky roof. Then he signed another two-year contract. After his second tour, he replaced the wooden walls with cement block and added an upstairs. After his third contract, he paid the government $2,000 and got title to the land. Though neither Tita nor Emmet finished high school, all five children started college; four got degrees. Emmet, overseas paying the bills, missed every graduation. It takes a lot to move him to anger, but even now he gets furious when someone says that overseas workers leave their children to grow up without love. “You cannot look at each other and say it’s love if your stomach is empty,” he said. “I sacrificed!”

I first met Tita and the kids in 1987, as Emmet was finishing his third contract. I had a fellowship from the Henry Luce Foundation to study urban poverty; a Leveriza nun, Sister Christine Tan, introduced us, and Tita agreed to let me move in. With Cory Aquino finishing her first year, the country was in transition, and Tita was, too. She was no longer quite so talkless. I awoke in the mornings to the blare of Tagalog news radio and once found her studying an English newspaper with a dual-language dictionary. “What’s imperialism?” she asked. When Congress wanted a witness for a hearing on urban poverty, Sister Christine had Tita testify. Tita told me she had been asking God, “Why are so many Filipinos poor?” When I asked if God had answered, she laughed. “Not yet,” she said.

Much of the credit belonged to Sister Christine, who had organized a network of prayer groups and cooperative stores and groomed Tita as a lieutenant. Tita bought and distributed 2,000 eggs a week for the group’s co-op stores, placing them under a fluorescent light at night to keep the rats away. The unpaid work, undertaken in the spirit of community service, brought Tita new confidence. But so perhaps did the modest comforts made possible by Emmet’s wages. By now she had a toilet.

Her oldest two children spent less time mulling the meaning of life — Rowena, still poised between sickness and health, was addicted to celebrity gossip — and her two youngest were little boys. But Rosalie, the middle child, was on a quest. At 16, she was ambitious, sometimes brooding, beautiful and devout; while her sister squealed about movie stars, Rosalie wrote Tagalog plays about class conflict. One depicted Imelda Marcos conniving to raze Leveriza and put up a discothèque.

Emmet returned a few months into my off-and-on stay. He had missed half the life of his 11-year-old, Roldan, and nearly the whole life of the 7-year-old, Boyet. He wanted to stay. With jobs scarce, frustration rose all around. Emmet scolded Tita for running up the light bill with her stewardship of the eggs. Tita got angry when she heard Emmet urge their oldest child, Rolando, to join the U.S. Navy, and furious when she caught him encouraging Rosalie to go abroad. Emmet wanted her to be an O.F.W.; Tita wanted her to be a nun. Though Emmet found a temporary job, he was back in Riyadh within a year.

One day he opened the door to find his son Rolando on the steps. He had quit tech school to try his luck as a driver for a Saudi family. His luck proved mediocre. The salary was low, his hours were long and his secret courtship of a Filipina maid could have landed him in jail. He quit after his second contract. By then, Rosalie had finished nursing school in Manila, a milestone for the family. She had set her sights on a job in the United States, but narrowly failed the licensing exam. Four years after graduation, she still earned $100 a month. Saudi hospitals paid nearly four times as much. After borrowing the recruiters’ fee from an aunt, Rosalie was Jeddah bound.

No one fully understood that a baton was being passed. With the kids grown, Tita soon rented out the house in Leveriza and started building another on her share of the family farm. At 55, Emmet had given his prime years, nearly 20 of them, to a succession of Arabian pools. Rosalie, renewing her contract, insisted he go home. The responsibility of supporting the family was hers.

As an Islamic state that bans socializing between unmarried women and men, Saudi Arabia held out few hopes for marriage or kids. Rosalie approached her 30th birthday resigned to a dutiful life alone. She celebrated at a Jeddah restaurant with Filipino friends; one of them, knowing they had a private room, disregarded the gender rules by bringing along her nephew, a construction engineer. The nephew, Christopher Villanueva, took Rosalie for an after-dinner walk, trailing her by a few paces in case the religious police happened by. “I was trembling!” Rosalie said. With both of them living in guarded single-sex dorms, their 18-month courtship occurred largely by cellphone. When they flew home in 2002 to marry, they had never been alone.

In the Philippines the following year to deliver her first baby, Rosalie saw an ad seeking nurses in Abu Dhabi. At $1,100 a month, the job paid twice what she made in Jeddah, and Abu Dhabi had no religious police. She aced the test and caught another plane to the Middle East, this time as a mother. Christine — “Tin-Tin” — was 7 months old when Rosalie tore herself away. The baby stayed on the farm and soon called her Aunt Rowena “Mama.” When a second daughter, Precious Lara, followed, she considered Rowena her mama, too. The girls cried when Rosalie held them on visits, filling her with worry and regret.

Overseas prosperity is a gift and an obligation. “Everyone needs help, and you cannot say no,” said Rosalie, who seems not to mind. She paid to complete her parents’ new house and sends them $400 a month. She sent money for her cousins’ school supplies and helped her uncle buy a cow. She lent hundreds of dollars to godparents, knowing she would never be repaid. Migration operates like compound interest, building upon itself. Capitalizing on permissive visa laws, Rosalie has now brought a cousin and three siblings to Abu Dhabi. Rowena will soon start a secretarial job, and Roldan and Boyet are working with computers. Rosalie has also gotten Tin-Tin back, though not without some continuing distress: the girl, now 4, still treats Rowena like her real mom.

