Recently, California celebrated its independence day but for Fedelina Lugasan, there’s so much more to celebrate.
After years of being a slave and a victim of human trafficking, the 83-year-old Filipina finally found freedom from the life of being a domestic worker without salary and day offs.
Earlier this year, Lugasan was finally rescued in her employer’s home in Northridge, California through the help of the Federl Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as well as the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC).
It was found out that the Filipina became a victim of bad treatment after she collapsed in a hospital while taking care of her employer Benedicta Cox. It is said that she was unable to rest and eat for a couple of days.
Because the hospital staff suspected that the Filipina is going through a tough time, they immediately alerted the FBI and Lugasan was rescued inside the residence of Cox.
Cox was placed in a house arrest and ordered a payment of $101,119.98 (PhP 5,192,055) as restitution. It was also found out that Lugasan had to work round the clock since her arrival in 1980 until 2018. An estimated amount of $1,625,856.00 (PhP83,480,389) should be the total wage of Lugasan excluding the overtime pay, something that was not given to her to date.
“Although we celebrate her freedom from sl*very, it is a bittersweet victory knowing that Nanay Fedelina’s restitution did not even come close to a tenth of the back wages that she deserved. The results of her case highlights the brokenness of our judicial system and exposes a greater need for reform in the legislation of anti-tra**icking laws and better protection policies for human tra**icking survivors,” says Aquilina Soriano Versoza, the executive director of PWC.
According to Lugasan, every time she wants to go back to the Philippines, her employer always tells her that they will call the police and report that she stole something from them. It scared her and decided to stay in service for 30 long years.
“Her family would always tell me, ‘If you leave the house, we will call the police and tell them you stole many things.’ I was scared. I never stole anything. But I also did not know anyone or have anyone to help me. I did not want to be put in jail for something I did not do.”
Lugasan’s passport and birth certificate were also confiscated by her employer.
“About two months after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, Benedicta sold her house because it was damaged by the earthquake. We moved to another house in Northridge. During this time, I was also the household help for Benedicta’s daughter. I cleaned their house, cooked for the whole family, and did laundry for them. Her family included her two kids and husband, as well as mother-in-law and sister-in-law. I took the bus at 5:30 a.m. to their house, got there by 6 a.m. then went back to the Northridge house late at night. I did this for 18 years, from when the older child was born until he was 18 years old. I did not get paid for doing this,” Lugasan recounts.
Lugasan celebrated her 83rd birthday last July 3 and she couldn’t be happier knowing that she is finally free.