Commentary

Is Kasambahay Law’s scope too limited?

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I just realized the Kasambahay Law might still need a lot of work. It’s either that or everyone who claims to understand this new law has his or her own interpretation.

My housekeeper and her husband have worked for my family for more than 20 years. They have free life and medical insurance on top of their salaries and bonuses. Her mother was my housekeeper before her so I think it’s safe to presume they are happily employed. I didn’t think they would need the Kasambahay Law until one Sunday evening.

I was out when the couple living in the condominium unit across ours verbally attacked and threatened them with physical harm. Apparently the Filipino woman and her Japanese husband were annoyed with our pint-size dogs’ barking (we live in a dog-friendly condominium) and they angrily confronted my house help at our unit’s door. The Filipino woman hurled derogatory remarks at my housekeeper and her husband, “Katulong  ka  lang,  driver  ka  lang,  sampalin  kita  ng  pera,  wala  kayong  karapatan  sagutin  ako  dahil  wala  kayong  pinag-aralan!” My housekeeper graduated from a respected home academy in the South and defended herself like a professional would. When she protested to the insults, the Japanese husband lunged out in an attempt to physically hurt her. He also threatened to kill our dogs.

The incident is being investigated by the condominium administration which is dealing with the situation with prudence and diplomacy to protect the interests of both unit owners. But who protects the rights of my house help? They are the real victims, not me. To date, the abusive couple refuse to apologize or guarantee they will not verbally attack or harass my employees again. (I  have a minor son who regularly walks our dogs alone. I am now also concerned with the safety of my family.)

We thought we could invoke the Kasambahay Law which, to my understanding, aims not only to protect the welfare of house helpers all over the country but also ensures they are treated with decency and their human rights respected. In most of the Kasambahay Law news articles, the story of actress Maricel Soriano being charged by her former house help for physical injuries and grave threats is often cited as an example. The husband and wife team,  Reynold and Analiza Marzan, blinding their house help with a hot flat iron also made big news. The circumstances behind the incident involving my house help may be different from these two cases but nevertheless, their core human rights were violated while they were working. They were not verbally abused or threatened with physical harm by their direct employer but by strangers who felt their money gave them the right to trample on the dignity of domestic house help.

I called the office of one of the bill’s authors to clarify if the abusive couple violated the Kasambahay Law. I was told the law focuses only on the wages and benefits employers must give their house help and advised to have the incident “blottered” at a Muntinlupa barangay.

I’m really lost now. I heard Vice President Jejomar Binay say on the news, “The Kasambahay Law prohibits the use of ‘katulong’ due to its derogatory implications when referring to house help. The term Kasambahay is now more appropriate and politically correct.” Did he mean referring to house help as “katulong” is already a violation? Is there anything in this law that protects domestic help from the prejudices or abuse of  people who are not their employers?

I appeal to our lawmakers to take a second look at the Kasambahay Law and deal with the gray areas. It is an important law and it’s necessary to disseminate information to raise the level of awareness for no one to claim ignorance. I might very well be one of them. I welcome anyone who could tell me if the Kasambahay Law is really what it’s made out to be. I’d also like to know if there’s any hope my housekeeper will get the respect she and her husband deserve by putting their faith in this new law they believe was created for them.

Ross Harper Alonso is Manila correspondent of Reader’s Digest Asia.

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