Already the family benefactor, Rosalie recently got a big promotion. As a charge nurse at the Al Rahba Hospital, she now earns $2,000 a month — 20 times what she earned a decade ago when she left the Philippines. Plus she has free health care and housing. Nonetheless, she is determined to stamp one more visa on the passport page. After a decade of trying, she has passed the American nursing exam and will soon retake the English test, which she narrowly failed. “The U.S. is the ultimate,” she said. “If you make it to the U.S., there is no place else to go.”

Once upon a time — say five years ago — remittances were considered small potatoes, and possibly rotten ones. Experts saw them as minor amounts, “wasted” on consumption, and to the extent they came from professionals, as reminders of brain drain. That began to change early this decade, when research by the Inter-American Development Bank (commissioned by a remittance enthusiast named Don Terry) showed the amounts in Latin America were three or four times higher than supposed. That work got people talking, but interest surged in 2003 when Dilip Ratha of the World Bank showed the eye-popping sums extended across the globe. Migration has been a prominent development topic ever since. Of the $300 billion that migrants sent home last year, about two-thirds came through formal channels like banks, while the rest is thought to have traveled informally, in pockets or cassette tapes. By contrast, the world spent $104 billion on foreign aid. While the doubling of formal remittances in the past five years partly reflects improved counting, Dilip Ratha argues that most of the gain is real. There are more migrants; their earnings are growing; and plunging transaction fees encourage them to send more money home.

The Philippines, which received $15 billion in formal remittances in 2006, ranked fourth among developing countries behind India ($25 billion), China ($24 billion) and Mexico ($24 billion) — all of which are much larger. In no other sizable country do remittances loom as large as a share of the economy. Remittances make up 3 percent of the G.D.P. in Mexico but 14 percent in the Philippines. In 22 countries, remittances exceed a tenth of the G.D.P., including Moldova (32 percent), Haiti (23 percent) and Lebanon (22 percent).

Despite fears that the money goes to waste, a growing literature shows positive effects. Remittances cut the poverty rate by 11 percent in Uganda and 6 percent in Bangladesh, according to studies cited by the World Bank, and raised education levels in El Salvador and the Philippines. Being private, the money is less susceptible to corruption than foreign aid; it is also better aimed at the needy and “countercyclical” — it rises in response to slumps and natural disasters. By increasing reserves of foreign exchange, remittances reduce government borrowing costs, saving the Philippines about half a billion dollars in interest each year. While 80 percent of the money sent to Latin America is spent on consumption, that leaves nearly $12 billion for investment. And consumption among the poor is hardly a bad thing.

The downside is the risk of dependency, among individuals waiting for a check or for rulers (like Marcos) who use the money to avoid economic reforms. The cash could have a stultifying effect, like the “curse” of too much oil. No country has escaped poverty with remittances alone. “Remittances can’t solve structural problems,” said Kathleen Newland of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington research group. “Remittances can’t compensate for corrupt governments, nepotism, incompetence or communal conflict. People have finally figured out that remittances are important, but they haven’t figured out what to do about it.”

Drawing boards are filled with schemes to leverage the money for development, in ways large and small. A small Manila nonprofit group, the Economic Resource Center for Overseas Filipinos, has a plan to get overseas workers to buy cows; a dairy farm in the Philippines would raise them, splitting the profits and creating jobs. More grandly, commercial banks in Turkey and Brazil have used the expected flow of future remittances as a form of collateral to issue billions in corporate bonds. This lowers the banks’ borrowing costs and increases the amounts they can lend, making it easier, in theory at least, for businesses to borrow and expand.

A goal atop everyone’s list is getting more families “banked.” Opening an account (as opposed to just wiring money) lets migrants establish credit histories for future mortgages or business loans. The deposits expand capital pools. And bank accounts boost savings rates. Some banks turn migrant deposits into tiny loans to village entrepreneurs, linking remittances to the popular realm of microfinance.

Migrants contribute to development in ways that go beyond remittances. Many countries tap their diasporas for philanthropy. Affluent migrants make investments back home. And the increasingly circular nature of migration means that some migrants return with knowledge and connections. This is a countertrend to brain drain — “brain gain” — with Taiwan the most obvious case. The Hsinchu Science-Based Industrial Park, a government-subsidized Silicon Valley, has lured home thousands of skilled Taiwanese with research and investment opportunities. The key is having something to lure them to; brain gain has not come to, say, Malawi.

Casting migration as the answer to global poverty has some people alarmed. It risks obscuring the personal price that migrants and their families pay. It could be used to gloss over, or even justify, the exploitation of workers. And it could offer rich countries an excuse for cutting foreign aid and other development efforts. “This is a new version of trickledown theory,” warned Stephen Castles of Oxford University at a recent conference in Mexico City. “It wants to make the poor pay for development.” Rodolfo GarcÃa Zamora, a professor at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas in Mexico, warned the conference against remittance “fetishization.” Even in the remittance-happy Philippines, national law states that the government does not see migration as a development strategy — though it obviously does.

