Just One, or More?

Other Unexplained Filipino Deaths in Hong Kong

Ace Investigations, by Jeremy Brooks, with Creative Commons licenceNot every death is a tragedy alone. Sometimes the passing of one person draws attention to those of others, and the unanswered questions pile on top of each other. One of the most troubling aspects about Vicenta Flores’ death in Hong Kong recently is that she was not the only Filipino domestic helper to die in April. She was the third – another two women, reported as suicides, died on the day Vicky went missing.

Three deaths and so little fuss.

How does this happen with relative ease? Allow me to suggest a reason deeply embedded in the structure of Hong Kong life. The relationship between domestic helpers, mainly Filipinos and Indonesians, and their employers in Hong Kong rests on the sharp edge of suspicion. While this by no means covers all employers, there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence from helpers pointing to constant surveillance, allegations of theft and general disregard for the conditions of labour contracts.

My sister-in-law is expected to work past midnight when she starts at five in the morning, to give one example that I can verify. A family friend was recently accused of stealing her employer’s jewellery and dismissed not long after without any investigation from the Immigration Department, to give another. Dismissal without reasonable cause, incidentally, is a breach of the labour contract – but it seems that any excuse will do.

...unanswered prayers. by underbunny, with Creative Commons licenceThis situation, added to the almost incidental ethnic segregation I mentioned a while back and obvious differences in social standing, make for constant malcontent. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some Filipinos are furious about the three deaths. Writing on his blog yesterday, activist Aaron Ceradoy asked “When will these stop? How do we make them stop?” It’s a cry of desperation, a prayer into thin air.

Filipino migrant worker groups are now asking the same questions, and will be holding a rally on Sunday to express their indignation. The presumption is that the greater part of Hong Kong society just doesn’t care.

Compounding the problem is the curious stance taken by the Philippine Consulate over the ‘suicides’ of Melba Pardua and Carolina Dacquil. Reporting an interview with Erlinda Albay, Officer-in-Charge of the Assistance to Nationals section of the Consulate, the Philippine Daily Inquirer noted that

While there was still no clear evidence showing that financial problems led the two women to commit suicide, Albay said that this has cropped up in other suicide cases involving Filipinos working as domestic helpers in Hong Kong.

How did the consulate presume to know that these were suicides? Hong Kong newspapers reported police sources as saying so.

Hardly a credible basis for comment.

But that’s the sort of hearsay we have to rely on in Hong Kong. Police don’t do much to assure the public that investigations are preceding well or ill – which is all that would be required to calm those of us who really do care. Nothing else, just that.

Writing in the death investigation guide of the US Justice Department, Bruce Hanley made the obvious point that:

Elimination of unanswered questions, confusion, sloppiness, and the lack of attention to detail all can contribute to the genuine acceptance that the cause of death has been properly determined.

But perhaps that’s not so obvious in Hong Kong. For Vicenta Flores, the sloppiness started early. She was missing for 4 days before her body washed up in Tung Chung harbour. But the police didn’t bother to issue a missing persons press release with her photo attached, even though they did so for other people missing the same length of time.

Just look away... by Trois Têtes (TT), with Creative Commons licenceVicenta Flores, Melba Pardua and Carolina Dacquil – the wrong type of people in a largely indifferent city. When there’s little social concern, reasons for effective and efficient action from the authorities retreat in silence. But how could we ever look the other way? Further information on Vicenta’s case and the associated community concern is available at A Death in Hong Kong. That’s a start.

But all three lives – however they were lost – must not have been lost in vain. These things must change.

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