In Pampanga, trafficking survivor gives back to townmates

In Pampanga, trafficking survivor gives back to townmates

/ 05:02 AM January 05, 2024

ANGELES CITY — Surviving and getting past the 15 years of her human trafficking ordeal in the United States and the labor exploitation that came with it, Lai (not her real name) has filled herself with what she called “dakal a dakal a pag-asa” (tons of optimism) as she returned to Pampanga, her home province.

For the first time since 2004, this mother of five celebrated New Year’s Day in the company of the children she left as youngsters but who are now successful entrepreneurs here.

Her homecoming, the fourth since 2019, is sweeter because she has secured a visa under the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act through which she has already obtained a working permit. She is looking forward to permanently staying in New York through a green card that she has applied for. Lai is also expected to receive a pension through contributions.


READ: 123 trafficking victims rescued in Sulu

After managing to return from her ordeal, she continues to share her blessings with her townmates.


On Dec. 31, she gave away ham that her daughter made for 900 families in their village and hundreds more families dwelling in shanties along the Angeles City-Magalang Road.

The night before, she shared her life story with women community leaders and hosted a dinner for them in her son’s restaurant.

“I went through a form of modern slavery. I worked long hours. I was paid little. I was fed almost nothing at all or ate late,” said Lai, who asked the Inquirer to use this name in order to avoid retaliation.

Sadly, the abusive employer was a Filipino married to a Philippine government official.


The employer “lured” Lai to work for the former’s son in California using a B2 visa valid only for Sept. 21, 2006, to March 20, 2007. She reported being “literally locked up in his house” and paid only $500 monthly (around P22,500 at that time) for cleaning a 557-square meter house where lots of parties were held. The son deducted $100 monthly for visa extension, which was not done.

According to Lai, she fell for the job offer because she was mired in debt and poverty after the US Air Force’s Clark Air Base closed, which was hastened by Mt. Pinatubo’s June 1991 eruption. Lai and her husband tried everything to fend for their family—buying and selling jewelry, making polvoron and tocino (preserved meat) and selling figurines—to no avail.


So, the cycle continued with her first employer’s son until Lai and another maid managed to escape and walk to Daly City, her 2017 affidavit showed.

Despite losing her immigration status, Lai nonetheless took on any work but could not complain.

She moved to New York to care for an elderly person and was a part-time cleaning lady in Manhattan.


Without legal papers, she received threats of arrest and deportation or got paid less or none at all for working as a housekeeper or caregiver.

When she had to assert, she argued, “Treat me like a human being.”

But Lai also said she benefited from the kindness of compatriots and other foreigners. They either gave her money and food to help her tide through or endorsed her for jobs.

READ: 3 Filipino trafficking victims repatriated from Myanmar

Susan Pineda, president and executive director of the Angeles City-based Ima Foundation (Pro-Women Action) assisted her in the US justice or labor departments.

In the 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report, the US Department of State said the Philippine government “slightly decreased efforts to protect victims.” It said the Department of Foreign Affairs identified 340 potential Filipino trafficking victims abroad, compared with 248 in 2022.

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“I believed in the sense of fairness of the justice system in the US,” Lai said.

TAGS: New York, Pampanga, Survivor, trafficking, United States

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