Certainly, soaring remittance tallies cannot measure social costs, to migrants or to those left behind. (So many Africans die at sea each year trying to reach European soil that the Straits of Gibraltar have been dubbed “the largest mass grave in Europe.”) I was with Emmet and his brother-in-law one day when they broke into a nostalgic version of “It’s So Painful, Big Brother Eddie,” a Tagalog classic from the 1980s that immortalizes every migrant’s fear:

My child wrote to me

I was shocked and I instantly cried.

“Father come home, make it fast

Mother has another man

She’s cheating on you, father. . . .”

But what’s painful, I’m wondering

Why our two children are now three?

Among the biggest worries, in the Philippines and beyond, are the “left behind” kids, who are alternately portrayed as dangerous hoodlums and consumerist brats. Some people fear that their gadgets and clothes, sent from guilty parents abroad, corrupt village values. A U.N. envoy, examining Filipino migration, had a different concern: “Reportedly children of O.F.W.’s are more likely to become involved in delinquency or early marriage.” (Note “reportedly.”) One episode of “Because You Left,” the television show, depicts an adolescent boy whose father is abroad, leaving no one to help him with his first crush. He bonds with the school bully, steals from his mother and tries to rob someone. In addition to the “left behind,” researchers speak of a more disadvantaged class — the “left out.” Lacking the money or connections to go abroad, they are marooned on the wrong shore of what is, among the poor themselves, a growing divide.

Fear about the children is inevitable (and laudable), but the modest social science that exists offers some reassurance. At least three studies have examined “left behind” families in the Philippines. All found the children of migrants doing as well as, or better than, children whose parents stayed home. The most recent, from the Scalabrini Migration Center in Manila, involved a national survey of 10-to-12-year-olds. The migrants’ kids did better in school, had better physical health, experienced less anxiety and were more likely to attend church. “For now, the children are fine,” it concluded. Joseph Chamie, editor of The International Migration Review, an academic journal, calls the finding typical. “There’s not much scientific evidence that children have developmental difficulties when a parent migrates,” he said.

One theory is that remittances compensate for the missing parent’s care. The study found migrants’ kids taller and heavier than their counterparts, suggesting higher caloric intake, and much more likely to attend private school. The extended family can also act as a compensating force. And so can modern technology in an age of cellphones and Webcams. There is no doubt that migration has costs. “We don’t have a focus group without people crying,” said the Scalabrini researcher, Maruja Asis. The point is that not migrating has costs, too — the cost of wrenching poverty.

The Philippines, more than most places, claims to be skilled in managing these costs. As the rare bureaucracy devoted to migrant care, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration draws admirers from across the globe. Any agency pledged to tame a force as brutal as labor migration is bound to have its failures. O.W.W.A. has 300 employees to watch over 3.6 million workers. The general Filipino view is that the agency does a serviceable job during crises abroad (it evacuated 30,000 workers from Kuwait during the first gulf war), while playing politics at home — investing funds in cronies’ businesses and helping politicians get out the vote.

But there is an especially sordid chapter of migrant history that this forgiving account omits, the shipment of bar girls to Japan. Spotting a growth market a decade ago, Philippine recruiters marched armies of young Filipinas through short courses in song and dance, then sent them off to Japanese clubs, with the Philippine government certifying them as “overseas performing artists.” Club owners typically grabbed their passports and told them to do what it took to keep customers drinking; what it took was a mix of tableside affection, off-duty dating and outright prostitution. As both governments lent a hand, Filipinas in skimpy clothes became an export commodity. Their numbers rose from 17,000 in 1996 to more than 70,000 in 2004, as remittances from Japan hit more than $350 million.

Sex work is often a byproduct of extreme poverty. “A man is on top of me,” writes Corazon Amaya-Cañete, a Filipina poet in Hong Kong, in the voice of a woman who distracts herself by resurrecting a childhood habit of counting sheep.

In exchange for this is money for Mother’s


Building the house and

Buying food for my six siblings

Clothes, shoes, books and tuition for school . . .

Seventy-seven white sheep!

Seventy-seven white sheep!

The Tagalog wordplay emphasizes the cruelty of her fate: she starts life as a girl counting tupa and awakens to find herself a puta. “Oh! I am prostitute!” she screams. (The poem, “Seventy-Seven White Sheep,” was published in a Webzine of Filipino diaspora writings, Our Own Voice.)

It was not the Philippines but Japan that finally cleaned things up. It acted only after the U.S. State Department placed it on a 2004 watch list of countries lax toward human trafficking. The embarrassed Japanese now demand two years of performing experience for an entertainer’s visa, which has cut the flow of Filipina bodies by about 95 percent. Remarkably, it did so over the objection of the Philippine government, which sent a protest delegation to Tokyo.

