Last week, my part-time helper brought a sad news. The live-in partner of my former part-timer was caught again in a factory raid and was immediately scheduled to be deported back to the Philippines. This was his second time to be deported back to the Philippines.
There are thousands of silently existing Filipino workers here in Seoul who are undocumented. They peacefully go about their ways, maximizing their work hours so they would be able to send enough money for their dependents back home. Go to Hyehwa every Sunday… and they all flock there. Not all are undocumented, but most are. This is just one question you don’t openly ask.
I got to know my two former part-time helpers through a nun-friend from Hyehwa. The Catholic church was my only link with other Filipinos then and if there were people I could bring myself to trust, they should be coming from the church. I had two helpers for different days of the week and I immediately saw my son warmed up to them instantly. The “interview” went with a candid admission that they were undocumented.
Marife had been living here in Seoul for three years already. She came over as a tourist. After a few months, she became undocumented. She met another Filipino, Jimmy, with whom she became pregnant. They lived together until she delivered her baby daughter here in Seoul. Being undocumented, they had to immediately send the baby back to the Philippines before she turns one month old. I’m not sure about the process but she told me they had to send her baby to the Philippines because the longer the baby stays here, the more difficult it will be to bring her home without the mother. At three weeks old, the baby boarded the plane carried by Marife’s Filipino friend (the friend was working here legally). Upon arrival at the airport in the Philippines, the baby was turned over to the waiting grandparents who went to Manila from the province.
Marife could do nothing but cry her heart out unless she also decides to go back to the Philippines and be with her baby… without a job and without money. Marife and Jimmy, with some friends, had to comfort each other and bear the longing for their baby. After a month, Jimmy was caught in a factory raid. He was deported back to the Philippines. Marife worked doubly hard for their baby’s needs, her family’s needs and Jimmy’s needed cash to be able to go back here in Seoul. Jimmy processed his papers again and after several months, under a different name, was able able to come back here in Seoul. He looked and looked for a job all the while cautious of being caught. It took a number of months before he got another factory job. They were living quietly, working diligently and attending bible study sessions. They have a good circle of supportive friends. And then last week, Jimmy was caught again. Marife cannot go to jail to meet Jimmy. She has no legal documents to show. They had to rely with other documented Filipino friends to bring Jimmy’s things. Marife now has to work more hours than necessary to pay the debt they incurred while processing for Jimmy’s papers, which wasn’t fully paid yet as Jimmy was only able to work for some number of months.
Who reported about the undocumented workers’ presence in the factory? A fellow Filipino.
Ate Susan had been living illegally here in Seoul for the past six years. The last time she was in the Philippines her daughter was 4 years old (she is now turning 11 years old). She’s living here with her husband, also undocumented. The daughter is being taken cared of by her sister in the province. They send money for their daughter’s needs as well as for her sister’s family’s needs. Her sister is looking after her daughter, after all. She got pregnant again and is due to deliver first week of July. She plans to go back to the Philippines for good after giving birth to personally take care of their children. The husband will remain here with the everyday hope that he will not be caught by immigration officers.
Marife stopped working for me because I had to go home for Christmas vacation last year. I told her that it was ok if she had to take on another job for the days she was working with me. It would have been unfair for her if she waited for me and she wasn’t paid anything. Ate Susan stopped working for me this year as her belly was already getting bigger and it was getting more difficult for her to work. She recommended my current part-timer, Tintin. Tintin is luckier. She is working here with legal papers as a domestic helper to an embassy consul. Her contract is only three times a week so she has time to work for other employers. But Tintin left her sponsor’s employment because of disagreement over salary. With the help of their “network”, she found another one for other days of the week. She only works for me every Saturday.
Ate Susan also introduced me to Ate Lorna when I needed a tarpaulin for my son’s birthday last year. Ate Lorna knew of a store in Dongdaemun. I met Ate Lorna in a subway. She was wearing a hat to conceal her hair-less head. She was undergoing chemotheraphy. She has cancer. She had been living here in Seoul for 12 years already. Last year when I met her, she was no longer working. She was staying in a religious institution which supports her treatments. I asked why she did not go home to the Philippines. It would be harder, she said. The treatment, the money, the everyday expenses… While she was working here in Seoul, she sent her nieces to school. She had a nurse already and one was waiting for the board exam. She is single and her happiness rests on the achievements of those she helped. What of her now that she needs help?
It isn’t always a hard and sad life. Some lucky ones turn to support groups, church organizations being the most popular. They get their strength from each other and develop life-long friendship bonded by their common status in a place far away from home. They go to out of town trips together. They organize picnics. It’s just sad that they have to be constantly wary of the people they deal with, lest they will be reported to immigration. Sadder of it all is, they have to be wary of their fellow Pinoys.