D.C. Teachers Victims of Human Trafficking Scheme


Dec. 18, 2013

Valerie Francisco, Chairperson, GABRIELA USA, gabrielawomen@gmail.com
Nicole Cunanan, Vice Chair of Propaganda & Cultural Affairs, GABRIELA Washington, D.C., Nicole@gabrieladc.org

GABRIELA USA Exposes Human Trafficking Scheme at the Nation’s Capital on International Migrants Day

WASHINGTON—On Dec. 18, 2013, International Migrants Day, GABRIELA USA, an alliance of Filipina women’s organizations across the United States, stands with the GABRIELA Washington, D.C. chapter to expose the trafficking of teachers from the Philippines to the U.S.

Since 2003, the Philippine-based labor recruitment agency, Renaissance Staffing Support Center (formerly known as Great Provider Service Exporters, Inc. and World Goal Corporation) represented by its president, Isidro Rodriguez and its U.S. partner Green Life Care International, LLC have been trafficking teachers to the U.S. The agency promised applicants high salaried jobs with benefits in public schools in North Carolina and Washington, D.C. It also promised them housing and transportation. Applicants were required to attend various expensive seminars and pay excessive fees to successfully secure H1B visas. Teachers paid between $18,000 to over $20,000 for the entire process. In many cases, their passports were held until they submitted the entire fee amount and were not returned until their departure for the U.S.

When teachers arrived to the U.S., their promised jobs did not exist, leaving them to fend for themselves.

 Some teachers have even reported that recruitment-agency owner Rodriguez also committed various acts of sexual harassment against female teachers and asked for sexual favors in exchange for papers. If victims voiced concerns or went against the recruiter, they were threatened to be deported or told that their families will be harmed.

“This illegal recruitment and trafficking scheme made us suffer in slave-like conditions and in debt bondage. We sacrificed so much just to try to support our families back home and we are still trying to survive day-to-day,” stated Ma. Fen Ecleo, Co-Chairperson of GABRIELA Washington, D.C. and one of the trafficking victims.

 “This situation with the teachers is not an isolated case, and is an example of a larger systemic problem in the Philippines,” says Tina Shauf, Vice Chair of Campaigns of GABRIELA USA. GABRIELA USA demands that the Philippine government ensure that true justice is delivered to the the teachers as they pursue legal cases against Rodriguez and Renaissance Staffing Support Center. Rodriguez should be jailed for the crimes he has committed and the teachers should get full compensation for debts. GABRIELA USA also demands that the teachers get T visas, as human trafficking victims, so they can continue to work and live in the US without fear of deportation. We call on the Filipino community and our allies to support the teachers’ ongoing legal cases in both the Philippines and the U.S.

 “The Philippine government hails the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) as “Modern Heroes” and yet in their time of need, the OFWs are treated with apathy,” said Jo Quiambao, Co-Chairperson of GABRIELA DC. “Workers’ remittances to the country keep the economy afloat but the government fails to address the concerns and well-being of distressed OFWs.”

 On the occasion of International Migrants Day, aside from recognizing the efforts, contributions, and rights of migrants worldwide, GABRIELA USA calls on the Philippine government not only to respond to the problems of migrant workers in the host countries, but to also address the root causes of migration which is poverty and underdevelopment in the Philippines.


GABRIELA USA is a grassroots-based alliance of progressive Filipino women’s organizations in the United States seeking to wage a struggle for the liberation of all oppressed Filipino women and the rest of our people.

While we vigorously campaign on women-specific issues such as women’s rights, gender discrimination, violence against women and women’s health and reproductive rights, GABRIELA USA also addresses national and international economic and political issues that affects Filipino women.
GABRIELA USA is an overseas chapter of GABRIELA Philippines, and is a member organization of BAYAN USA and the International Women’s Alliance.