Or perhaps it is less remarkable than it seems. A handful of advocates condemned the flesh trade, but most Filipinos see it as a consensual, if regrettable, economic exchange, and inevitable in a country where nearly half the population lives on less than $2 a day. Gina gawa ko dahil para sa familya ko goes the Tagalog saying. “I do this for the sake of my family.”

I asked Nito Roque, the country’s chief migrant protector, how to square the sex trade with the government’s pledge (in Act 8042) to protect workers’ “dignity and fundamental human rights.” His answer says something about the limits of migrant protection, in the Philippines and beyond. “The contract does not say anything about prostitution — that is a private matter between the employer and the employee,” he said. “Nobody forces anybody to go abroad. It’s the applicant who comes forward and applies for the job.

“Do they know what they’re getting into? I think so.”

About 30 miles south of Manila, just outside the town of Silang, a dirt road ends at a residential compound carved from a small coffee farm. For decades it held nothing but the thatched hut where Tita and her 10 siblings were raised. Now a dozen cement blockhouses are clustered in a U, some little more than shells and others, like Tita and Emmet’s pink cottage, boasting faux marble tile and lace curtains. One look at each home yields a fair guess of how long the owner worked abroad. Nine families in the compound sent workers overseas, and collectively those workers stayed for 131 years (and counting). A walk across the compound cuts through a century of rewards and regrets.

Tita’s brother Fering is thankful that he returned from Saudi Arabia in time to see his children’s first days of school. Another brother, Fortz, is one of two men in the family (by some counts, three) whose extramarital affairs overseas produced kids. He left for Saudi Arabia with a daughter named Sheryl and returned with another named Sheralyn. Conscripted as a stand-in mom, Tita raised the girl for 10 years — resentfully at first, because of the cost — and wept when her real mother took her away. “She is like having another child,” she said.

Tita’s sister Peachy learned that her husband had a girlfriend — and a son — when she received a package meant for them. The first time I asked her whether the time apart had strained their marriage, she politely lied. “No — we’re loving each other for ever and ever!” she said. The following day she sought me out with a more candid account. Peachy is a large, cheerful woman, who seems as if nothing could daunt her. “I almost died,” she said. “I couldn’t lose my husband to someone else. That was the saddest moment of my life.”

Peachy’s sister Patricia thought all was well until a stranger called two years ago and said her husband was having an affair with his wife. “Your husband and his mistress,” the man wrote on the photograph that followed. When Patricia called her husband in Saudi Arabia, he denied all and then stopped taking her calls. He sends little money, and she suspects he has a new child. Their son Jonvic, a dimpled 9-year-old, renders judgments of his father with innocent cheer. “What he did to us was worse than if he died, because he violated the Ten Commandments of God,” he said.

It was not infidelity that moved another relative to tears but fidelity at any cost. We were breezing through the family photo album when she pointed at a picture from Saudi Arabia that showed her husband at an evangelical church. Church? That is a ticket to deportation or worse. Alarmed that her slip might place him in greater dangers, she started to sob. “I can’t stop him — that’s where he found his happiness,” she said. When I reached him, he encouraged me to mention his preaching, saying it was his way of thanking God for the chance to work abroad. “I promised the Lord I’ll share the Gospel under any circumstance,” he said.

The nine families of overseas workers raised 35 kids, some of whom scarcely saw their fathers. Their combined stories could fill a whole season of “Because You Left.” One became pregnant at 17 and is now a single mother. Another became addicted to video games and dropped out of school. Yet another started drinking after his father disappeared. One of Tita’s sisters sold a house and a cow to place her son in a Taiwan factory. The son squandered his parents’ life savings within a few months, and his drinking and gambling got him expelled from the country.

By any measure, the price was high, yet there it stands — a semicircle of blockhouses where there once was a mere thatched hut. Bookshelves sag with encyclopedia sets. More diplomas appear each year on freshly plastered walls. There are bunk beds and Bugs Bunny sheets, cellphones, stereos and big televisions. Having nearly lost her marriage to labor migration, Peachy is scarcely heedless of its social costs. “A good provider is someone who leaves,” she said, without ambivalence.

One irritant of life in the compound has been the shared well, which dries up and causes contentious waits. Three of the families have drilled wells of their own, with electric pumps. One belongs to Peachy, a gift from her daughter, Ariane, who used her father’s overseas earnings to get a degree in hotel management and earns $1,000 a month as a maid on a cruise ship.

Another tank belongs to Tita and Emmet, whose cottage is the compound’s jewel. It has a patio, a beamed ceiling, a tiled sala floor, two kitchens and two toilets that flush. It was built by Rosalie and is a monument to the tenacious child who wrote plays about the rich exploiting the poor and willed her way into the nascent middle class. Although she is thousands of miles away in Abu Dhabi, she hovers over the compound; no household there is heedless of her example or generosity.

The house is nicer than any that Tita and Emmet have known but quieter too, with four of the couple’s five children a continent away. “I am sad,” Tita said, “because they’re in a far place.” She is often weak with ulcers, and Emmet’s hearing has started to fade. They had a chance to sell the fixed-up house in Leveriza for a princely sum, $16,000, but unwilling to part with the place where their children were raised, they rent it to relatives. Restless without work, Emmet is especially susceptible to nostalgia for the bad old days. “I was happier then because I was with my children,” he said.

