Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the alleged maltreatment and abuse of kasambahay Elvie Vergara

Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the alleged maltreatment and abuse of kasambahay Elvie Vergara

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) expresses deep concern on the alleged years-long of severe abuse and maltreatment suffered by kasambahay Silvera ‘Elvie’ Vergara in the hands of her employers from Occidental Mindoro. A motu propio investigation based on our Constitutional mandate is being undertaken by the CHR Region IV-B office in aid of ensuring justice for Vergara.

Aside from it’s continuing investigation and other services to be offered, the victim shall also be receiving financial assistance as a form of remedy for the human rights violation experienced, a recognition of the wrong that has been done, and as support in pursuing the case.

Based on CHR’s initial investigation, Vergara started her employment as a househelp at the family residence of husband and wife Jerry and France Ruiz in Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro in 2017 for PHP 5,000/month.

Vergara alleges that the spate of violent and cruel treatment started in 2020 when her employers accused her of stealing the amounts of PHP 2,000 and PHP 12,000, which she denies. Based on Vergara’s testimony, the physical abuse that followed included beating, choking, hitting, slitting with the use of a knife, and hanging her neck with a rope into a meat suspender, among others. She would also usually just eat leftovers for her meals. Aside from the Ruiz couple, Vergara also alleges that the children, currently 16 and 18 years-old, would also carry out similar abusive acts toward her.

The years-long abuse allegedly resulted in fractures, facial deformities, and the loss of eyesight of Vergara. She also claimed that her employers did not pay her wages and benefits for the entire duration of her service with the family.

Vergara’s accounts of the incident also revealed that she tried to escape the family in 2021. She allegedly approached barangay chairman Jimmy Patal of Barangay 7 of Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro to supposedly seek help in vouching that she did not steal anything as she fled the Ruiz residence. However, she was ignored instead and it was even the barangay chairman who called her employers to bring her back to their house.

This case reveals the vulnerability of domestic workers even in our own country. This is unfortunate considering that Philippines is among the first countries to affirm the Domestic Workers Convention under the International Labour Organization Convention No. 189, which declares that domestic workers have the right to a safe and healthy working environment.

Our own “Batas Kasambahay” or the Republic Act No. 10361 (RA 10361) also seeks to protect the rights of domestic workers against abuse, violence, and economic exploitation, among others. The same law prohibits any act that will degrade the dignity of a kasambahay. It recognises the vulnerability of this important sector of workers in the hands of the people they serve.

As such, CHR commends all those who have taken active steps to address the injustice experienced by Vergara, such as the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, led by Senator Jinggoy Estrada, for tackling the plight of this vulnerable sector towards strengthening their protection in the law. We likewise support the legal reform proposed by Senator Raffy Tulfo seeking to amend Republic Act No. 10361, also known as the Domestic Workers Act or “Batas Kasambahay,” and Article 310 of the Revised Penal Code on Qualified Theft. [1]

CHR shall likewise monitor the plans and actions of concerned agencies on the case of Vergara. In particular, we acknowledge the actions of the City Social Welfare Development of Batangas for providing psychotherapy session, giving cash assistance of PHP 10,000 and issuing a Persons with Disability card to the victim; the referral made by the Philippine National Police Batangas to the National Bureau of Investigation so there will no need for Vergara to go to Occidental Mindoro; and, the Department of Labor and Employment’s efforts to ensure the release of Vergara’s unpaid wages.

CHR will continue to stand for the rights of the weak, vulnerable, and marginalised sectors. As part of the CHR investigation, we have issued a subpoena to the employers and we are also looking into recommending the filing of charges against the barangay chairman.

Domestic workers, in particular, play a vital role in providing invaluable services that support and enable a functional household, especially for families with working parents. As workers, they must be treated equally as other employees and not be treated like servants or slaves. Their rights as workers and dignity as human beings must always be recognised by all, especially with how they enable and help individuals and families to pursue their plans and dreams. Although not always apparent, kasambahays contribute to the function and growth of our society.

As we continue to pursue our independent investigation and monitoring of the case, may the case of Vergara serve as a wake up call for the need to reexamine and provide reforms in safeguarding our domestic workers in the country. And in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, may we give better meaning to the human rights guarantee that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity in rights. ###

[1] Statement of the Commission on Human Rights in support of proposed amendments to the Domestic Workers Act and Article 310 of the Revised Penal Code to strengthen the protection of domestic workers,