No Security for Those Who Safeguard Our Health: The Effects of the Economic Crisis on Queens Nurses

Maria is a Filipina registered nurse who lives in Elmhurst, Queens. As part of the 16 Days to End Gender Based Violence campaign, we interviewed Maria about the closing of St. John’s Queens Hospital as a result of the economic crisis. Below is her oral history.

St. John’s Queens Hospital in Elmhurst closed on February 23, 2009. I don’t know how many people were laid off with me. Thousands, maybe. They said it was because of bankruptcy. St. John’s was a private hospital and it started to ask the federal government for help to survive the crisis, but they didn’t receive enough. Maybe $2 million. I’m not sure. The problem for the hospital was getting reimbursements, like from Medicare and Medicaid and other insurance companies. Mostly from insurance. If the insurance did not pay the hospital, well then walang pera/there’s no money. No money to pay for supplies, like linens, and instruments like catheters. How can you give service without the supply? And there are a lot of hospitals here. The federal government can’t give money to all the hospitals. It’s like you give all the services, but it doesn’t come back the same. You don’t get paid for the services you gave.

The hospital hired consultants who traveled from all over the country, like Texas, kung saan/wherever, to come see what the problem really is. How come there is no money? Ano talaga ang problema ng organization?/What is really the organization’s problem? But think about how many figures the consultant makes. We have to pay them still and provide amenities during their stay. The consultant stays for a year, then the hospital hires a new consultant again.

The whole hospital was affected when it closed. Everyone from top to bottom, even management. We were an 1199 hospital. Now, there are some people who work there since they were 18 years old, 20 years old. That was their home base until now when they are in their 60s. When the hospital closed, the retirement age is 62. So you get financially penalized for the unexpected closure na ‘yan. Let’s say you’re 61, at gusto mo na mag-retire/and you want to retire. There is a deduction in your retirement plan.  Instead of getting 100% of your benefits, you only get some. Not unless you go to another 1199 institution. But since you’re 61, who is going to hire you? It’s not our fault na nagsara ang ospital/that the hospital closed. Some were only short of turning 62 by 4 months, but there was still reduction sa retirement benefits nila.

I don’t know what happened to them. I think the hospital gave it anyway even if they were short a few months. I think they gave the whole benefits. What I’m talking about is if you’re older. Do you really wanna start a new job at 61? Who will hire you in this job market right now? There is also a freeze in hospital worker hiring. Meron akong kilala/I know someone, she used to be a clerk at St. John’s, but now she can’t find a job. She can only volunteer at a hospital and she lives off of unemployment benefits. She’s 50-something years old. What’s nice sometimes is that 1199 gives assistance in finding a hospital. They match you to an employer hospital. Pero ang problema diyan/But the problem with that is the older people, that they were forced to retire.  What can they do?

Tapos, you’re comparing benefits. St. John’s is an 1199 institution, right, so their medical benefits is different from NYSNA (New York State Nurses Association). Ngayon, with NYSNA, if you get a prescription alone or go to the doctor, meron kang co-payment/you have to pay a co-payment. Kaya ang mga kumare ko, sabi nila, “Ipasok mo na kami sa  _________ Hospital!”/So my girlfriends said, “Get us a job at _________ Hospital!” _________ Hospital is also an 1199 hospital, so if we get jobs there, we have no co-payments. They felt the hardship of the closing in the cost of their medication. I feel it in the bills I have to pay. I have to tighten my belt. But do we have a choice? No. Noon, pagsinabi mo na ikaw ay nurse, madali ang kumuha ng trabaho. Ngayon, oh…waiting list./Back then, when you say you’re a nurse, it was really easy to get a job. But now… you’re on a waiting list.

