Friday, April 20, 2007

Death of domestic in NY draws outpouring of outrage and support

NEW YORK CITY – After ten days since launching the online petition, “Truth and Justice for Domestic Worker Fely Garcia!” over 500 individuals have registered support for the case of a 58-year-old Filpina caregiver who was found dead in her Bronx, NY apartment on March 14.
DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association, a 350-members strong community based grassroots organization led by Filipino migrant domestic workers in New York City, initiated the campaign after members reported about the disturbing death of a fellow domestic worker, Felisa S. Garcia. Ms. Garcia allegedly committed suicide and left letters, one of which stated that she was abused and harassed by her employer in the Bronx.

The petition has been circulated worldwide– including signatories from 12 different countries, 22 states in the U.S., 100 cities and representing 98 organizations. Ms. Garcia’s death has garnered broad response from multiple sectors of overseas Filipinos and other im/migrant communities and allies–including labor unions and other workers alliances and associations, women, im/migrants, youth, students, academics, professionals, faith-based organizations and churches, and LGBTQ organizations.

Ms. Garcia migrated to the U.S. in 2001 to support her four children in the Philippines. She worked different jobs as a domestic worker to sustain her family’s need for food, shelter and decent education. Ms. Garcia was found dead by her landlady in the Bronx. Almost a month later since her death, her body remains in the morgue of the Jacobi Medical Center. Investigation and autopsy results will be disclosed within the week to Attorney Arnedo Valera, the Garcia family’s legal representative. The Garcia children have requested further investigation and an independent autopsy. Repatriation of Ms. Garcia has yet to be determined.

“Fely’s case strikes a sharp chord in our community,” said Linda Abad, organizer for DAMAYAN. “She is the embodiment of the hardship, sacrifice, and government neglect that millions of Filipino migrant workers experience, including here in the U.S.”

DAMAYAN released a statement on March 23 highlighting Fely’s connection to the 30,000 Filipino domestic workers in New York City. Filipino domestic workers in the U.S. are part of the 8-10 million Filipinos who are forced to leave the Philippines because of the economic and political crisis that is exacerbated by government corruption and anti-people policies. Upon migration, Filipino domestic workers face additional systemic barriers – low wages, long hours, no overtime pay, lack of benefits, family separation, racism and devaluation of women’s labor.

The “Truth & Justice for Domestic Worker Fely Garcia” has united the Filipino community across cities and countries. Filipino and Philippine solidarity organizations–such as Ugnayan ng mga Anak ng Bayan, Network in Solidarity with the People of the Philippines (NISPOP), Gabriela Network, Justice for Filipino American Veterans (JFAV), Ecumenical Fellowship for Justice and Peace, Alliance for Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines (AJLPP), Committee on Philippine Issues, Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada / Filipino-Canadian Youth Alliance (UKPC-FCYA), Grassroots Women, British Columbia Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (BCCHRP), Liga ng Kabataang Pilipino, Bethune House Migrant Workers Refuge, BAYAN Philippines – have shown fervent support for the campaign. Allied workers organizations – Domestic Workers United, Women Workers Project, New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Andolan Organizing South Asian Communities – and individuals from unions – SEUI/1199, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), Transit Workers Union (TWU), the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), and UNITE-HERE – share in a common workers struggle. Im/migrant organizations have also shown solidarity – such as Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Centro Hispanio Cuzcatlan, CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, and Immigrant Justice Solidarity Project.

Academics from Barnard College, Cornell University, Pratt University, and University of California Santa Cruz along with students from 15 different colleges have also signed and circulated the petition.

“While we continue to demand truth and justice for Fely and her family, we also demand for policies that shall effectively protect migrant workers,” stated Zelem S. Guerrero, Chairperson of DAMAYAN. The $12.5 billion of annual remittances from overseas Filipino workers sustain both the Philippine and U.S. economies. Despite the considerable labor power and billions of dollars generated by migrant workers, there are no policies protecting migrant workers in the US, especially as women and domestic workers. Guerrero continued, “From Fely’s case, we see the need to have official written policies. For example, the Philippine government should adopt a policy that it will unconditionally pay for the repatriation of dead overseas workers.”

“Monday marks about one month since Fely’s death,” said Abad. “We will deliver our petition to the General Consul Ceclia B. Rebong. We hope that other domestic workers, the Filipino community at large and allies will join us in Fely’s memory and all migrant women workers.” On April 16, 2007, DAMAYAN will organize a Community Vigil for Truth and Justice at the Philippine Consulate, 556 Fifth Avenue, New York City, from 6:30pm-8:00pm. There will be candle lighting, community singing, flowers and banners.

DAMAYAN welcomes working in alliance with individuals, organizations and other institutions that share a common goal for pursuing truth and justice for Fely Garcia and her family.
“This fight for Fely is not just for her and her family,” stated Guerrero. “It is also for us who have been forced to migrate into modern slavery. It is our fight for respect, dignity, justice and liberation.”


To sign the ongoing online petition, please sign onto:

To participate and/or endorse the Community Vigil for Truth & Justice, please contact DAMAYAN at 212- 564-6057 or email us at DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association will celebrate its fifth year as an independent grassroots organization. Since its inception, the organization has helped retrieve over $70,000 in unpaid wages for Filipino domestic workers, conducted over 150 labor rights workshops, published a migrant workers resource manual Sulyap sa Aming Buhay, and organized four annual General Membership Assemblies. DAMAYAN upholds and promotes the rights and welfare of Filipino migrant workers; raise awareness, organize and mobilize around issues of migrant workers and challenge the root causes of forced migration. The organization works in alliance with various organizations for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and a just and lasting peace in the Philippines. DAMAYAN envisions a society where families are not separated just to meet their basic needs – a society where there is equal opportunity to have a life with peace, justice, and dignity for all.

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