Stories from the Global 99%: Fil-am Women Share Stories from Mass Movement & Recent Exposure Trip in the Philippines

November 16, 2011

Reference: Irma Bajar, Chairperson, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE), fire.nyc@gmail.com


Stories from the Global 99%: Fil-am Women Share Stories from Mass Movement & Recent Exposure Trip in the Philippines


In 2011, six women from the NY-based GABRIELA USA organization, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE NYC), traveled to the Philippines on an exposure and integration program with Gabriela Philippines. The women, Hanalei Ramos, Candice Sering, Jennine Ventura, Zarah Vinola, Julie Jamora, and Krystle Cheirs, had one major goal in mind: to experience first-hand what the MASS MOVEMENT is like in the Philippines, and bring back what they learned to their community in the United States. On Monday, November 21, 2011, FiRE will host a special report-back from 7:00pm-9:00pm at the International Action Center’s Solidarity Center (55 W. 17th Street, Suite 5 C).


“We want people in New York to feel the dynamism of the National Democratic Movement in the Philippines,” stated Candice Sering, FiRE’s Cultural Director. “It was also important that we pay tribute to the organizers and communities that we met in a creative way.” The event will include interactive elements (guerilla theater, sound installation, and visual arts), traditional Filipino street foods, and stories. FiRE has also made it possible to view the event live via UStream.tv, a live-streaming Internet site, for those who are abroad (both nationally and internationally) but wish to support the event. “Our friends and fellow organizers in the Philippines can’t physically be here, but we wanted them to be able to share in the telling of their stories, so we’ll set up a live-stream,” stated Hanalei Ramos, who served as team leader for the summer trip.


In the wake of a global economic crisis and the worldwide Occupy people-led movement (including Occupy Philippines), FiRE is drawing connections to the people-powered National Democratic Movement in the Philippines. “By sending our members to the Philippines for an extended period of time, they witness and experience first-hand the concrete conditions that the basic masses, the real 99% of the Philippines, are living under every day,” said Jackie Mariano, Vice Chairperson of FiRE. “Most importantly, they learn how the masses have organized themselves to take action to build a brighter future.” The report-back will shed light on the daily injustices committed in the Philippines and the ways in which Filipinos are responding, challenging and changing the system.


For more information on Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment and the Exposure & Integration Program, visit http://firenyc.org.




A Reportback brought to you by FiRE


MONDAY NOV 21, 2011

International Action Center Solidarity Center

55 West 17th Street, Suite 5C


8PM-10PM, doors open at 7:30PM. (Please note the time change!!)

For live-streaming: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/fire-nyc

Learning Together, Growing Together

FiRE sisters and allies at the Educational Discussion Symposium, June 11, 2011

Dear FiRE sisters and allies,

Thank you so much for making the Educational Discussion Symposium on Saturday, June 11 at Hunter College a success!

For all of those who attended, we hope that you had an enriching, agitating, and empowering experience. Our morning session featured “Basic Women’s Orientation”, our intro course, which outlines the socio-historical and political condition of Filipino women in the Philippines and the U.S., AND “We DID Start the FiRE: How to Represent FiRE”, which helped us learn how to make speeches and write press releases that rep the militant Philippine women’s movement. In the afternoon session, we viewed a film called “Modern Heroes, Modern Slaves”. Afterwards, we discussed the Labor Export Policy of the Philippines, and the experiences of Overseas Filipino Workers, particularly Flor Contemplacion and her family.

For those of you who missed the ED Symposium, don’t worry! We have an exciting summer coming up, full of ED’s when we can continue to learn and grow together.

FiREd UP!!!: A Summer ED Series for FiRE members and allies.

Make-up session for “Basic Women’s Orientation”. Late JUNE or early JULY, TBD. ***IMPORTANT: It will be a “training for trainers”, or an opportunity for folks who have taken BWO before to learn how to facilitate it, and conduct the ED for folks who have yet to take this intro course. If you are interested in sharpening your facilitation skills OR if you haven’t taken this ED yet, please contact Jackie at fire.nyc@gmail.com.***

Track 1 (beginners) ED “Personal Migration/Migrante Orientation” JULY, TBD

Track 2 (advanced) ED “Philippine Society and Revolution: A Short Course” JULY, TBD

Please keep a look out for more announcements with details about the EDs!