I already had another job at _______ Hospital. Actually, I was working at three hospitals at the time of the closing. So you have to get a per diem job.  Kaya nung nagsara/So when it closed, I was just lucky that I already had that job at ________. How about yung wala/those that didn’t have a per diem job? My kumare, if I didn’t get them the job at _________, where will they get a job? How many medical personnel were laid off? How many hospitals closed prior to us? Parkway, Mary Immaculate, St. Joseph’s, St. Mary’s… The hospitals weren’t able to survive. For all the nurses laid off, how many other hospitals were left to absorb us: Elmhurst, North Shore Forest Hills, Mount Sinai Astoria, Jamaica, Flushing, New York Queens? And competition is stiff right now. Sampung nurses pupunta sa isang ospital/Ten nurses go to a hospital, and they only need two. I had a co-worker, she only had an associate’s degree for nursing. Not a bachelor’s. She got really sick, because of the stress from the hospital closing. She was 55 years old. Sabi nya/She said, “Who will hire a 55 year-old without at least a bachelor’s in nursing?” And then imagine if she did find work. Starting all over again is stressful too.

Poverty, limited job opportunities, and the Labor Export Policy in the Philippines push 3000 people out of the country in search for work abroad.  More than 50% of them are women.  In the United States, 13.5% of Filipino women are nurses and other health diagnosing and treating professionals.  Out of all Filipino women living and working in the local New York/New Jersey area, 30% of them are nurses and other health diagnosing and treating professionals.  Based on the 2000 Census, they are overrepresented in this occupation compared to the general population.  The hospital closings in New York in 2009 affect a significant population of Filipino nurses and their families locally, nationally, and in the Philippines.  Not only were jobs lost, but access to medical care was also severely cut in the working class, immigrant, and people of color neighborhood communities that faced hospital closings.  Among Filipino migrants, it is a wide belief that nursing is a viable occupational option for economic well-being. Its value is facing a shift during the economic crisis, however, when jobs, even in the United States, are becoming more and more scarce.

Members of SiGAw - GAB USA mobilize to oppose anti-immigrant legislation, May 1, 2010

The Exploitation of Migrant Filipinas and the Struggle for Justice

The Exploitation of Migrant Filipinas and the Struggle for Justice
Day 12 of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Contact: Terrie Cervas
Vice Chair of Finance – GABRIELA USA
Coordinator for Mass Campaigns – Sisters of GABRIELA, Awaken! (SiGAw!)
(213) 537-8278

Members of SiGAw - GAB USA mobilize to oppose anti-immigrant legislation, May 1, 2010

Members of SiGAw - GAB USA mobilize to oppose anti-immigrant legislation, May 1, 2010

Imagine 2,500 Filipinos leaving the Philippines every day. A country with a population of 92 million, the Philippines has become the largest exporter of labor in the world. The United States is home to the largest group of Filipinos outside of the Philippines with four million Filipinos residing here, of which 24% are undocumented (source “Ating Kalagayan: The Social and Economic Profile of U.S. Filipinos”).

How do we explain this massive migration? The answer lies in the socio-economic conditions of the Philippines. In a country where no genuine land reform exists to allow for the peasants to survive on the land they grew up on, they leave in droves to search for employment in the cities. However, because of government policies that do not build and develop national industries, the economy can’t generate the jobs necessary to employ the thousands who graduated with college and university degrees in various fields including medicine, engineering, and teaching. Hence, they are forced to migrate abroad in search of employment.

Dependent on multi-national corporations for imports of pricey finished goods in exchange for its cheap raw materials, the trade imbalance and payment deficits keep growing. The intervention of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (IMF-WB) adds to the country’s looming debt and financial difficulties. The Marcos dictatorship created the Labor Export Program (LEP) under the guise of easing the unemployment problem, fixing the debt and trade deficits. However, until now, the LEP is just another scheme to perpetuate an unjust social system that uses Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) for their remittances, which keep the country from complete collapse. Keeping its people out of the country helps prevent social unrest from developing from within.

After being hit with a load of expensive fees from employment agencies and high interest loans while in the Philippines, OFWs are shipped out to other countries where they are vulnerable to greater abuse and exploitation due to inadequate laws favoring their employers over their basic human rights. Acts of violence in the forms of murder and rape are commonly committed against women compatriots.

