POSTSCRIPT / May 28 2006 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Stateside Pinoy couple loses case to their maid

MAID WINS: Remember that wealthy Filipino couple in Wisconsin accused by their Filipina maid of forcing her to slave for them the past two decades for a paltry sum? (See Postscript of Oct. 21, 2004 — click our Archive or Search button above. )

We just got word from Milwaukee that a federal jury found them guilty last Friday of harboring an illegal immigrant (the maid) for financial gain and forcing her to work for them for 19 years.

The maid, Irma Martinez, testified during the eight-day trial that she felt like a prisoner in the $1.2-million house of Jefferson and Elnora Calimlim, prominent immigrant doctors.

The maid testified she worked 16 hours daily for less than the legal minimum wage and was not allowed to go out of the house alone. The jury believed her and convicted the couple of forced labor.

The Calimlims face imprisonment, fines, deportation (they are not citizens but only green-card holders) and forfeiture of their well-appointed house when they go back to court for sentencing on Sept. 15.

Their US-born eldest son, Jefferson, 31, was also found guilty of harboring an illegal immigrant, one of three charges against him. Being American, he stays in the US , but faces jail and fines.

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CULTURAL NUANCES: There may be lessons here, colored by cultural nuances, for US-bound Pinoys planning to bring maids with them and for prospective house help enticed by dollar wages and the lure of stateside living.

Some immigrants bring along relatives as maids with a sincere intention of just helping them or doing them a favor. They could just get into trouble if they do not pay or treat their Pinay help according to US standards, or if they do not regularize their stay.

Once there, some people lose their maid when the latter meets an American, marries him and converts to US citizenship. Sometimes the maid is even naturalized ahead of her amo or employer who must mark time as immigrant before becoming eligible for citizenship.

This is one of the reasons why some employers keep the Philippine passports of their maids or restrict their movements. But like floodwater seeping through sandbags, when romance and such motivations beckon, what comes naturally happens.

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UNDERPAID: Lawyers of both parties agreed in their closing arguments Thursday in US District Court in Milwaukee that Irma volunteered to work for five years as a live-in maid and nanny for the Calimlims and their three children.

The maid testified that she was afraid to escape because she had been led to believe that she would be arrested and deported if she did. She herself turned out to be an illegally staying alien, but it was not clear if she would be deported after her suit is wrapped up.

Calimlim’s lawyer said that while the couple had more than enough money to hire American domestic help, Elnora wanted a Filipino maid because she had a nanny when she was growing up in the Philippines, and she wanted to help a compatriot.

She said the maid used to work for her father. But when the old man died, Elnora took Irma into her own family in 1986 thinking she was doing her a favor.

Elnora said the maid was paid $150 a month for the first 10 years, then $400 a month thereafter. She said the bulk of the money (only $18,000 according to prosecutors) went to her parents in the Philippines. A labor official said had the Calimlims paid the US minimum wage, the maid would have earned about $480,000 over that period.

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MJ TO THE RESCUE: To some 34,000 planholders of educational pre-need firm Pacific Plan Inc., former Manila congressman Mark Jimenez swooping down from the sky with a bag of money must have looked like Superman rushing to their rescue.

Jimenez donated from his own funds an initial P20 million for the tuition of the poorest among the members of the Parents Enabling Parents (PEP) Coalition having problems collecting from PPI.

Last I heard from friends of Jimenez, the man who made a fortune in the computer business in North and South America, he is giving P30 million more, for a P50-million total, to help distressed planholders of College Assurance Plan (CAP), another pre-need firm in trouble.

What is the arrangement, if any, between Jimenez and the owners of PPI and CAP for his helping meet the money requirements of their planholders enrolling their children? I think there is none, but I will find out.

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PRIORITY FOR POOREST: With the planholders, however, there is no quid pro quo or deal. As far as I can verify, Jimenez just wants to help them go over the enrolment hump and ease their present money worries.

One parent told me that Jimenez wants the organized planholders — not the owners or officials of PPI or CAP — to manage the rescue fund to make sure it is spent properly and used to benefit only the planholders.

The poorest among them will get priority help. I was told Jimenez had secured the electronic data base on the affected planholders and, using his genius for computers, was able to sort the beneficiaries according to their financial needs.

Among the interesting details that the data analysis turned up was that plain planholders included many vendors, clerks and other low-salaried workers who had to set aside part of their meager earnings for the monthly pre-need payments. Little did they know that they would have a hard time collecting later.

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EASING PRESSURE: Some officers of the PEP Coalition told me that Jimenez promised to reimburse the bond money they had paid to bail themselves out after libel charges were filed against them by PPI officials who had felt maligned by PEP statements.

The filing of libel suits against the complaining parents was unfortunate. Effort to settle amicably the PPI case should continue, to minimize hurt all around. A protracted dispute would do more harm than good to everybody.

Judge (now Court of Appeals justice) Romeo Barza of the Makati Regional Trial Court already laid the legal basis for normalization when he approved recently a court-supervised program for PPI to pay maturing tuition plans while the firm is being rehabilitated.

The entry of Jimenez with voluntary relief funds will help ease money pressures. All parties, especially the PEP Coalition and the PPI and CAP managements, should take advantage of this cooling off.

What is the government, particularly the regulatory agencies, doing? For their part, congressmen and senators should loosen their grip on their pork barrel and put together a rescue fund similar to what Jimenez — from his own pocket — has offered.

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ENROLMENT BLUES: Talking of school expenses, in a few days we will be hearing and witnessing a rerun of an old film on the lack of classrooms, textbooks and teachers as public schools open for the coming schoolyear.

Every year, at about this time, school authorities report that so many (number) students will troop back to school and that there are not enough classrooms, textbooks and teachers for them.

This is a film caught in a loop that plays over and over ad nauseamevery enrolment time.

By this time, we know — or should know — already the yearly increment in the youth population and the expected enrolment in public schools.

(If our education officials still do not know or cannot predict the working numbers, they better resign and not inflict their incompetence on the system.)

Knowing the classrooms, books and teachers needed, the government should have prepared months or years in advance to fill the need. When classes open, we then should have enough of these basic items and everything else needed.

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TWISTED PRIORITIES: Yet every enrolment time, we hear the same complaints of lack of classroom, books and teachers. Are we that bobo that we cannot learn this basic recurring lesson?

Sa totoo lang, officials involved in this yearly panic should be delirious with joy that we need more classrooms and books. Such rising demand means more commission and graft money for them.

The problem has become so ridiculous that it has spawned such corny ?solutions? as planting more mango trees on campuses so more classes can be held under the trees, while also helping the government’s reforestation and food production programs.

But there is no money? What ever happened to collections from the expanded Value-Added Tax and all those oppressive impositions dealt in the name of improved social services?

Why are there billions for pork barrel, big-time graft and luxurious perks for officials but not enough money for the education of the youth?

Our priorities, Ms President, seem to be twisted. Or have we lost control of government?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 28, 2006)

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