Going abroad is difficult, but so is coming home. Since Emmet returned for good, the kids have noticed less tenderness between their parents and more quarreling. They each grew accustomed to being the boss. One reason Rosalie left her second daughter, Precious Lara, in the Philippines is that she thinks her parents need a child to love. Tita and Emmet sleep beneath a malaria net with the 18-month-old beside them, and Rosalie often calls home two or three times a day. She and her husband have an infant son, Dominique Edward, in Abu Dhabi, whom her parents have never seen. Armed with her first cellphone at 60, Tita has sent so many text messages that she has worn the numbers off the keys. Yawning one night, she laughed and said of herself, “Low batt!”

Off the sala is a guest bedroom with a large framed photograph of Rosalie, taken on her wedding day. The woman in that picture shows no trace of a birthright of poverty. She turns to the camera wearing an enormous gown and a confident face. Two generations of labor migration have given her more education, more money and more power and prestige than her mother could have dreamed of on her own wedding day. Precious Lara rarely plays in that room and hardly knows the face, much less the sacrifices her mother has made for the blessings of a migrant’s wage.

Jason DeParle, a senior writer for The Times, last wrote for the magazine about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Next Article in Magazine (1 of 14) »

MayDay 2007

Call To Action!
May Day 2007
National Mobilization to Support Immigrant Workers Rights!

A national day of multi-ethnic unity with youth, labor, peace and justice communities in solidarity with immigrant workers and building new immigrant rights & civil rights movement! Wear White T-Shirt, organize actions to support immigrant rights!


Rally & March Tuesday May 1
4:00 pm Union Square Park
14 St. & Broadway
(take # 4/5/6/L/N/Q/R/W trains to Union Sq.)

Marching to Federal Plaza/ Foley Square
(Site of the African Burial Ground)

- Money for human needs, not for war!
- Living wage and work for all!
- Health care, housing & education now!
- Protect all workers� rights to organize and strike!
- Legalization for all immigrants now!
- End I.C.E. deportations/raids and police murders!
- Shut down detention centers and end unjust imprisonments!

NYC May 1 Coalition
55 West 17 St., #5C, New York, NY 10011
or c/o Teamsters Local 808, 22-43 Jackson Ave, Long Island City, NY 11101
To endorse, and for more information: (646) 291-2778

A member of the
National May Day Movement for Worker & Immigrant Rights


Read about the recent human rights crisis in the Philippines in your newspaper?

Heard about the recent US Senate hearing on the escalation of politically-motivated killings, of which over 850 are children, students, journalists, trade unionists, lawyers, church workers, etc.?

Wonder why international human rights institutions such as Amnesty Int'l and Human Rights Watch are releasing urgent reports on the Philippines?

Curious why the United Nations Human Rights Council has the Philippines in its radar?

Concerned about 2007 election fraud in the Philippines and its relation to terrorism?

Join us for a....
Public info session on the human rights situation in the Philippines

Sunday, May 20th, 2007
11am to 1pm
Perlas Ng Silangan Restaurant
69-09 Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside, Queens
trains E,F,G,R,V,7 to 74th Street and Roosevelt Ave


Free coffee and community discussion on...

Amnesty International Report on the Philippines
Updates on US legislative advocacy efforts to stop the killings in the Philippines
Reports on the recent UN representative visit to the Philippines

sponsored by the NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines,

Monday, April 16, 2007

Fely Garcia Campaign Update!

News Release (updated)
April 16, 2007

Reference: Lorena Sanchez & Shirley Cuyugan-O'Brien, Coordinators, Philippine Forum-KABALIKAT, email: pf_kabalikat [at] yahoo [dot] com

Consulate's Partial Repatriation Concession for Fely Garcia Marks Victory for Domestic Workers Campaign
Domestic Workers Push for Fixed Assistance Policy from DFA, POEA, OWWA

New York-- In a Filipino community townhall meeting held yesterday in Elmhurst, members of the domestic workers support network Philippine Forum-KABALIKAT and others realized the result of weeks of community-based campaign labor when a pinned-down Philippine Consulate announced it would offer $4900 in financial assistance towards the repatriation of Felisa "Fely" Garcia, a 58 year old Filipina domestic worker found dead in her home last March 14, 2007 in the Bronx. Philippine Forum-KABALIKAT members and their supporters also continued to pressure for a second round of investigation in a case that the New York Police Department has already dismissed as suicide with no sign of foul play. The said townhall was also attended by Philippine Vice Consul Leandro Lachica.

"Even I was surprised of the Consulate's announcement for a small grant for Fely's family," states Atty. Arnedo Valera of the Migrant Heritage Legal Resource Center in Washington DC and chief legal counsel for the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), who represents Garcia's children in the Philippines and was also present at the townhall meeting. "Unfortunately, offering any concession of financial assistance to overseas Filipinos and their families in need is not normal or routine procedure for the Philippine government. It is administered under a so-called 'case to case' basis in the absence of a clear, fixed policy related to migrant worker assistance. It seems, as with the case of domestic worker Flor Contemplacion back in 1995, that the usual condition that pushes the Philippine government to react is when the community pressures in an uproar, or additionally in Fely's case, when Philippine elections are in the air."