Alliances such as GABRIELA USA were formed to arouse, organize, and mobilize overseas compatriots to fight for their rights and welfare and to participate in the movement for social change in the Philippines. We hold the banner of the national democratic movement in the Philippines high for all Filipinos across the globe. On the twelfth day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence
GABRIELA USA honors all migrant working women by highlighting excerpts of interviews of undocumented Filipinas in their everyday struggles. Names have been changed to protect their identities and privacy.

Interview of Nanay Beng

When I came here it was just plain. It was just my clothes. I wasn’t sure even when I come here if I would be with my husband because he was playing with someone. I asked him if he still wanted me. I think I was only carrying USD$150. That was from my two brothers. When I reached immigration, they didn’t even ask me. I came on a business B1B2 visa.

My plan was to look for greener pastures and follow my husband. We found the jobs but we’re not happy, we’re starting to file the petition with the father and then he passed away. Visa expired after 5 yrs. When my husband died and employer died, the immigration office wanted $250 to file and the sponsorship from employer. The lawyer said I could still file but I told him the employer died. It’s hard because they won’t accept you if you say you don’t have green card. They have to ask you, “are you a citizen, do you have a green card?” If they’re going to hire you illegally they’re going to fine you. It’s not acceptable to the employer. It’s really hard. That’s why Filipinos become caregivers if they don’t have papers because they don’t ask for papers.

When my mom died, I couldn’t go to the Philippines because when my husband died, I used all my money to take care of my husband’s funeral. I cried a lot and it was painful and hurting. I left behind two sons. Other family always takes care of them. Whatever I have–$20–I put money to them. I didn’t see them for 17 years. When I left the Philippines [in] 1992 the second was 5 years old. Now eldest has a child now.

Very sad about this life. I’m tired of working like this. I’m also with the agencies, but I pick the employer that pays me. Agencies pay in 2-3 weeks, depends on the case of the patient. Some agencies pay the caregivers. So every time I have my work I get money.

My responsibility is work, cook, take care of my kids, go to doctor’s appointment. Sometimes I can’t do all anymore. It’s so tiring. It’s kind of hard; the responsibility of a single mother is hard. I work hard. Sunday up to five up to Wed to five. I was given a full-time job but I gave up 2 days because children are still in school. Three days isn’t really good but I’m trying my best to adjust to this kind of life.

Financially it’s not enough. When you have a family and you’re raising children and somebody in school, you have to figure out what their needs are in school. Mostly low-income people earn $2000, [which] is really ok. But now, with three days I’m only earning $1200-1500. I came here with my papers. This is my passport. I show them all. Then it gets approved. We’re safe with the food but sometimes we’re tight because if I get $1500 the food stamp gets low. My cable was cut off.

The rental here is $800. I spoke to the owner and sometimes I pay him half and he’s ok. He doesn’t say nothing. But it’s not yet enough. I have a problem with my teeth. Health care givers don’t have insurance. Other caregivers go to free clinic.

For now it makes me worried. But what can I do? I don’t know what to do. I just keep it going, whatever is there and keep working. It’s really hard to find a job. You can’t find a job.

I want to help other women. But help me first.


Interview of Nanay Rosie

I think husbands who lost their jobs and cannot provide any–it’s very devastating to them, being a man. So he looked for job everywhere here. At that time we had a problem with the economy here in California. So his cousin invited him in Chicago to have a business because he used to be a businessman. And so he went there, until he comes here every 3 months, 4 months later, every 6 months. Until he finally settled his job there with his business, until…Maybe he also found a woman, I don’t know. But uh, it’s my son who really made me strong to stand on my own two feet. Because I don’t have anybody to turn to, financially. You know, I had money from the Middle East, but we used it for business. It didn’t materialize. Our partner just left us. So we lost everything, everything–motel, apartments. We lost everything. We cannot sell because it’s not in the corporation.

I wanna go back home. My number one problem was, “When will I see them again?” My family–sisters, brothers, my mom, who was sick at that time. So I cried mostly everyday.

