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3 Strong Filipinos Who Survived Modern-Day Slavery

We remember their plight on the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on December 2.

Slavery seems like a concept from centuries past— picture white landowners forcing black workers into hard labor in the cotton fields. But the painful truth is that slavery exists even to this modern-day and comes in many forms. 

International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, an annual day marked every December 2, seeks to eradicate contemporary forms of slavery— such as trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labor, forced marriage, and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. 

Don’t make this day go to waste. Though it’s not in everyone’s power or position to personally rescue an abused domestic helper from the clutches of a cruel boss, we can all do what Susan Ople, founder and president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, suggests. 

“Fighting slavery starts with being kinder and more respectful as a person, as a nation, and as an entire civilization,” Susan said. “A person enslaved diminishes us all, regardless of what we do and who we are.” 

My Pope Philippines remembers these three women who endured the heartless treatment and humiliation of modern-day slavery.  

Filipino Victims of Slavery: Eudocio Tomas Pulido

Alex Tizon and Lola, whose full name was Eudocia Tomas Pulido, photographed in Manila. (Photos from Alan Berner / The Atlantic and Melissa Tizon

In June 2017, The Atlantic published Pulitzer Prize-winner author and journalist Alex Tizon’s heartbreaking portrait of “Lola” or Eudocio Tomas Pulido, a household helper who spent 56 years with his family in the US. “No other word but ‘slave’ encompassed the life she lived,” he wrote in the cover story, “My Family’s Slave.” 

“She prepared three meals a day, cleaned the house, waited on my parents, and took care of my four siblings and me. My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly. So many nights, on my way to the bathroom, I’d spot her sleeping in a corner, slumped against a mound of laundry, her fingers clutching a garment she was in the middle of folding.” (Read: Cardinal Tagle washes the feet of migrants and refugees)

Too painful to read, the story elicited countless comments from Filipinos who were either shocked by the way the Tizon family mistreated Lola or disappointed by the fact that Alex was aware of what was going on but did little to correct it. 

In time, he did. Taking her into his home when she was 75 and he had a family of his own, Alex looked after her (though she continued to work for him) until she died of a heart attack at 86. He dutifully brought her ashes back to her hometown in Tarlac, where remaining next of kin, many of who hadn’t seen her in decades, wailed for their loss. 

Filipino Victims of Slavery: Fedelina Lugasan

Photo from Balitang America

In October 2019, Fedelina Lugasan won her case against former employers who subjected her to slave-like conditions in her 65 years of serving them in the US. According to ABS-CBN News, she did not receive a salary and was rarely fed. 

Brought to the US at 16 by her Filipino-American employers, Nanay Fedelina was in her 80s when the Philippine Workers Center (PWC), stepped in to save her from her oppressive work conditions in 2018. After winning her case, she spent 10 happy days with relatives in LA. (Read: 3 Prayers to Revive Your Lost Spirit)

Plans to go home to Tacloban and finally enjoy the freedom denied her for decades would not materialize. Nanay Fedelina was in Long Beach, CA, when she died of respiratory disease at the age of 83.

Today, her fight against modern-day slavery lives on in “Kept: Six Decades of Servitude.” Produced by The Filipino Channel’s BA Original, the documentary won an Emmy Award in the Human Interest – Program/Special category. 

Filipino Victims of Slavery: Nena Ruiz

Photo from Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) Facebook

Forced to become an OFW when her 32 years of teaching left her in debt, Nena Ruiz did not expect the living hell that awaited her when she agreed to work for James Jackson, then Sony Pictures vice president for legal affairs, and his Filipina wife Elizabeth, in the US.  

Under their employ, Nena only received $300 for a year’s worth of working up to 18 hours a day. While taking care of the Jacksons’ dogs, she was made to sleep on a dog bed and ate three-day-old leftovers. Embarrassed by her plight, she kept it all in until she could no longer take it. She fled the Jacksons’ home and sought help after Elizabeth hit her with a water bottle in 2002. (Read: 3 Reasons Why People Admire Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)

The LA US District charged James with a fine of $5,000 and 200 hours of community service, while Elizabeth was sentenced to three years in prison. Nena, meanwhile, claimed $825,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. In 2014, she received a Courage Award from the LA-based non-profit group Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Human Trafficking (CAST LA), who told her story in a moving video

“Slavery still exists,” said Nena in an interview. “I want to tell the victims they should not tolerate it and should not be afraid to seek help.” 

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