"I congratulate the role of Philippine Forum-KABALIKAT, the Filipino community and specifically the domestic worker community in pressuring for this money to come through. Clearly it was the community's response, not the goodwill of the Philippine government, that was the motivating force for the Consulate's decision," Valera added.

As a domestic worker organizing project of the Philippine Forum, an 11-year old community organization in Queens, KABALIKAT responded to Garcia's reported death by securing US-based pro-bono legal representation for Garcia's children through Valera, and since then have been fully-engaged in a campaign to push for the family's demands for a re-investigation and full financial coverage of all death-related costs from the Philippine government, including a possible second autopsy, transportation to Batangas, and proper burial fees, not just for repatriation to Manila. A petition online administered by the network has garnered nearly 1000 signatures of support for Fely's case.

"The authorities should listen to Fely's children and their demand for a re-investigation. It is a reality that while abuse and exploitation is common for Filipino workers, most unfortunately opt to face these dismal conditions because they are the primary providers for their families back in the Philippines. Fely left behind four children back home with children of their own because she couldn't make a decent living as teacher in the Philippines. We understand their frustration over the conduct of the initial investigation because they were never contacted by any authority until 2 weeks after her death," states Philippine Forum-KABALIKAT co-coordinator Lorena Sanchez, a domestic worker who had initially worked in the Middle East before coming to work in New York.

Community members at the said meeting also pressured for a more fixed, comprehensive policy for financial assistance, legal assistance, and family compensation for overseas Filipino workers in need through funds allocated by the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) Overseas Worker Welfare Administration (OWWA), and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

"While we welcome this financial offering by the Consulate, it really should be systematized into policy for these labor export agencies to offers various forms of assistance to overseas Filipinos when they need it. Overseas Filipinos pay remittances and excessive fees to these agencies. We all contribute to the Philippine economy whether we are documented residents, contract workers, and undocumented workers. Overseas Filipinos have been the backbone of the Philippine economy for over 30 years. The government should at least standardize safeguard measures of those in need," Valera added.

Atty. Valera also recalled the 2004 election scandal that exposed billions in OWWA funds extorted for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's presidential candidacy ticket. He warned a repeat episode should not be allowed to happen.

"There should be an auditing of the POEA, OWWA, and DFA budgets, so we know exactly how much is earmarked for actual services for overseas Filipinos. This community campaign is falling on another election season, hence we should be even more on guard of plunder of these government agency budgets by political candidates to buy votes," Valera added.

"Fely's case has opened and exposed a Pandora's box of ills in the Philippine government's labor export policy when it comes to distressed overseas Filipinos," states Rico Foz of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), the national rights and welfare alliance of which Philippine Forum-KABALIKAT is a founding member-affiliate. Foz visited the Philippine Consulate last week on behalf of the entire membership of NAFCON, prior to the Consulate's announcement that it would offer repatriation funds, to address the case with Philippine Consul General Cecilia Rebong face to face.

"The overseas Filipino community has the right and moral ascendancy to engage the Philippine government to create genuine rights and welfare protections and policies when it comes to the systemic and multi-billion dollar labor export industry of Filipino workers," Foz added.

Over $12 billion US dollars were remitted last year by overseas Filipino workers, a significant percentage of which is yielded from Filipinos in the US.

As a result of Philippine Forum-KABALIKAT's efforts to raise funds to alleviate the financial burden on Garcia's family, Philippine Forum-KABALIKAT Co-Coordinator Shirley Cuyugan-O'Brien announced over $3000 raised last week through the Justice for Fely Fund. "This proves the the power of our kababayan (compatriots) united, even though we are thousands of miles away from our homeland, to support for each other in dark and trying times."

The Philippine Forum formally launched its domestic workers organizing project KABALIKAT in celebration of International Women's Day last March 2007. The Justice for Fely Garcia campaign was launched by Philippine Forum-KABALIKAT shortly after Garcia's death and the Garcia family authorized the network to advocate on their behalf.

To make a donation to the Justice for Fely Campaign, make checks to Philippine Forum, write Justice for Fely on the memo, and mail to Philippine Forum at 54-05 Seabury Street, Elmhurst, New York 11373.

To sign the Justice for Fely Garcia online petition, visit

For more information on the Justice for Fely Campaign, contact the Philippine Forum-KABALIKAT at ###

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Founding Retreat! (Part 2)

And April 14th, 2007 is when FiRE was born! What a lovely time with you all! <3

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Founding Retreat!

The lovely folks of FiRE are in the middle of their founding retreat! Our constitution was created today and the following is our mission statement:

Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) is a mass based women’s organization serving New York City and its surrounding areas. We are dedicated to global and local Filipina and Filipina American issues. We believe that class oppression is inextricable to the struggle of women; therefore we support and create women’s initiatives by fostering leadership, building alliances and mobilizing our immigrant and native-born community through critical education and learning. We are an anti-imperialist formation working in solidarity with the National Democratic movement of the Philippines. We connect the Filipino diaspora to the women’s struggle in the Philippines by organizing across class, gender, sexual identity, and age lines. Bringing woman-born and woman-identified people together, we challenge pervading stereotypes by creating self-defined Filipina identities.

