A Visit to our Migrant Sisters in Hong Kong

by Dr. Judy Taguiwalo

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A presentation on the October Revolution and its continuing relevance was the reason I was in Hong Kong. The gathering was organized by the International League of Peoples Struggles (ILPS) Hongkong-Macau chapter. As the forum was on a Sunday, the day-off of many of our domestic workers in the territory, I was brought around their tambayan [hangout] in Chater Road Central which is in the central business district of Hong Kong before and after the forum.

This is, I think, my fourth visit to Hong Kong. Then I did not have the chance to go around as I came for meetings usually during the weekdays. Now, I had the chance to see for myself where our kababayan go on their day off to take respite from a whole week of domestic and caregiving chores, meet up with province mates and friends, exchange cooked food, have manicure/pedicure and make all other necessary errands they need to do.

My hosts from Migrante Hong Kong took me around. They provided me with an Octopus card and guided me in using the highly efficient trains and brought me to the central area.

My initial impression was of awe and surprise and a sense of irony. The tambayans were around malls which had high end stores such as Prada, Cartier, Armani. The first world of luxury side by side the working peoples of semi-colonies such as the Philippines or Indonesia.

The second impression was a combination of sadness and admiration. Sadness over the fact that thousands of our sisters, mothers, daughters had to leave the country to work for other families because jobs in the Philippines are few and do not pay enough. Admiration for our kababayan for their hard work, sacrifices and endurance in working away from family and country in a job which isolates them for most of the time.

The third impression was the variety of activities ongoing in the tambayans and around them. There were groups practising a dance routine for an upcoming event. Some were catching up on lost sleep. Others were sending balikbayan bags to their families. And as it was the Sunday after payday, the busiest places were the remittance centers. Where the remittance centers are located, there are stores selling Filipino food including pan de coco and other Filipino delicacies.

I talked to some of them. A number have been in Hongkong for twenty years or more. Others are relatively new, having worked for five years or shorter. Those who have worked for decades have built their own homes and have children who have completed university and are now working. But they do not have plans of returning home soon. Why? The answer was given to me by my Migrante hosts: The stay in Hong Kong is yes partly economic because the pay is better than in the Philippines (now the minimum is around US$600 which is a lot higher than the salary of a public school teacher which is around US$350-400). But aside from this, Hong Kong’s health care system provides accessible health care and medicines for only Hong Kong $50 per consultation. Compare this with the high cost of hospitalization and medicines in the Philippines. The public transport system of Hong Kong is also one reason for staying on. They have been used to how efficient and predictable the trains are and they know the problems of traffic and breakdowns of the LRT and the lack of adequate public transport in the Philippines.

After the forum, I would have the chance to meet with several organizations of migrant workers in their tambayans. Gabriela Hong Kong is one of the older and most active organizations. It has been active in launching OBR activities every February. I got to meet the outgoing President of the chapter who had served as such for 12 years and the newly elected President who will be taking over in leading the group. Of course there is Samahang Migrante Hongkong with its eye catching aquamarine and green banner. The United Pangasinan Hongkong was well represented by their energetic and dynamic members. Then the Filipino Migrant Domestic Workers Union and the Association of Concerned Filipinos in Hongkong and the Cordillera Alliance were other groups active in advancing migrant rights and welfare. The LGBT group, the Fil Guys Gabriela, had a banner of a rainbow-colored clenched fist inside a rainbow colored female logo. The members are preparing a Migrant Pride March this November right after the International Day to End Violence Against Women. many of these groups were holding meetings to discuss issues affecting migrants such as the demand to rescind the Overseas Employment Certificate(OEC) which is redundant and which they believe is another money-making scheme of DOLE.

The dynamism and energy of the organized migrants in Hong Kong is due to the painstaking efforts of their federation to advance their rights and welfare leading to victories such as the opening of the Philippine consulates in HK and Macau on Sundays and the successful assertion to their tambayans by asserting their right to these public spaces during Sundays, among others. More importantly, many of these migrant groups have studied, analyzed the role of neo-liberalism and imperialism in the continuing poverty of countries such as the Philippines and in the continuing export of people.

I ended the day highly inspired by our migrant sisters.

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