My Family’s Slave: A Legal Perspective

The write-up has caught everyone’s attention — a Filipino seemingly enslaving another Filipino as a househelper. In this post, we talk about the legal concepts behind slavery and domestic household help.

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Image from The Atlantic

Today, the Atlantic posthumously published Pulitzer-prize-winning writer Alex Tizon’s article about her Lola, a household helper with whom he have lived for decades. The struggles were vividly written, and the dedication and the freedom that Lola eventually gained has touched our hearts.

However, what transpired there is not permissible. What transpired there is illegal. As much as it has touched our hearts, Lola’s story should, ideally, be the last. Slavery has long been existing in human society. Culturally, in the Philippines, unpaid domestic house help is prevalent. Contemporary development in human rights, however, have made slavery and unpaid labor a taboo, for it is now universally recognized that every human being has his own inherent human dignity and every labor has to be compensated properly.

In Criminal Law

Article 272 of the Revised Penal Code provides the following:

Article 272. Slavery. – The penalty of prision mayor and a fine of not exceeding 10,000 pesos shall be imposed upon anyone who shall purchase, sell, kidnap or detain a human being for the purpose of enslaving him.

If the crime be committed for the purpose of assigning the offended party to some immoral traffic, the penalty shall be imposed in its maximum period.

There are two elements of the crime of slavery:

  1. The offender purchases, sells, kidnaps or detains a human being.
  2. The purpose of the offender is to enslave such human being

Enslavement, on the other hand, is defined by RA 9851 or the “Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity“.

Accordingly, enslavement is defined as “the exercise of any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership over a person and includes the exercise of such power in the course of trafficking in persons, in particular women and children.” The same law includes enslavement as one of the crimes against humanity.

Regarding the penalty, the Revised Penal Code provides a penalty of prision mayor, which includes imprisonment from six years and one day to twelve years. This has since been amended by RA 9851, and anyone guilty of slavery shall now suffer the penalty of reclusion temporal in its medium to maximum period and a fine ranging from Php 100,000 to Php 500,000. Reclusion temporal in its medium to maximum period is from 14 years and 8 months to 20 years of imprisonment.

Moreover, it is important to take note that the Philippines is a signatory to the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery.

In Labor Law

Just recently, RA 10361 or the “Domestic Workers Act” was enacted. This was enacted in adherence to “internationally accepted working conditions for workers in general.” This “establishes labor standards for domestic workers in particular, towards decent employment and income, enhanced coverage of social protection, respect for human rights and strengthened social dialogue.”

The Domestic Workers Act was a fruit of the Philippines being a signatory to the  ILO Convention No. 189 or the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention, which was ratified and adopted by the country on August 2012.

Under the Kasambahay Law, only those 15 years old and above may be hired as a kasambahay.  Furthermore, the Kasambahay Law requires a written contract between the employer and the Kasambahay containing details such as, but not limited to, the duties and responsibilities of the kasambahay; period of employment; compensation; rest days and allowable leaves; and board, lodging and medical attention.

The Kasambahay Law likewise requires registration. The employer is required to register the kasambahay in the Registry of Domestic Workers in the barangay where the employer resides.

A Kasambahay is entitled to benefits. Under the Kasambahay Law, these are:

  • Monthly minimum wage – P2,500 for NCR, P2,000 for cities and first class municipalities, P1,500 for other municipalities. This must be paid in cash
  • Daily rest period of 8 (total) hours;
  • Weekly rest period of 24 (uninterrupted) hours
  • 5 days annual service incentive leave with pay;
  • 13th month pay;
  • SSS benefit;
  • PhilHealth benefit; and
  • Pag-IBIG benefit;

The Kasambahay Law likewise recognizes the basic necessities of a kasambahay: At least three (3) adequate meals a day, taking into consideration the kasambahay’s religious beliefs and cultural practices; humane sleeping condition; and appropriate rest and basic medical assistance.

The Kasambahay Law empowers kasambahays to terminate their employment contract on the following grounds:

  • Verbal or emotional abuse of the kasambahay by the employer or any member of the household;
  • Inhuman treatment including physical abuse of the kasambahay by the employer or any member of the household;
  • Commission of a crime or offense against the kasambahay by the employer or any member of the household;
  • Violation by the employer of the terms and conditions of the employment contract and other standards set forth under the law;
  • Any disease prejudicial to the health of the kasambahay, the employer, or member/s of the household; and
  • Other causes analogous to the foregoing.

Unlawful acts such as employment of children below 15 years of age, withholding of the kasambahay’s wages, and interference in the disposal of the kasambahay’s wages are punishable with an administrative fine ranging from P 10,000 to P40,000 to be imposed by the DOLE Regional Offices. This is without prejudice to the civil and criminal cases that the Kasambahay may file in court.

Final word

With all our legislation in place, with all the international obligations currently agreed upon, we all hope that Lola’s story will be the last, not just in the Philippines, but in the entire world. This is far-fetched; this is a hope that could be improbable at the moment, but we continue to hope — we continue to hope that the ends of social justice may be achieved. This starts with knowledge that laws are in place to protect the many Lolas around the world.