Oh my god. My chest was so heavy. Because first thing, when you didn’t have the paper and somebody is roaming around here like the police. I don’t go out. We moved from one place to another. When the police would come to you, I get nervous. All those [are] the effect of illegal stay here. But when I got it, as if the knife get out from my chest and you know, I was so happy. I don’t know, I spent so much. The lawyer let me pay like $12,000– one half first and then every month.

My first memories of violence…When I first started at work as a nurse, I still had a problem with pronouncing the words right. And when I’m talking to the doctor they will say, “Are you Korean? Filipino? I don’t understand you.” And then they will do like that, they will bagsak the telephone. They will just hang on me. And then I had to call because I have to get an order. And then she said, “Is there any RN I can speak with, with better pronunciation? I don’t really understand you.” And then I cry. I go to the bathroom and cry.

And then my second day of working was that, there was a guy who was encircling me. Because our apartment is just near the hospital and so you just cross the street. I didn’t know. Because what I really know about America, is it’s like gold. Nobody will snatch you or snatch your bag or hold up you and everything. But I have so many, like 10 experiences [of getting mugged]. The other one was two guys were trying to get me. I was still young those times. I was 38 to 39. My son was months old and my husband is supposed to come and pick me up, even though it’s just across. And then here comes two guys, trying to get me into their car. And what I did, when I had a chance to run, to go back to my work, I did it. And early in the morning I go visit someone. Somebody poked a gun here [points to her temple].

Nanay Beng and Nanay Rosie’s stories reflect the hardships and exploitative conditions that migrant OFWs face everyday. We must continue to oppose the anti-migrant and worker policies created by imperialist countries. GABRIELA USA recently joined the 3rd International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees ( to oppose the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), which attempts to force labor export policies on other countries around the globe. Migrants continue to be exploited by such policies, thus we must unite with our sisters and brothers for justice!

Legalization for All!!
Swift Reunification of Families Now!!
End Labor Export Policies! Oppose the GFMD!!

Sisters of Gabriela, Awaken! (SiGAw) is an organization serving Filipinas in the Los Angeles community. We strive to build a strong Filipina women’s mass movement, recognizing that the problems of the Filipina diaspora are linked to the root problems of the Philippines. SiGAw addresses the rights and welfare of women through education, organizing, campaigns, and cultural work.

SiGAw is a member organization of GABRIELA-USA, an overseas chapter of GABRIELA (General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality, Leadership, and Action). GABRIELA is the largest and most mlitant women’s alliance that is working for genuine democracy and freedom in the Philippines.

SiGAw is an LGBTIQ-(Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer/Questioning) friendly organization that is inclusive of gender-non comforming people of Philippine descent.

SiGAw is also a member organization of BAYAN-USA.

The Coming of Out

For today’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign , we are featuring  lolan buhain sevilla‘s thoughts on political community work, liberation across the queer-spectrum, and challenging you to be a better straight ally.

The Coming of Out
lolan buhain sevilla

Coming out. Ideally, it’s a process that ends with the liberation of one’s queer self within the context of their everyday life. Or does it? End, that is? As I sit here writing this, I’m struggling with how to go about exploring the complexity of the coming out process, the layers of lesson and of loss, and the loving in-between. The difficulty lay in the fact that for as many LGBTQ people there are in the world, you have as many experiences for coming out.

My own coming out process didn’t end with some culminating experience where I suddenly heard harps, and lived life happily ever as “a gay.” Yes, I was absolutely liberated, but liberation looked more like the stepping into an awareness and responsibility to struggle through hard moments, rather than the end-all be-all defining moment of queer celebration. My coming out actually meant committing to the lifelong process of continually engaging in the re-outing of myself, in every path I choose to follow in life. The process may have began with close friends and family, but has since grown to include every single job I’ve held, simple tasks like going to doctor appointments, artistic communities I’ve been a part of, as well as the political spaces I’ve organized with.