Thank you again for attending the ED Symposium. If you would like to get more involved in FiRE’s Education Committee, a.k.a. Each One, Teach One, please contact Jackie! To find out how you can get involved in more FiRE activities, please contact Cris at fire.nyc@gmail.com.

Isang Bagsak!

GABRIELA-USA Celebrates 2 Year Anniversary and Milestones in Building Filipino Women’s Power

For Immediate Release

March 29, 2011

Reference: Raquel Redondiez, Chairperson, GABRIELA USA, chair@gabusa.org

GABRIELA-USA Celebrates 2 Year Anniversary and Milestones

in Building Filipino Women’s Power

Launch of iVOW Campaign, International Women’s Alliance, and

Freedom for Morong 43 Amongst their Successes in 2010

Seattle– On March 26, 2011, five member organizations of Gabriela USA, Samahan ng  Kababaihan (SAMAKA) and BABAE San Francisco, Pinay sa Seattle, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) New York and Sisters of Gabriela Awaken (SiGAw) Los Angeles came together to hold their second National Chapter Council meeting to assess their accomplishments in 2010 and plan their advancement for the next year.

National Chapter Council members represented their organizations of Filipino women who consist of mothers, working women, professionals, and students. The National Council reviewed their organizational growth in 2010 and their main campaign IVOW v. VAW (Violence Against Women), which reached and moved hundreds of women in their homes, schools, and communities–  to pledge to raise their voices against the the different forms of violence inflicted on women.

On March 29, 2011, GABRIELA-USA across the U.S. celebrates their 2 year anniversary and the successes of the last year which include:

  • Successful Launch of IVOW vs. VAW (Violence Against Women) in 4 Major Cities in the U.S.
  • 33% growth in membership and formation of SAMAKA- an association of Filipina mothers, elders, and working women
  • Mobilizing over 50 members and allies to the Montreal International Women’s Conference held in August 2010

Forwarding a truly internationalist perspective in building sisterhood and solidarity across the globe, GABRIELA USA was instrumental in organizing the Montreal International Women’s Conference (MIWC) and the formation of the International Women’s Alliance in Canada and also participated in the International Alliance of Migrants and Refugees activities in Mexico.  GABRIELA members throughout the U.S. also joined with other community organizations and alliances in protesting the wrongful detention of the Morong 43 in the Philippines, half of which were women.

In 2011, GABRIELA USA will be launching a national research project on the situation and issues of Filipino women in the US, continuing their IVOW campaign, and focusing on the growth and expansion of their alliance.  This summer, GABRIELA-USA will be sending delegates to the First General Assembly of the International Women’s Alliance which will be held in Manila, Philippines.  GABRIELA’s next General Assembly will be in March 2012.


Knowing Karen Empeño

To commemorate the birthday of Filipino revolutionary Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan and the founding anniversaries of  Anakbayan and Kabataan Makabayan, we’re dedicating today’s (11/30)  16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign  post to youth and student organizers.

Knowing Karen Empeño

A conversation with Jonna Baldres on her mentor and friend, Karen Empeño, who was abducted by armed military forces of the Philippine government. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Jonna’s painting “Baril Baraha Biktima”; photo of Jonna (leaning, front), Karen (left), and friends.

Jonna is to the New York Filipino community as Reese Witherspoon is to Hollywood: a darling powerhouse who commands your respect because she’s smart and works damn hard.  After organizing at the prestigious College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines  – Diliman (UP), Jonna has become one of the cornerstones of the Woodside, Queens community.  Jonna’s ease and familiarity with the surrounding neighborhood and its people is unexpected given she’s spent three of the last five years living between Manila and New York City’s outer boroughs.  In recent years, she has played a major role in local immigrants’ rights campaigns and was also a main coordinator for the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees,  while being a full-time employee of the Bayanihan Community Center in Woodside.

Jonna’s drive to grow as a community organizer developed as the result of several factors, but none of them are more important than the abduction of her friend, mentor, and fellow activist,  Karen Empeño, 23 at the time, who disappeared on June 26, 2006.

