Image Caption: Consul General Bernardita Catalla
THE Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) has placed in its watchlist the employer of a Filipino domestic worker who was fined $800 for eating $100 worth of meatballs of her employer.
The step was prompted by a letter from the United Filipinos in Hong Kong, seeking the “blacklisting of Ms. Gekko Lan Suet-ying and her entire household” following the court’s ruling on [Mildred N.] Ladia’s case. The letter, dated Apr. 8, was addressed to Consul General Bernardita Catalla and Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre.
“We are extremely angered by the fact that a human being can be criminally liable for eating the food of the person who lives with her in the same household. This poses danger and potential criminal liability to the more than 300,000 MDWs (migrant domestic workers) in the territory, majority of whom are your Filipino constituents,” the letter signed by secretary general Eman C. Villanueva of Unifil-Migrante-HK said.
“We are very much concerned with the message that this verdict tells the society – that we migrant domestic workers who are forced to live in the households of our employers can be criminally liable if we eat the ‘food of our employers’. This is yet another face of the modern-day slavery of MDWs in Hong Kong, ” the group added.
In her response to the group, Catalla said Lan’s name “has been included in the POLO Watchlist”. Lan is a barrister.
Dela Torre, meanwhile, said placing Lan in the POLO watchlist means that she could no longer hire another Filipina as a domestic worker. He added that he informed the Indonesian consulate about the POLO’s action to place Lan in the watchlist.
Ladia, 40, initially faced two theft charges at the Eastern Magistrates” Courts, but the first one was dropped.
She pleaded guilty to the second charge – alleging that she stole $100-worth of meatballs from her employer.
During the hearing on Apr. 7, Ladia’s duty lawyer told the court the defendant’s employer took $100 from the helper’s salary. The money was paid in the presence of police officers in May 2016.
The first charge alleged Ladia stole a pair of leather slippers and an Agnes b handbag. The prosecutor told Magistrate Jason Wan Siu-ming they would be unable to present any evidence in the case as Ladia’s employer, the victim, was unavailable to give evidence in court.
The duty lawyer said since May last year, the case caused a great deal of stress to the defendant, and her family as she was the sole breadwinner.
“She has since sought refuge in a church in Yuen Long. In return she has helped in doing Church work and the Church has provided her with free food,” the lawyer said, adding that owing to the case, it would be unlikely Ladia would find employment in Hong Kong again.
Judge Wan said the case was “difficult”, noting that while the value of the stolen property was insignificant, the nature of the case, a breach of trust, was not “trivial”.
“If it is just ordinary shop theft case, I may be persuaded to [grant total discharge]. On the other hand, the facts of the case are not as severe as other breach of trust cases.
“Considering the [defendant’s] clear record, and she would unlikely to continue to work in Hong Kong, usually, breach of trust calls for a custodial sentence, but I would depart from the usual practice and order the defendant to pay $800 in fine,” Judge Wan said.
The fine was taken from the $1,000 bail money posted by the defendant.