Congrats, women!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Justice for Fely

Greetings friends,
The mysterious death of Felisa "Fely" Garcia, 58, a Filipina domestic caregiver found dead by an alleged suicide in her bedroom last March 14 in the Bronx, NY has prompted the Filipina domestic workers support network known as KABALIKAT, an organizing project of the Philippine Forum, to aggressively seek justice for Fely Garcia.

We mourn the tragic death of Fely Garcia. However, we aim to fight for her life. We will not dwell on the lack of her presence next to us today. Rather, we will fight for the justice that she did not see in her lifetime. We must collect our voices and let our demands for justice be heard!

Sign on the the Justice For Fely Garcia! Campaign! Join the many Filipino community members, here in New York and globally, in our campaign for a fallen sister!

in solidarity,

Valerie Francisco
This petition will be delivered in installation demonstrations to the Philippine consulate beginning on:
Monday, April 9, 200710:00 AM556 5th Avenue New York, NY 10036
Join Philippine Forum/KABALIKAT Domestic Workers Support Network and many other community-based organizations!
We, the undersigned, express our sincerest sympathies for th e loss of Felisa "Fely" Garcia, 58, found dead in her closet by her landlord last March 14, 2007 in the Bronx, New York. Garcia had left four suicide letters in an envelope in the kitchen for her landlord to find. In one of the letters, Garcia describes she faced "abuse and harassment" from her employer, who remains unnamed.

3,000 Filipinos leave the shores of the Philippines daily, filipino overseas contract workers, largely women, are being deployed to different countries around the world to work as domestic workers, nannies, elderly caregivers, among others. On the global stage, our people are exposed, generally, with no rights to protect them.

As the Philippine economy fails to improve under a system reeking with corruption, we can expect that this aggressive outmigration, touted as an economic solution to our homeland's troubles and downturns, will produce more cases like Fely's that will not be handled properly because the orientation of our consular offices abroad is not to help migrants with their basic problems, but help them remit their earnings back to the Philippines.

We recognize that the startling statistics of bodies of overseas workers returning dead to the same Philippine shore they left are deplorable. Often killings and homicides of migrant workers are casted off as suicides by authorities and foreign governments. Without proper and objective investigations, the deaths of migrant workers are forever forgotten. Philippine Consulates and Embassies are more interested in closing cases of maltreatment, distress and death rather than actually offering assistance and pursuing investigations for victims of abuse like Fely.

In the US, Filipino domestic workers are suffering in dehumanizing conditions: living in isolation, lacking contact with their families, often without benefits and sometimes working without pay. These issues have brought about unbearable lives for Filipino domestic workers here in New York and all over the globe.

We lambaste for the Philippine Government via the Consulate and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for never contacting the family in the Philippines about their mother’s death and investigation until 2 weeks after her death. Holding back such information is inhumane and insensitive to the Garcia family.

In receiving a letter of official authorization by Garcia's family to act on their behalf, Atty. Arnedo Valera and Philippine Forum/KABALIKAT have been negotiating for monetary support for the necessary expenses for Garcia's medical procedures, transportation costs back to the Philippines, and other expenditures. Recently, partial support received from these negotiations is covering Garcia’s return home. We demand that the Philippine Consulate stay true to their word and provide full financial support for Fely Garcia!

Acting on behalf of the Garcia family in the Philippines, we, domestic workers, Filipino community members, community organizations, women’s advocates, and allies demand a:

1. full and unbiased investigation from the New York Police Department of all parties involved in Fely Garcia’s death ;

2. complete disclosure of details of the case, investigation and autopsy from the New York Police Department and the Philippine Consulate to Garcia’s legal advisor, Attorney Arnedo Valera, and the Garcia family;

3. total financial support of necessary expenses for Garcia's medical procedures, transportation costs back to the Philippines shouldered by the Philippine Consulate;

4. concerted initiative from the Philippine Consulate to assist the Justice For Fely! Campaign in pursuing a second investigation for the death of Felisa Garcia; and

5. an allocation of resources from the Philippine Consulate to collaborate with local community-based and grassroots organizations to create a long-term task force to research, understand, analyze and support Filipino domestic worker issues.
The Philippine Forum, a community service organization in Queens, is a founding member of National Alliance for Filipino Concerns(NAFCON). KABALIKAT Domestic Worker Support Network is program of Philippine Forum working with Filipino domestic workers in New York City.
To make a donation to the Justice for Fely Campaign, make checks to Philippine Forum, write Justice for Fely on the memo, and mail to Philippine Forum at 54-05 Seabury Street, Elmhurst, New York 11373.
For more information on the Justice for Fely Campaign, contact the Philippine Forum/KABALIKAT at 925-726-5768 or email To get to the Philippine Forum office, take the V, G and R trains to Grand Avenue/Newtown Station in Elmhurst, Queens. Exit on Southside of Queens Boulevard . Walk towards 54th Avenue and turn left on Seabury St . Take the side entrance to the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Domestic Workers Group Demands Full Investigation of Filipina's Death