The pair met in 2005.  Karen was a sociology student about to begin her thesis, and a lead organizer with STAND UP (Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights at the University of the Philippines).  Jonna was already working around Manila, but the pull of on-campus student activism proved to be more worthwhile than meetings with clients as a freelance graphic designer.  Both women had reputations as fierce student leaders on the UP campus, so despite being in different graduating classes from different colleges, their meeting was inevitable.

Nung na meet ko sya, parang feeling close na si Karen, kasi kilala na nya ko sa mga picture na nakikita nya galing sa rally or kung ano ano.  Talagang makulit siyang tao, minsan nga super-hyper.  Pero nag gigitara din sya, so nag click kami. / When we met, Karen already acted comfortable around me, because she recognized me from past event and rally photos.  She is a really talkative and perky person, and was sometime super-hyper.  But she played the guitar, like me, so we got along well.”

For the next few months, the two would work closely together planning campus events for STAND UP, facilitate occasional student workshops, and organize youth retreats.  These were all learning opportunities for Jonna, a bit out of touch with the campus since her graduation.  She was relieved that Karen was able to take the time and help her transition back into campus organizing.  “Siya talaga ang tumulong sa ipagkaorginiza ko.  Maraming akong natutunan sa kanya na kinakaya kong ipasa sa mga nakikilala kong kasama dito. / She is really the person who helped organize me.  I learned so much from her, that I hope I can pass those lessons on to other organizers here.”

By the summer of 2005, Karen began her immersion with peasant farmers for her thesis research, and Jonna returned to live with her mother in New York. “The last time I was able to spend time with Karen was right before her immersion began.  She was really excited to start this part of her work, to the point that she was crying tears-of-joy in anticipation.”

Jonna didn’t learn of Karen’s disappearance until about a month after initial reports, and only by accident: through an update email posted to a listserv.   Initially, Jonna was left with more questions than answers upon reading the email.  Which Karen was taken?  Why has she been missing for a month?  Who is responsible for this? It took Jonna the longest night of her life to confirm whether the Karen who disappeared was, in fact, her talkative and bubbly mentor.  There were hours spent sending a flurry of text messages to UP alumni and old activist friends still in Manila. “Yung Karen ba natin yan?/ Is that our Karen?”

The reply was, “Oo, Karen natin./ Yes, our Karen.”   Jonna’s heart broke and she cried for three days straight.

The details that surfaced were these: Sherlyn Cadapan, a 29 year old student at the UP College of Human Kinetics, and Karen Empeño were forced into a van.  A local farmer, Manuel Merino, tried to stop the armed men, and was abducted, too.  Since 2000, thousands of community organizers, students, union leaders, members of the press, and other civilians were disappeared or blatantly murdered under the corrupted administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo which hoped to quell the growing people’s movement in the Philippines.  Arroyo’s time in office has proven to be equally fatal to the Martial Law Era, with thousands of innocent civilians dead or missing during her term.  These human rights violations were unmasked to the mainstream when Melissa Roxas, a Filipino-American community health worker, was kidnapped by armed plain clothes soldiers and her story was featured on the New York Times’ front page.

Manuel, Sherlyn, and Karen were brought to a camp. They were tortured and beaten.  The women were raped.  The public only knows this because another victim, Raymond Manalo, escaped this same camp and survived. There are many graphic accounts of his time as a prisoner chronicled in major publications.  The most harrowing one being the description of the farmer who attempted to prevent Sherlyn and Karen’s abductions, Manuel Merino, being burned alive.  Raymond Manalo was the last person to see Sherlyn and Karen, tied to table legs and laying on the ground after beatings by their military captors.

Being thousands of miles away from answers, Jonna only had the humidity of a New York summer to contain her anger.  She would spend hours, which turned into months, combing the internet for articles.  “Only when I started reading the press, that’s when the reality of Karen’s disappearance sunk in.  There was one Manalo interview in particular that was too detailed : 4x4s and bamboo sticks inserted into Karen, legs tied and bound.  I couldn’t even finish reading it.  By that time, my anger was immense.”  However, the graduate of the Fine Arts College was able to turn to her artistic training, and redirect her anger into what resulted in several poems and songs, and a painting called “Baril, Baraha, Biktima” (“Gun, Playing Cards, Victim”).