For the most part I do my best to live every day as a happy, queer & out butch, but  would be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes it feels burdensome, the having to constantly worry about entering new spaces: disapproving shoe store owners refusing my patronage, dancing at clubs where straight men make it a point to walk in-between me and my partner as if to challenge my butchness. Also hard are Filipino spaces, where thewhispers and stares from aunties or smirking uncles feel alienating from a place that should feel like community. Particularly paralyzing? The situations addled with fear, not knowing if the people I love most, like my mom and sister, will know or understand how to have my back as straight allies; and then having to be the strong one who doesn’t let my disappointment and shame be the forces that drive me away when it turns out they actually don’t.

On the good days, though, when I can walk into job interviews, all suit & tie shoes-shined, and feel in my fullest of selves. Or being able to take stage with an audience to bear witness; the privilege of Expo in the Phils with a partner; of getting to be brown & butch on the page; my list definitely can go on and on so it’s not like being out doesn’t have advantages.

But its when the weariness sets in; the continual need to stake claim in my political community, where the roles of queer-spectrum folks are only just beginning to enter the collective consciousness, never mind the nuance of gender identity or expression. This makes a couple things difficult: one, oftentimes being the only self-identifying gender-queer butches in a women’s organization, and two, the trial-by-error struggle of having to be the one who must step into the role of educator for straight allies; not to mention the pain of replication, of familial dynamics and relationship.

The challenge I’d like to pose to non-identifying LGBTQ folks, is to push your analysis and practice around what it truly means to be a straight ally. Acceptance and love of the LGBTQ people in your life are but the first steps in your own process of learning how to be an ally. Perhaps a next step could be asking yourselves how to be active participants in the creation of spaces safe enough to hold the complexity and integrity of queer-spectrum identities. Whatever that step may be, don’t be afraid of uncomfortable situations or awkward dialogues that can only lead to stronger relationships and deeper trust.


Please submit more links to expand our “Being a Better Ally to the LGBTQI Community” link.

Lolan Buhain Sevilla is a queer butch cultural worker who strives for her art, whether on the stage or page, to always be rooted in community, study and practice.  She’s a member of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment, author of Translating New Brown, and co-editor of Walang Hiya … Literature Taking Risks Toward Liberatory Practice.  She truly hopes the love she feels for her communities is reflected in the body of work she creates in order to honor it.

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: The Morong 43

 GABRIELA-USA Calls for Solidarity as the 43 Health Workers Begin Hunger Strike

Day 8 of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence
Contact: Terrie Cervas, 
Vice Chair of Finance – GABRIELA USA
Coordinator for Mass Campaigns – Sisters of GABRIELA, Awaken!  (SiGAw!)
(213) 537-8278

December 3rd, 2010 marks the first day that the 43 health workers, also referred to as the Morong 43, embark on a hunger strike in protest of their unlawful detention.  Today also marks the 8th day of GABRIELA-USA’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign, on which we highlight the struggle and bravery of the Morong 43.  

Nearly 10 months ago, the lives of the Morong 43 (which includes doctors, midwives, and community health workers) were violently disrupted when they were arrested based on false allegations that they are members and supporters of the New People’s Army.  While under detention, the 43 have endured physical and psychological torture.  Catherine Traywick, journalist and member of Sisters of GABRIELA, Awaken (SiGAw), traveled to the Philippines and personally visited the Morong 43 in the summer of 2010.   The visit to the detention center and the specific experiences of the female detainees of the Morong 43 can be found in the article Traywick wrote for Ms. magazine, entitled “Defending the Rights of Detained Filipina Health Workers”  (see below full article). 

The families of the 43, along with community members from various local and international groups, such as nurses organizations, church groups, human rights advocates, and countless others, have worked tirelessly to demand the release of the 43.  Philippine President Benigno Aquino has the ability to have all charges against the 43 health workers withdrawn, but he has not done so, despite his earlier admission that their arrest was based on a defective warrant.

In light of the fact that the Morong 43 remain unlawfully imprisoned under cruel conditions, they have decided to take on a hunger strike at the risk of their own health.  The Morong 43’s statement notes, “This is the only course of action left us to end our continued illegal detention, there being no clear action by the government for our unconditional release.”

