A handmaid’s tale

The Supreme Court has affirmed the life term meted out on employers Anna Liza and Reynold Marzan who had physically abused Bonita Baran, a housemaid from Catanduanes.

In a 15-page notice made public July 12, 2021, the high tribunal’s Second Division rejected the appeal filed by spouses Anna Liza and Reynold Marzan, who were found guilty in August 2017 by a Quezon City judge of beating up and unlawfully detaining Baran for nearly three years.

Her woman employer – Anna Liza Marzan -- got 40 years in prison and husband ,Reynold Marzan got 20 years. Anna Liza died in 2020.

The 6th daughter of 11 children by a vinegar-maker from Catanduanes who earns P70 a day, Bonita and her tale of extreme cruelty unraveled in 2007 when she worked for the Marzans running a bicycle business.

The irony was that the woman employer came from the same island town as their maid. She got lucky by marrying a Filipino-Chinese businessman.

For five years since 2007, Baran suffered untold cruelty from the Marzans.

Kept in a dark dingy room whenever there were visitors in the house, poor maid got all kinds from her employers: a flat iron landing on her face, blunt instruments hitting her ears, strong blows that eliminated her front teeth. Her frail body was virtual punching bag and to make things worst, her food ration did not come on time.

Her eyes were not spared from the blows. Her eye injuries were such she eventually got blind.

Bonita Baran with Public Attorney Persida Acosta.

Her doctor had to takeaway her right eye because there were already dead tissues causing her pain and discomfort. She had to make do with an implant to maintain the shape of an eyeball. All that she will get is an eye prosthesis or artificial eye.

She remembered spending her 21st birthday in a bodega where she was kept from seven in the morning to ten in the evening. Her employers wanted her away from the prying eyes of house visitors. Her meal on the day of her 21st birthday she got only after 15 hours in the strange holding room which was actually a bodega.

Blind and unable to work after five years of physical cruelty, she was finally allowed to go home in the island. She was made to use adult diapers as she couldn’t possibly find the bus terminal comfort room on her own.

A TV reporter found out about her plight and her story broke out in national television.

It wasn’t long before she got a much-need assistance from the Public AttorneyPersida Acosta who was shocked by the extent of the cruelty the poor maid suffered.

In time, the island maid became the face of the exploited Filipino household help in Filipino homes.

Her story was shocking enough a senator filed a Kasambahay Bill aimed at improving the life of household help.

She thanked her biggest benefactor, Public Attorney Persida Acosta who helped her win her case.

This is the same feisty public attorney who also came from a poor family in Bulacan.(She took up law after her own family’s sad experience with law and justice in the country.)

Baran’s story is a classic tale of how it is to be poor in the island and with very little education.

As it is, Baran is another unforgettable character in the likes of the classic Lino Brocka film “Bona” and another localized version of “Flor Contemplacion Story ” in the acclaimed Joel Lamangan film.

For seven years of her young life, that Visayas Avenue residence called Las Villas del Cielo (villas in heaven) did not live up to its name.

It became virtual hell on earth for the poor housemaid.

Bonita comes from a barrio in Baras, Catanduanes, a fifth class municipality with 29 barangays and a yearly income of P ₱56,212,218.86 as of 2016.

The sources of livelihood are mainly agriculture, fishing and abaca. But the recurring strong typhoons have made agriculture no longer a reliable source of livelihood.

And like many young people from the provinces with very little education, they look for available jobs in Manila and end up as household help.

Bonita was hired by an employer who comes from the nearby barrio in the same town.

A noted islander once said in public, without any feeling of condescension, that among Catanduanes’s best “exports” (and he hates to adopt the terms) are maids.True, many a young islander are forced to lead a maid’s life due to financial difficulties.

He adds that there is very little reason to demean household help. “Remove all the pretensions but domestic helpers are part of the burgeoning service industry which is a boon to industrialized economies.”

With the pandemic and with recurring strong typhoons hitting the island, there are very little jobs to turn to, if at all.

In a survey released by the Department of Labor and Employment and the Philippine Statistic Authority in 2020, data shows about 1.4 million Filipinos are working as kasambahays, over a million are on live-out arrangement,

Some findings include:

- About 4% or 49,000 are child domestic workers, 4,900 of whom are below 15 years old (Batas Kasambahay prohibits employment of domestic workers aged 14 and below.)

-Only 2.5% or about 35,000 have written employment contracts which is required under the law.

- 83% of the 1.4 million are not covered by any social security benefit and 2% shouldered/paid for entire premium contribution without employers sharing in the cost.

-Some live-in domestic workers (36%) work 7 days a week, without the benefit of a rest day.

- Average monthly salary of domestic workers is P4,141, ranging from P2,681 in BARMM to P5,958 in NCR. (Current minimum wage of domestic workers is P5,000 in NCR and ranges from P2,000 to P5,000 elsewhere.)

-And the last straw, only 41% of domestic workers are aware of Batas Kasambahay, indicating low level of awareness of their rights and privileges.

The Republic Act No. 10361 also known as the Domestic Workers Act or Batas Kasambahay has instituted policies for the protection and welfare of domestic workers.

It was signed into law on January 18,2013 by President Benigno S. Aquino III.

With this Kasambahay Law, it is our hope that the cycle of abuses for household help will stop or at least be minimized through the years.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.


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Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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