An article by Pepe Panglao published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

HONG KONG/PHILIPPINES: Territories and countries — with and without protection

Pepe Panglao

I am a Filipino and I have a Filipina working in my home as a domestic worker. My family, my worker and I are amongst those fortunate enough, to experience the security and protection afforded to the residents of Hong Kong. Having come from various parts of the Philippines, and being aware of the precarious law and order system in that country, we are grateful that we can live in a territory where one can feel safe and protected.

There are over 140,000 Filipino migrants in Hong Kong who are living and working here as domestic workers, professionals and residents. While most of them have lived most of their adult lives in the Philippines, some were born and grew up in Hong Kong and there is no doubt in my mind that they would all share a deep appreciation to the government of Hong Kong who ensures our safety and protection.

Before coming to Hong Kong, I lived most of my adult life in the southern part of the Philippines where conflicts had since been thriving for decades. It is a place where many Filipinos have not lived in, visited or prefer not to go anywhere near. It is very likely to be the last destination foreign tourists would want to visit due to perpetual travel warnings, despite its splendid beauty. Bombings, kidnappings, protracted wars, hostage taking and killing of people in broad daylight was part of my life being a professional journalist there.

However, this is the life that I had lived with and over 90 million Filipinos back home have to live with it every day of their lives. They have no choice but to accept its realities and to struggle in surviving in it daily as they have no other choice. This is the story and experience of many Filipinos here in Hong Kong and my family and I are included in this group. The experience has left deep imprints in our minds; deep trauma; and to some extent has desensitized us. For many Filipinos living and working here, Hong Kong could be their form of healing and a place to escape to given the assurance of protection and security.

Only a handful of Filipinos come to Hong Kong as tourists as the average Filipinos could not afford it. In fact, the vast majority of Filipinos never have the opportunity to travel abroad. Many of them never even get to see other parts of their own country. Some of them grow old and die without ever owning a Philippine passport or knowing what a visa is. In developed countries and societies, parents of new born babies obtain passports for them days after they are born. For them, having their child’s birth recorded is a normal process but there are a great many Filipinos who do not even have records of their own existence. They have no certificates of birth, no travel documents and even in death they could hardly obtain an official record–their existence simply disappears on paper. And because of the vagaries of the system even if one has a birth certificate some of them had two birthdays–one is the date on which their mothers recall they were actually born and the other is what was written on official documents.

This is the way of life that most of the Filipinos are trying to escape from. However, there are those who resolve to stay behind and speak out against it. This is the meaning that they had found for themselves. But these people–the human rights defenders, political activists, lawyers, journalists, and countless others who had seen the depth of their people’s continuing suffering; and are trying to challenge the status quo, have either been extra-judicially killed or forcibly disappeared. A local source has documented 1,205 cases of extrajudicial killings and 206 cases of forcible disappearance since 2001.

Some of the Filipinos who have resolved to speak out against the ugly reality of their country find it too risky for them to remain there. Out of necessity they chose to leave their families and their homes to come to places like Hong Kong where they can campaign openly about the system and injustices in their country. Historically, due to Hong Kong’s close proximity to the Philippines; before Hong Kong became widely known as destination for Filipino domestic workers, it used to be also the haven of the Filipino political dissenters from the Spanish colonial period up to the martial law regime of the late President Ferdinand Marcos.

Hong Kong has shown to many of the Filipino people, particularly those who want to speak against the defects of their own country that it is possible to live and work in a secure and protected environment. The territory of Hong Kong and its people had been the benchmark of a rule of law society, a society which remains the dream of the Filipino people. Hong Kong’s ugly past before the introduction of the Independent Commission against Corruption is the reality that we Filipinos had to live every day. Hong Kong today is an example for the Filipino people who work here in safety. This place had shown us the meaning that something is possible; it encourages us to work for our country and to hope that the day will come when we can return home and enjoy the same degree of safety.

However, we cannot achieve this by simply dreaming about it, we have to work hard for it. When a Filipino makes the decision to work as a domestic worker in Hong Kong he or she has to endure the difficulties of living in somebody else’s home; to mind their children and to do the cleaning–these are things that back home this same worker would have had somebody else doing for her. Many of the domestic helpers in Hong Kong would be professionals back home but have come here to work due to the lack of jobs in the Philippines. They have waived their social rights and swallowed their pride.

When the hostage taking incident in Manila on August 23, which killed eight Hong Kong residents the Filipinos were also grieving; they felt the same anger and sought the same answers to many questions just as the people of Hong Kong are doing now.

The concerns of the local Filipinos that anger and hatred could be vented on them by some people sympathetic to the family of the hostage victims, is not imagined, they are real and are happening. There had also been instances like this in the past, like the discrimination and isolation of Filipinos following a local newspaper report that they were the carriers of a communicable disease. Also, it has also already been confirmed and an established fact that some employers have already sacked their Filipino domestic workers; others have been verbally abused in the streets due to the Manila hostage taking.

A person known to me was told by her employer that if anyone asks what her nationality is, she was instructed: “Tell them you’re an Indonesian”; and some employers are restraining the movement of their workers from going out, supposedly for ‘precautionary measures’. However, just because these stories are not known to the public it does not mean that there is no such problem. It illustrates rather the extent of restraint that the Filipino workers have to exercise to avoid provoking their employers because at the end of the day, they are all at the mercy of their employers.

Some workers avoid discussing the hostage incident with their employers and believe that this is the safest way to get past it. They just hide in toilets or their own rooms to cry hard due to the humiliation they feel for this shameful incident–and to make sure they do not draw their employer’s attention.

This is not to trivialize the feelings of the families of the hostage victims. I completely agree that that the victims’ families and the people in Hong Kong have every right to express their anger and that my family and I owe our safety and protection in living here to the Hong Kong government. However, this feeling of safety is what enables me to speak out on behalf of those workers who are not at liberty to do so. To deny the already growing concern and the existing problem of the needless tension; and to calculate one’s statement to avoid offending others does not help. It rather prevents the needed precautionary measures and could deprive the possibility of a dialogue.

Thus, when the Filipinos fear to allow their children to go to the playground or send them to school it is not out of paranoia, it is rather their traumatic response due to the insecure life they used to experience and live with back home. It is not an overreaction for them to believe that the people of Hong Kong might resort to violence out of a misguided sense of revenge. It is simply the fact that this was the lifestyle they lived in the Philippines and they are all too familiar with the concept of bloody revenge.

I do understand the concern that tensions could be misinterpreted by others. However, it would be unfortunate if some people might manipulates and exploit the situation. Evidence of needless reactions are already an established fact, not only in HK, but is being widely discussed in the Philippines. The Philippine government has acknowledged that there had been incidents already. These concerns are not imagined but real.

This article is not intended to hurt the feelings of the families of the hostage victims. I do express my deepest condolences to them. Like them, I have also lost many personal friends due to the continuing extrajudicial killings of activists and journalists–most of the killings involved the police, the military and the people who work for them. The latest was the Maguindanao Massacre, where I lost personal friends and colleagues amongst the 57 who were murdered.

However, it is my duty and obligation as a Filipino to speak against anything that could compromise their safety and security in Hong Kong. Here I can say without fear and reservation that if I was attacked or persecuted for my views and opinions I am confident the law in Hong Kong is capable of protecting me. It is this I have deep respect to the Hong Kong people and the Hong Kong government. The example of Hong Kong is what I continue to dream of having for my country–to have security and protection.

The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.

About the Author:
Pepe Panglao is a freelance journalist working and living in Hong Kong

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Document ID :AHRC-ETC-015-2010
Date : 25-08-2010