GABRIELA-USA calls on all concerned community members to stand in solidarity with the 43 and demand their immediate and unconditional release.  The campaign calls on all international networks to support the Morong 43 and all political prisoners in the following ways:

  • Join the hunger strike on December 6, their ten month anniversary in jail, and issue a statement of support;
  • Organize a sympathy fast or a hunger strike;
  • Picket the Philippine Embassy and demand freedom for the Morong 43 and other political prisoners especially Angie Ipong, Eduardo Serrano, Eduardo Sarmiento and Sandino Esguerra;
  • Highlight the hunger strike in your commemoration of human rights week and December 10th – International HR Day;
  • Lobby your congress representatives;
  • Write your ambassadors stationed in the Philippines;
  • Encourage international organizations/institutions and those in your network to send support statements to the hunger strike (addressed to Malacanang cc Philippine Embassy in your country, Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima and Karapatan); 
    • H.E. Benigno C. Aquino III


President of the Republic

Malacañang Palace,

JP Laurel St., San Miguel

Manila, Philippines

Voice: +63(2) 564 1451

Fax: +63(2) 742 1641 ; +63(2) 929 3968

E-mail: /

    • Atty. Leila De Lima


Secretary, Department of Justice

Padre Faura St., Manila, Philippines

Direct Line: +63(2) 521 8344 ; +63(2) 521 3721

Trunkline:  +63(2) 523 8481 loc.214

Fax: +63(2) 521-1614


  • Send postcards;
  • Circulate this and further announcements plus the hunger strike bulletins ( which will be issued from time to time;
  • Solicit financial and material support for the Morong 43, other political prisoners and their families; and
  • Share your ideas with others so there can be a variety of support actions.

Free the Morong 43!
Release Angie Ipong, Eduardo Serrano, Eduardo Sarmiento and Sandino Esguerra!
Free all political prisoners!

GABRIELA-USA Celebrates World Aids Day on Day 7 of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign

GABRIELA-USA Celebrates World Aids Day on Day 7 of  16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign

Contact: Donna Denina
Vice Chair Mass Campaign
sPinay sa Seattle – Gabriela USA

Today, member organizations of Gabriela USA celebrate World AIDS Day as part of the  16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign.  December 1st marks the 22nd year in celebration of World AIDS DAY, the most recognized health related issue affecting more than 33 million people globally.  Half of those infected with the autoimmune deficiency are women, about 15 million.

Women and young girls of marginalized populations are at particularly high risk because of issues that infringe on their human rights including violence against women, sexual and reproductive rights and education, gender inequities, forced sterilization, and inadequate access to basic health care and services.   The health and wellbeing of women is essential to the success of overcoming this global epidemic which has often overlooked the needs of women.
For women in the Philippines, economic hardship and poverty drives women and young girls into sexual labor making them vulnerable to contracting sexually transmitted infections (STI).  Additionally, increased migration of overseas workers, making them already vulnerable to abuse and violence, impedes on their access to basic health care when in the host country.
Currently a comprehensive reproductive health (RH) bill filed by the Gabriela Women’s Partylist, is being deliberated in both the House and Senate for the 15th Congress.  Proponents opposed to the bill continue to uphold conservative feudal values which disempower women to choose alternative methods of contraception and decide on the health and well being of their own bodies.   The Philippine government continues to erroneously promote the bill as merely a form of “population control” which is flawed and misleading.
Lana Linaban of GABRIELA states, “The government’s premise that overpopulation is the cause of poverty, a framework being peddled and funded  by the US government, puts the blame on individuals, particularly women, and rationalizes the imposition of birth control methods regardless of the detrimental effects on women’s health… Reproductive health is a right and it is the government’s responsibility to uphold and ensure this.”
In light of the campaign to help solve the worlds HIV/AIDS epidemic, the women of Gabriela USA will continue to place the rights and welfare of women at the forefront issues related to health and reproductive rights, continue to raise awareness of these issues, and fight for the overall emancipation of all women free from violence and oppression.