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Sunday protests impact social life of Filipino domestics

28 September 2019

By Vir B. Lumicao

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OFWs stick to their agenda despite the march of protesters nearby.

Hong Kong’s trouble-filled weekend protests have affected the lives of a wide spectrum of Filipino domestic workers who spend their day off Sundays in Central and Wanchai.

Where there used to be thousands of them occupying roads, underpasses and pedestrian bridges in these districts on any given Sunday, these days their number has visibly dwindled.

Among those who have been affected directly by the unrest are participants in livelihood training seminars offered by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Wanchai.

Statue Square in Central on a Sunday was never this spacious before the protests

Sheena Salero, who took up livelihood courses such as macrame weaving and ribbon folding, said graduations had been put off by Polo due to the crisis. On some days, battles were fought right in the street below the YF Life Tower where Polo is located, forcing staff and OFWs to leave for home early.

“Kasi lagi na sa Wanchai ang rally kaya ipinagpaliban muna ng Consulate and graduation,” she said.

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Despite the frequent mayhem, Filipinas Rodrigo strives to go to Polo on Sundays because she says she wants to learn more livelihood skills in preparation for her return home.

She continues to go there for her on-the-job training in dressmaking, and awaits the massage therapy course where she is short-listed.

Rodrigo recalled that on Sept 8, coming from her late-afternoon training at POLO, she took the MTR home to Kennedy Town. She realized that was the last trip for the evening because protesters had gone on a rampage after being teargassed by police.
Sheng Madino, who works for a family in Sai Ying Pun, site of recent fierce clashes on Hong Kong Island, said she now avoids Central on her holiday but stays in a nearby boarding house. She used to spend her day-off sitting with friends on a sidewalk under Exchange Square.

“Hindi po ako lumalabas para mas safe,” she said.

The thinning crowd of OFWs around Chater Road, Statue Square, HSBC, World-Wide Plaza, and other havens in the periphery, is testament to the impact on their social life by the weekend battles between police and protesters.

The sight is repeated on pedestrian bridges above Connaught Road and on the sprawling lawns of the Government Centre on Tamar off Admiralty.
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But some OFWs could also be oblivious to protesters passing by them while they rest in their favorite haunts on Sundays

On Chater Road, which the government closes to traffic on Sundays and holidays to accommodate thousands of OFWs who congregate there, the crowd has thinned. And even with those who cannot resist meeting up with friends in their old haunts, a self-imposed curfew of early afternoon is observed.

Golda, who used to spend Sundays with fellow Cordillerans on Ice House St., now avoids this place, and spends her day instead in Yuen Long Library near her employer’s house. Yet, unrest has crept even into that far corner of Hong Kong, fouling up her plans. 

“I’ve cancelled all appointments dahil sa mga protesta at baka walang masakyan pag nagkataon dahil na bloody protest,” Golda said.

During the Mid-Autumn Festival, she stayed at home rather than do the traditional moon-watching because students were holding a vigil at a high school across the street from her place.

Feeling the pinch are OFW food vendors and service providers in the vicinity. Manang Cora, who sells “kanin at ulam”, native rice cakes and soda, estimates she has lost 40% of her usual Sunday income.

“Noong wala pang mga rally ay nakakapagpadala ako sa mga anak ko ng $2,500 isang buwan,” said the 62-year-old woman who came to Hong Kong in 1990.

These days, her income has dropped to just around $1,000, she said, as Filipino workers go home as early as 2pm and have their dinner near their employers’ homes rather than buy from Manang.

Even those who don’t go to Central say they have been affected by the protests. One who calls herself Malditang Gala said she had stopped going for walks on Sundays for fear she would get stranded somewhere if trouble broke out. Instead of gallivanting, she now attends Splash free swimming classes for OFWs.

Another worker, Mylene Espino from Taiwai, says she is very nervous whenever she rides the MTR, fearing she would get hurt if clashes flared up on the train. “Hopefully matapos na po yung gulo,” she said.

The only ones who don’t seem to worry about the rallies are groups of gamblers gathered in various nooks openly laying their substantial bets on various card games. Unlike before, they need not worry about the cops anymore, who have far more serious matters in their hands.

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