Felisa Garcia, 58

News Release
April 2, 2007

Reference: Lorena Sanchez & Shirley Cuyugan-O'Brien, Coordinators, KABALIKAT Domestic Workers Support, Phone: 718-565-8862

Domestic Workers Group Demands Full Investigation of Filipina's Death
Consulate Sought to Answer Urgent Questions in Townhall Meeting

New York-- The Filipina domestic workers support network known as KABALIKAT, an organizing project of the Philippine Forum, convened over 75 domestic workers and concerned community members for a forum last Sunday, April 1, demanding a full investigation behind the mysterious death of Felisa "Fely" Garcia, 58, a Filipina domestic caregiver found dead by an alleged suicide in her bedroom last March 14 in the Bronx. The forum gathered community support and featured live phone-in's with Garcia's US-based lawyer, Atty. Arnedo Valera of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), and daughter Geraldine Gamboa in Batangas, Philippines.

In a tearful plea for help, Gamboa thanked the Philippine Forum/KABALIKAT for their direct support, including securing a pro-bono attorney and raising initial support funds, and conveyed the Garcia children's burning questions over the mysterious reasons behind their mother's alleged suicide.

"Our mother was in good spirits days before her death. We had no reason to question her emotional health or detect that she was distressed. That is why we are suspicious of the circumstances surrounding her death. The circumstances suggest foul play," stated an emotional Gamboa over the phone conference.

According to Valera, Garcia's four children in the Philippines have maintained that besides a thorough autopsy of their mother's body for alleged physical and/or sexual abuse, a full investigation of all parties involved is necessary. Garcia had left a letter for her landlord stating her "abuse and harassment" at the hands of her employer.

Autopsy reports are scheduled to be released in two weeks by the Bronx Medical Examiner's office.

Shortly after receiving an official authorization by the Garcia's family to act on their behalf, both Valera and Philippine Forum/KABALIKAT have been been pushing for the family's wishes, while pressuring for accountability from the Philippine Consulate to shoulder the necessary expenses for Garcia's medical procedures, transportation costs back to the Philippines, and other expenditures.

In addition, Philippine Forum/KABALIKAT has agreed to launch the "Justice for Fely" campaign, which aims to support the Garcia family demands while raising a minimum of $7000 for funeral costs.

As part of the campaign, a townhall meeting will be convened on Sunday, April 15th, 2pm at the Philippine Forum's Bonifacio Hall at 54-05 Seabury Street in Elmhurst, Queens (V/G/R to Grand Avenue Newtown). Representatives from the Philippine Consulate are specifically requested to appear in order to answer pressing questions regarding Garcia's case.

"It is unconscionable that the Consulate has not communicated with the Fely's family. They cannot be left off the hook so easily," stated Rico Foz, Executive Vice President of NAFCON, who also spoke at the forum.

Foz heavily criticized the Department of Foreign Affairs' (DFA) failure to contact Garcia's next of kin until March 29th, nearly two weeks after Garcia's death.

"If not for the constant pressure coming from Philippine Forum/KABALIKAT and Migrante International from the ground, we doubt that the Philippine government would be moved to address this case," Foz added.

Foz also criticized the DFA's handling of the Garcia's family, which did not include a discussion of the case details but rather included pressuring for the signing of consent forms for the Consulate to have the body shipped to the Philippines, with the family's exemption from paying the necessary fees as an incentive.

"The DFA's support to should be unconditional, regardless of consent forms. It should not offer to pay for the fees as a negotiation to keep the details of the case under wraps. It is solely their responsibility to make sure this Philippine national is transported back to her family back home, even as the family pushes for an investigation. We are seriously concerned over this type of politicking with Garcia's family," Foz added.

"Now with the family's authorization, Philippine Forum/KABALIKAT aims to look after Fely's and her family's interests first and foremost, rather than the Philippine government's push to close the case," Foz ended.

NAFCON is a nationwide alliance of Filipino organizations spread over 23 cities. The Philippine Forum, a community service organization in Queens, is a founding member of NAFCON.

The forum also garnered statements of support from allied organizations including Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FIRE), Anakbayan, and others.

To make a donation to the Justice for Fely Campaign, make checks to Philippine Forum, write Justice for Fely on the memo, and mail to Philippine Forum at 54-05 Seabury Street, Elmhurst, New York 11373.

For more information on the Justice for Fely Campaign, contact the Philippine Forum/KABALIKAT at 718-565-8862 or email To get to the Philippine Forum office, take the V, G and R trains to Grand Avenue/Newtown Station in Elmhurst, Queens. Exit on Southside of Queens Boulevard . Walk towards 54th Avenue and turn left on Seabury St . Take the side entrance to the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown. ###

1. Kabalikat co-coordinator Lorena Sanchez looks at Felisa Garcia's picture

2. Audience of domestic workers and community advocates listen as Fely's family tells their side of the story

3. Philippine Forum Co-Executive Director Julia Camagong and Kabalikat's Lorena Sanchez