“Karen was really excited to start this part of her work; all she wanted was a deeper understanding of the lives of these families.  When you come from a prestigious university like UP, students embrace their privilege.  They don’t look forward to living in humble communities the way Karen did.  Nakakagalit na yung mga gustong tumulong, yun ang mga hinuhuli.  Yun ang mga dinudukot ng gobyierno at sundalo. / It makes me angry knowing that the people who want to help, contribute to society, those are the ones who are taken.  Those are the ones disappeared by the government.”

In the meantime, the anger has found a workable plateau within Jonna’s body, and it’s easier for her to laugh again.  A smile appears on her face, because she suddenly remembers the last youth and students retreat she and Karen attended together.  The site was near a beach, and during a longer break between sessions, the two took a boat ride with some of their friends.  Also a skilled photographer, Jonna remembers the compositions of Karen along the boat and playing by the water.  The photos were taken on Jonna’s 35mm SLR camera, and never developed.

Jonna understands that the mere retelling of Karen’s story doesn’t correct injustice; doesn’t return the 2000 victims of human rights violations in the Philippines.  “I won’t stop organizing my community, and holding the Philippine government accountable for what they did to Karen and countless others whose names haven’t even surfaced in the media.  This is about ending the exploitation of farmers by their landlords, living a life free of military violence and state repression, creating jobs within the Philippines, living in affordable housing, getting an education the average family can manage, and having access to enough food and medicine to live healthy lives.  This is what Karen fought for, and this is what I’ve learned during her disappearance.  We are fighting for  justice and equal access to basic human rights not only for the people in my life, but for every Filipino.  Yes, it’s difficult knowing that she is not beside me, but this movement and my commitment to it – neither  waver. 

“Dapat nyang alamin na kumakapit pa rin ako, mahigpit pa,  at ang daming din bagong tao na kumakapit rin./ I want to tell her that I am holding on, holding on tightly,  and that many people who have been moved by her story are holding on, too.  I have hope. Until there is no evidence of her body, Karen is still alive.”   She adds, “ I still have that roll of film from the boat.   It’s somewhere in a drawer at my apartment.   Maybe I’ll get the chance to develop it sometime soon.”   

Attached is a poem dedicated to Karen Empeño and a photo of Baril, Baraha, Biktima by Jonna Baldres.



Tinitingnan ko ang larawan mo,

ang larawang nalimbag sa mga pahayagan

nitong nakaraang isang taon at limang buwan

nang ikaw at mga kasama’y nawawala.

Nakangiti ka.

Walang bakas ng paghihirap

Paghihirap na dinanas sa kamay

ng mga hayop na mapagsamantala.

Narinig ko ang balita.

Ginahasa raw nila kayo, pinahirapan.

At ngayo’y huwag na raw kayong hanapin pa

sapagkat kasama ng magsasakang kanilang niliyaban

ikaw raw ay hindi na makikita pa.

Marahil kahit ang isang tanga

ay maiintindihang ito’y pananakot lamang

na akala’y sa kanilang babala ay magpapadala

at ang aming paghahanap ay ititigil nang tuluyan.

Hindi tayong tulad nila,

na noon pa ma’y buong loob at kusang binitawan

ang dangal at kalayaan sa pagsunod

sa utos ng berdugo’t diktador.

Hindi namin titigilan ang paghahanap.

Hindi lamang sa inyo,

kundi para sa hustisyang

kailanma’y hindi naibigay sa inyo.

Mananatili ang larawan mong nakalimbag,

hindi lamang sa mga pahayagan.

Nakaukit ito sa isipang kung saan ang ngiti mo’y

hindi lamang simpleng pagbuka ng mga labi.

Ang ngiti mo’y mapagpalaya.

Ngiting sa mga magsasakang inaapi

ay naghatid ng pag-asa’t pagkamulat.

Tinitingnan ko ang larawan mo.

Nakangiti ka.

At iyon ang mananatili sa isipan ko.