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JESSICA ZAFRA | Kasambahay Bill: The Magna Carta of Yaya

Photo from
The online news portal of TV5

Dear Sir and Madam:

As the Kasambahay Bill setting forth the rights of domestic workers may soon be signed into law, this seems the appropriate time to discuss its repercussions on our relationship as employer and employee. Before we proceed, let us dispense with the topic that is no doubt foremost in your minds: When did I learn to write in English?

Had I a choice, you would be reading this letter in Tagalog, which is not only my first language, but one I consider far more elegant and evocative than English, the current global standard for commercial transactions and legal documentation. In fact I composed this letter in my native tongue, but in deference to your limited linguistic capabilities I've had it translated into English. Incidentally I am proficient in English: in the 20 years I have been sharing a room in your basement with the washing machine, dryer, and the cardboard box of clothes that Inday the maid abandoned in her hasty departure after Madam found out about her rendezvous with your son, I have been watching Sesame Street and the BBC.

Besides, my friend Bebang, an assistant cook in the house of the dowager Countess of Grantham, has said that the language you speak is not so much English as an oversimplified midwestern American. Consider your habit of dropping syllables so that "horror", for instance, comes out as "whore". As for Spanish, in which you claim to be fluent, my third cousin Pacing who is a maid in the house of the Duchess of Alba says your "Castillian" is, what is that word, provincial. Pardon the blatant snobbishness of this letter; I am merely trying to communicate in a manner you understand.

Which brings me to the reason for this letter. You owe me 20 years of unpaid salaries, which the Kasambahay Bill sets at Php2,500 a month, for a total of Php600,000. I shall waive the interest. In addition, you owe me Php50,000 in unpaid 13th month salaries, plus SSS and PhilHealth benefits for the entire duration of my employment. You will recall that I joined your household staff in 1992, in payment for a debt my parents owed you. In the first place I should not have been allowed to become a kasambahay or, as you put it so colorfully, alila or muchacha because I was 16 at the time and a kasambahay must be at least 18 years of age.

Whenever I have attempted to point out that my years of unpaid servitude have already covered in full the Php10,000 owed you by my parents, plus 20 percent interest, you have, with a shrillness I have never encountered in all my years of bargaining with fish vendors at the public market, remarked that I pay you nothing for my board and lodging.

You say that if you charge me the going rates for (1) rent in an exclusive gated subdivision, (2) a uniform based on a design by a couturier to high society, (3) meals collected from the leftovers of your excellent family dinners, (4) electricity especially air-conditioning, (5) water, (6) transport in chauffeur-driven vehicles of the latest model, (7) air produced by only the finest narra and acacia trees and perfumed with luxury fragrances, and (8) introductions to high society, for which privilege social climbers are prepared to pay through their reconstructed noses, the sum would be exponentially larger than a maid's salary.

May I point out that zero raised to the fifth power is still zero? You have never compensated me for my service in your household. This arrangement is known as slavery, and it is a violation of my human rights.

Understand that it is not my intention to portray you as a monster. You like to say that you treat me like "family"; you have become a mother to me literally, since I have not been allowed vacation leaves and have not seen my real mother in 20 years. Whenever you scream at me, call me stupid, or slap me, I take comfort in imagining that my mother might've done the same. We have shared good times, and though you treat me as your mentally-challenged serf in public, in private you tell me every cringe-making detail of your personal life. I can understand how anachronistic feudal practices have resulted in my virtual slavery, but to continue as your unpaid psychotherapist is cruel and inhuman treatment.

As for Sir's definition of "family", it includes being awakened several times a week at 3 a.m. to open the door and then prepare a late supper for him. I have never observed actual family members such as your children doing this, so they must all be adopted. At least I am spared the cliché of having to fend off a lascivious employer's advances; he has his driver for that.

You may argue that these things are all in the past and are beyond the coverage of the Kasambahay Bill. That may be so, but I have kept a diary crammed with details of my life as your yaya, copies of which I have entrusted to friends.  

Therefore I am handing in my three months' notice, which, being more than the five days that the Kasambahay Bill or etiquette prescribe, should suffice for your search for my replacement. Please note that since I've never had a day off, I've already served those three months. Even criminals in prison are allowed time served. Believe me, I know how they feel. As my friend Pacing who is a maid in Elton John's palazzo in Venice would say, Ciao.

Very truly yours,