The management of an Icon Residences luxury condominium building in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig has been called out for what Filipino netizens allege are “discriminatory” building access policies. A certain Poch Ceballos posted a photo on Facebook of a letter issued by the building management with the following caption:
When Filipino maids in HK get banned from using the “regular” elevators (you know, the ones that “regular” people use), the country throws a hissy fit. Guess what? It’s happening in our own backyard! Dear ?#?iconresidences?, f-ck you. Katherine Garrido, you’re an ignoramus. Please resign. You have no place being a building administrator.
The letter, signed by property manager Katherine Garrido reads:
To our valued Unit Owners / Tenants,
We would like once again to request all Unit Owners and Tenants to remind their household employees, i.e. drivers, housemaids, outside contractors, to strictly use the Service Elevator only.
The Administration Office has had a number of enquiries from owners in the building on why helpers are using Passenger Elevators when only Unit Owners / Tenants and their guests are allowed to the Passenger Elevators.
Please instruct your helpers to use the Service Elevator only.
Your cooperation is appreciated.
Since then, a lively debate on the merits of this policy has erupted with some commentors noting that such policies are commonplace in buildings all over the Philippines. Indeed, in most Filipino households, domestic employees hold a very low place — and are constantly reminded of that place as a matter of family tradition. Filipino maids are often relegated to sleeping on floors and in cramped windowless mosquito-infested “maids’ quarters” which are often just converted pantries and storage rooms.
The Philippines’ Republic Act 10361 or the Batas Kasambahay (Domestic Workers’ Act) has been in effect since March of 2013. The law seeks to raise living standards for the millions of domestic workers toiling in Philippine households by, among others, implementing higher minimum wages, formalising the sector by requiring employment contracts, and mandating social safety net coverage through the Social Security System (SSS), the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), and the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG).
But the sub-human treatment of maids and other household help in the Philippines has continued despite scores of outrage fads erupting in recent years mainly focused, interestingly enough, on the treatment of Filipino domestic workers overseas, particularly in Hong Kong and Singapore where thousands of them — many of whom are university-educated — are employed.
Back in June this year, an Al Jazeera report described how, in a Singapore mall, domestic workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Myanmar were on display on store windows, sometimes advertised as being on “super promo” or “special discount” rates. The report sparked a furor over what was regarded as a degrading commoditisation of migrant workers in Singapore. No less than the Philippines’ Vice President Jejomar ‘Jojo’ Binay reportedly expressed “deep concern” over the report calling on the Philippine embassy there to “make proper representations with the Singapore authorities” to investigate this “indignity” these workers are seemingly suffering.
Stepping back to take a broader perspective, it can be noted that the perceived stereotyping of Filipinos as domestic workers by the global community has been a source of outrage for many Filipinos. At almost the same time the furor over maids-on-display in Singapore came to light, another “racism” row erupted in Hong Kong over the depiction of Filipinos as maids in school textbooks.
Indeed, when seeing the elevator access issue from the point-of-view of the Philippines’ luxury condo administrators and their well-heeled owners and tenants, some insight may be drawn from this collective national insecurity. The Philippines, despite its aspirations to becoming a modern democratic egalitarian nation, remains a severely socially-stratified society with hard cultural lines dividing the landed classes consisting of fair-skinned Filipinos descended from the country’s former Spanish and American colonial masters, the mercantile classes dominated by the Filipino-Chinese and Korean community, and the vast “99 percent” working masa classes consisting mainly of the dark-skinned indigenous island population often referred to as the Indios. The legacy of colonial rule in the Philippines remains so potent that the marketing of skin whitening products and surgical procedures that obliterate indio facial features are hugely profitable billion-peso industries in the Philippines. And most revealing of all, the archetypical Filipino showbiz celebrity is overwhelmingly fair-skinned and “blessed” with caucasian or North Asian physical features.
Suffice to say, this recent “racism” incident involving the banning of maids’ access to condo elevators is but the tip of the iceberg of a profound cultural malaise that continues to grip Philippine society much to the consternation of “progressive” new-age “activists” and politicians who espouse modern notions of equality and freedom. Unless Filipinos learn to evaluate these realities about their cultural character with eyes wide open, the Philippines’ “social volcano” will continue to rumble, and may one day erupt violently.
[Photo of President Aquino with Filipinos in Singapore courtesy President Noynoy Facebook Page.]
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