In his latest column for BusinessWorld, Atty. Jemy Gatdula writes:
Why should household help, generally untrained as they are, a good number of which work lazily or with a bad attitude, be rewarded an array of rights while having done nothing yet to deserve them?
Gatdula trains his guns on the Kasambahay Bill, calling it an “assault” on the middle class, that it romanticizes household help, and that it is an affront to the notion that our rights should have the commensurate responsibility accorded to it. And yet, I think, this kind of thinking is precisely the one that reinforces the “paternalistic entitlement society” he (figuratively) spits on.
Which begs invoking an old adage: that those who have less in life should have more in the law.
The plight of household help in the Philippines does not require marathon viewings of “Maalaala Mo Kaya,” or primetime airings of Nora Aunor’s classic “Atsay.” There is nothing romantic in the story of Bonita Baran, who told her story of abuse. There is nothing romantic in the untold stories of househelp who suffer the indignities and abuses of less-than-benevolent employers. Gatdula bemoans and dramatizes the plight of the “middle class” who may reconsider getting katulong, but turns a blind eye on the maltreatment of househelp who are treated as second-class citizens for lack of laws and measures that protect and empower them. What right of the middle class is trampled upon by a bill that protects and empowers household help?
You cannot demand accountability from people if you do not give them the capabilities to be accountable. You cannot expect decent treatment if you feed them indecencies and make them privy to indignities. While he romanticizes the picture of the middle class as people who treat their maids well – and the fact to the matter is, most of them do – there are those who are stripped of their dignity by their amos and kuya‘s and ate’s simply because of the work they do.
Gatdula rightfully demands professional services from maids and domestics. But what professionalism can be demanded of the kind of ties leveraged to acquire a maid? The katulong is poor – oftentimes that underprivileged relative from a faraway province – underpaid and undernourished. He complains of missing appliances and valuables: it does happen, and the amo should rightfully be indignant about it, but what of the hot irons pressed into the faces of less-than-competent maids? He rants on the sentimental feelings of houseboys and maids who run away: who wouldn’t, if the amo treats the atsay as nothing more than a second-class subhuman, disrespected, abused, paid a paltry sum below the minimum wage, and is still expected to pay deference to the owner for giving him or her a roof above the head?
Never mind that it’s an Arroyo bill. Never mind that we’ll all have to pay a premium to get a maid (the way it’s supposed to be, anyway). This, I think, is their “more in the law.” Being a domestic is a form of employment – one that comes with rights and Gatdula’s much-vaunted responsibilities – and only in metaphor does it become subservience. In the same vein that no employee should be abused, that all employees should be fairly compensated for their labor.
What disturbs me the most, I think, is the belittling and the disparaging Gatdula does to every maid and houseboy in his column. Why deny them of their rights? Why deny them of protection and help in the event of their abuse? And I reiterate: what inalienable, indispensable right of the middle class is trampled upon by a bill that protects and empowers household help? The right to a maid? The right to a houseboy? The right to deny essentials, contracts, and protection to someone working for them? The right to enjoy the pleasantries of being on the domineering end of a relationship based on subservience and obedience as opposed to clean, honest labor? What next: a Magna Carta of the Middle Class, for their rights are trampled upon by a society that made a Magna Carta for household help?
Who’s afraid of a Kasambahay Bill? Who’s afraid of a bill that sets the rights of a domestic and the responsibilities that come with those rights? Surely it wouldn’t be responsible households, surely it wouldn’t be responsible recruitment agencies. Those who are afraid of a Kasambahay Bill are those who fear treating a maid or a houseboy like the human being that he/she is.
Abraham Lincoln once wrote: “I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly, those who desire it for others. When I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.” I end it here, with the thought that any maid and houseboy treated like a slave is a slave, and Lincoln’s words ring true.