Reports from the Philippines

I covered the below stories while visiting the Philippines to research further the plight of Philippine domestic workers as a follow-up to my reports on domestic workers in Gulf countries.

‘My employer hit me in the face and pushed me down the stairs’

Filipina migrant maids report most abuse in the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia in particular, where exploitation thrives

Sol Pillas winces as a sobbing Filipina maid gives an all-too-familiar account of fleeing her Saudi banker employer following a vicious attack that left her physically and emotionally scarred.

As secretary-general of Migrante International, a non-profit group that deals with approximately 5,000 cases of Filipino migrant abuse a year, Pillas helps many domestic workers. Most cases are reported from the Middle East, and approximately 80% are from Saudi Arabia, where exploitation thrives under the restrictive kafala sponsorship system, which tethers workers to employers.

Maria de Santos* explains from the sanctuary of Migrante’s headquarters, in a poor neighbourhood of Quezon City in Manila, how the wife of the banker had attacked her moments after the 23-year-old was forced to strip naked in front of the family on 25 December.

The maid had just told them that she was leaving after more than four months of working long hours without pay and eating nothing but morsels of food left on the children’s plates.

“She was asked to ‘spread her legs’,” says Pillas, a former Hong Kong domestic worker who now volunteers full-time at Migrante. “She was strip-searched in a humiliating way.”

Read more: The Guardian

****

Record 6 million see Pope Francis celebrate mass in Manila, Philippines

Pope Francis arrives at Rizal Park for Mass on Sunday, January 18.

Pope Francis arrives at Rizal Park for Mass on Sunday, January 18. All Photos by Rebecca Falconer

Millions of Filipinos braved constant rain to hear Pope Francis celebrate Mass in Manila on Sunday.

City officials estimate six million people gathered at Rizal Park from 6am or lined the Papal Route to the park, also known as Luna Park, for the mass, with many watching the Pope on large television screens erected at the waterfront promenade on Roxas Boulevard, along the shores of Manila Bay.

The number is believed to have exceeded the previous record of five million  people, who saw Pope John Paul II at Rizal Park in 1995.

The 78-year-old pontiff got a rock-star reception when he entered the six-million  square feet park amid an upbeat mood, despite the constant down pouring of rain, as Pope Francis  dedicated the service in part to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the country in 2013.

The Pope urged the world to learn how to cry over the plight of abused children, the homeless, hungry, and poor, much to the delight of the Philippines crowd, a country where about a quarter of its 100 million people lives in poverty.

“He cares so much about us, he’s amazing,” said local Vanessa Santos.

Emily Serviano was one of many who brought an icon to the mass.

Emily Serviano was one of many who brought an icon to the mass.

Earlier, dressed in a yellow, rainproof poncho, Pope Francis thrilled crowds on his way to the bayside park venue for mass, as  he travelled along a motorcade route in a “popemobile” styled after the Philippines’ iconic minibuses known as jeepneys.

“Today is very, very special,” said Emily Serviano, who brought an icon to wave at the Pope, who stopped off along the way and blessed many such figurines.

Most-Catholic in Asia

The Philippines is the most-Catholic country in Asia and is the third largest Catholic country in the world, after Brazil and Mexico. However, there have been two  assassination attempts on  previous pontiffs. A Bolivian painter tried to stab Pope Paul VI on arrival at Manila’s airport in 1970. The Pope sustained minor chest wounds from the attack. In 1995, police foiled a bomb plot involving Islamic militants against Pope John Paul II  in Manila.

Local media reports  identified the Pope as a specific target by pro-Islamic state terrorists following the pontiff’s condemnation of the shootings in Paris that resulted in the killing of journalists working for the weekly satire Charlie Hebdo.

Snipers were positioned at key points around Manila and earlier in Tacloban during his visit to the city devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, while sniffer dogs have roamed the sites he has visited.

Authorities implemented a no-fly zone around Manila and Tacloban’s airports during the Pope’s visit and no-sail zones in Manila Bay in areas near the venues Francis visited.

A-pre mass celebration at Rizal Park, also known as Lunar Park.

A-pre mass celebration at Rizal Park, also known as Luneta Park.

 Pope plane scare

The mood in Manila was upbeat, despite the large number of people on the streets. Bottlenecks formed after the mass, as millions of people tried to make their way home.

Often, people would just come to a standstill.

Earlier on Saturday, a plane carrying Filipino government officials overshot the runway at Tacloban airport on Saturday, just after Pope Francis left early because of an approaching storm.

The Mass was the Pope’s final full day in the Philippines, where there are 80 million Catholics, where he concluded his six-day tour of Asia.

Many people opted to watch the Pope on large TVs assembled along Roxus  Boulevard at Manila Bay.

Many of the streets were congested by pedestrians throughout the day.

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Pope Francis enjoyed a rock-star reception in Manilla.

Read more: Informucate

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