Has Yet To Outgrow
By Tim Henares
So today, we throw stones even when next to all of us have sinned. And maybe it’s for the better, really.
You see, a recent viral tale of slavery was written about by one Alex Tizon, as he regaled us with stories of “Lola,” their servant who received no payment, was castigated on a regular basis by his family, and only had her ashes to give as a legacy to the rest of her family when she died. Many of us were appalled at this: how could they do something this inhuman to Eudocia Pulido? Or to anyone else, for that matter?
The reality is, we collectively made it a possibility. So if Alex Tizon’s quick history lesson in his article weren’t reminder enough, let’s go through 8 uncomfortable truths we still face to this very day when it comes to slavery.
8. We feel entitled to having household help.
Think about the time the Kasambahay Law was even being discussed, and what a vast majority of us were saying. Obviously, the rich people who could still afford household help even if they followed the law to the letter didn’t complain much, but the middle class definitely had a lot to say about it.
The thing is, the Kasambahay Law, in its current form, simply upholds the basic rights nearly every single legal employee that isn’t a Kasambahay enjoys and takes for granted: fair compensation, an opportunity to have redress, tenure, and some semblance of a health or insurance plan. The fact that we’ve been ignoring it for so long only goes to show how little we think of our Kasambahays, and we think it’s just too much effort to treat our help like fellow human beings.
And why? Because they’re poorer than us, and need us for their livelihood, as if we are feudal lords in the middle ages. That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that anecdotally, quite a lot of middle class families have casually ignored the existence of this law, taking its edict as merely “suggestions.”
7. We operate from (relative) privilege when we talk about our help.
“Hay naku, ang tamad-tamad ng katulong namin,” some of us would lament, as our household help does work we feel is beneath us and not worth our time. We think they are lazy, and that’s why they will always remain as household help, all the while not realizing that they probably physically work harder than any of us in a given household, period.
When we talk about the plight of our Kasambahays, we talk about them and take for granted the advantages we inherently have over them. It might seem awkward to use the word “privilege” in a discussion that normally covers middle-class or even slightly lower-income families in a third-world country, but it is privilege, all the same: we have something they do not, but they need. Badly. If we didn’t have it, they wouldn’t be working so slavishly for us in order to get it from us.
For as long as we think that the Philippines being a poor nation gets us a pass for treating other people this way, then of course we will not outgrow the culture of slavery, even if we now dress it up real nice under the guise of “Kasambahay.”
6. We overblow any act of kindness we do for our Kasambahays to assuage ourselves.
Let’s admit it to ourselves, at least: when we say “at least, we let our Kasambahay eat with us,” or “we treat our Kasambahay almost like family,” we’re not saying that for the benefit of others who would listen (and why would they even care?), but for our own benefit. We say these things to remind us that we’re not that bad, even if some of us actively ignore the Kasambahay Law, or follow it, albeit begrudgingly.
At the end of the day, no matter how much we claim to “respect” the profession they have undertaken (but not necessarily chosen), don’t a good number of us still warn our kids to study hard lest they end up being just like Yaya for the rest of their lives?
Just because we treat them almost like humans doesn’t make us that much better than the ones who treat their Kasambahays just like animals. We’re just a nicer kind of monster, but a monster, nonetheless.
5. We think that we need Kasambahays.
Most people who had complaints about the Kasambahay Law were people who felt that our lives would be completely flipped around by not having reliable household help. That would make sense, if it weren’t for the fact that in developed countries, household help is considered an expensive luxury and not something you can find with regularity.
The truth is, we don’t need them, so much as we’ve come to depend on them because it’s so convenient in the country. And heaven knows how annoyed we all get when something so convenient suddenly becomes inconvenient. Just ask anyone who isn’t a fan of the laws against drunk driving (which we got only in 2013!!!) or the anti-distracted driving law. All issues with either law aside, we considered loopholes first before considering the importance of both laws in the first place.
Now imagine how it is when the convenience of having someone pick up and clean up after you for a mere 2,000 bucks a month suddenly goes away, because you now have to also cover their healthcare, among other things. Is it a need? Heck, no. But it’s a convenience we will not part with quietly. And why not?
4. Because it’s been going on for far too long.
If Alex Tizon’s history lesson was any indication, it’s that slavery has been a part of our culture for so long that we have sanitized it as society’s standards changed, but only barely. And let’s face it: if the Kasambahay is too scared to report, how do we even know for sure who’s getting paid or treated humanely? We don’t. And the fact that we brag about doing things we’re supposed to do, such as pay our Kasambahays properly, or treat them humanely, only means that it has been so embedded in us that we deserve to have people serving us that we are oblivious to how out of touch we sound, even if we’re probably also well within the poverty line, ourselves.
3. We don’t really have anyone significant fighting for them.
Workers have the likes of Akbayan or Anak Pawis to help their causes. We think of slavery as something only a haciendero would do, with their farm workers who till the soil on their acres upon acres of land, while us, living in a 30-square meter condominium cannot fathom that what we do in any way constitutes slavery.
The thing is, there is no high-profile organization out there fighting for their rights, and that’s very telling on us. The fact that this cause is so underrepresented only implies something horrifying about us: that on the average, we just don’t give a damn about their plight.
2. Slavery by any other name? Still slavery.
So. We pay wages. We give health care. We give days off. We don’t beat them up or worse. That’s great! They’re treated professionally like employees. That’s the bare minimum. And most of us complained about these things when we tried making them standard-issue.
We’ve tried changing the word “maid” because it seems to demean to these people, and now call them “Kasambahay,” and yet the only thing that really changed was how we call them. This is the exact same reasoning slave-owners had in America when questioned about their practices. We, as a culture, have normalized slavery. Even if we’ve made it a little more palatable on the surface now.
1. We are selectively sanctimonious.
The word “sanctimonious” has a lot of baggage, and is a pretty big word, but it’s also very appropriate. The thing is, we’re either sanctimonious or hypocrites, most of the time, the difference being whether or not we’re also guilty of the thing we’re being sanctimonious about.
Thus, most anti-Duterte crusaders are sanctimonious about the value of life and innocence before proven guilty. In contrast, most pro-Duterte crusaders are sanctimonious about drug addiction and its pernicious effect on society as a whole.
When it comes to Kasambahays, if we aren’t hypocrites, we’re only sanctimonious about ill treatment towards Kasambahays that we know for sure we don’t do. If we pay them, we frown on people who beat them up. If we beat them up, we frown on people who don’t pay them. It’s all a tangled web of self-righteousness and hand-washing when the reality is, nearly everyone of us reading this has been guilty of this in some way, and will try to dismiss this list as a litany of faults that don’t apply to us, because in our minds, our situation is somehow always the exemption from the rule.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Share them with us below.