Abused maid gets senators’ aid in seeking justice

(PHILSTAR) MANILA, Philippines — Househelp Elvie Vergara was not paid her wages for the seven years she worked for a couple in Occidental Mindoro who allegedly beat her up to the point that she was blinded, senators learned yesterday during their hearing into her plight and the gaps of implementing the Kasambahay Law.

During the Senate committee on justice and human rights hearing yesterday, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who authored the Kasambahay Law, tore up an unsigned paper that contained a message from Vergara’s employers Jerry and France Ruiz declining to attend the inquiry due to health reasons.

Elvie Vergara testifies during a hearing by the Senate committee on justice and human rights yesterday. 📸: Geremy Pintolo

“What is this, an excuse letter from school?” Estrada said as he moved to summon the couple and their children in the next hearing to answer the accusations that they took turns throwing punches at their househelp.

Vergara, 44, recounted to lawmakers in Filipino how her head was bashed against a freezer and how she was suspended from a hook used in the family meat business as her punishment “for every small mistake I make.”

Her employers will face a hearing today at the Batangas city prosecutor’s office on charges of serious illegal detention, human trafficking, serious physical injuries and violation of the Kasambahay Law. They have denied the allegations.

Senators trained their eyes on the alleged neglect of duty by barangay captain Jimmy Patal, for his failure to rescue Vergara when she went to the barangay hall upon escaping from her employers in 2021.

Sen. Raffy Tulfo urged authorities to file a case against Patal for dereliction of duty for failing to help Vergara even though she appeared at the barangay hall covered in grime.

“I will have you detained here in the Senate. You are such a liar! Her employers could have been arrested had you only done your job,” Tulfo said in Filipino to the barangay captain.

Sen. Robinhood Padilla added that Patal should have interviewed both parties when Vergara’s employer Jerry Ruiz arrived three minutes later to take her home. Vergara also accused the barangay official of calling up Ruiz to take her home, which the captain denied.

The action star-turned-senator was also irked at the barangay captain scratching his head in reaction to their questions. “Don’t scratch your head in front of us. I will beat you up, believe me!” Padilla said in Filipino.

Gaps in law

Panel chairman Sen. Francis Tolentino said they learned from Vergara’s story the gaps in implementing Republic Act 10361 or the 2012 Kasambahay Law, which protects the welfare of domestic househelp workers.

There was a failure by barangay authorities to make a database of registered domestic workers in the area for better monitoring in case of abuse, Tolentino said.

The Department of Labor and Employment also failed to activate an interagency committee with the Departments of the Interior and Local Government and of Social Welfare and Development, Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation to better implement the law.

There is also a need to raise the penalties, set only at P10,000 to P40,000, Tolentino said.

According to Director for Investigation and Detective Management Maj. Gen. Eric Noble during the hearing, the Philippine National Police has recorded 40 cases of violations of the Kasambahay Law from 2016 to 2020.

During the hearing, Vergara’s doctors noted the scars on her face and her eyes going blind due to cataract and trauma. Estrada and Tulfo committed to help with Vergara’s bills, even though an ophthalmologist said there is a slim chance of restoring her eyesight.