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Former Philippine UN Ambassador Lauro Baja Sued for Human Trafficking

Marichu Suarez BaoananThe charges filed against former Philippine UN Ambassador Lauro Baja filed by Marichu Suarez Baoanan in the US federal court if it prospers will be an eye opener on the complexities of human trafficking.

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) took over the case of Baoanan from Damayan (a grassroots migrant organization based in NY) whose Anti-Trafficking Initiative, provides free legal representation to trafficked women and youths to apply for immigration relief, facilitate survivors’ access to human services, and represent them in civil litigation. The case stems from what Baoanan describes in a press release by AALDEF, which I quote:
Marichu Suarez Baoanan, a citizen from the Philippines, described how she paid $5,000 to the Bajas and Labaire International Travel, in return for transportation, a visa, a work permit, and job placement services in the United States. Ms. Baoanan arrived in New York in early 2006, believing that she would receive assistance to find employment as a nurse. Instead, former UN ambassador Lauro Baja, Jr., his wife Norma Baja (an owner of Labaire International Travel), and the Bajas’ adult daughter, Maria Elizabeth Facundo, alleged a substantial debt against Ms. Baoanan and subjected her for three months to involuntary servitude, forced labor, peonage, debt bondage, and slavery as a domestic worker in their home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Lauro BajaFormer Ambassador Lauro Baja’s case was featured at World Patrol and I was just amazed at how the story line came up which seems to center on the T visa or alluded to as the actual purpose on why a case was filed against Baja.

A clip was shown where Baoanan was complaining about the shoes she requested Baja to buy for her since she cannot withstand the cold snow and was berated instead by Baja. What is so odd was that World Patrol showed a photo supplied by Baja of Baoanan wrapped in winter clothes and was selling it as picture “evidence.” Ok, but don’t the televison reporters noticed that the picture only showed Baoanan from the waist up, so where is the evidence? Duh, this is exactly why Philippine media is more of madaya (cheat) offering opinionated news instead of presenting the facts as they see it as truth will speak for itself without further bola bola (lying) errr elaboration. Anyway here is a similar video from GMA, a little subdued compared to World Patrol but just almost on the same story line.

Why did they not ask Baoanan a nursing graduate from Unciano Medical College if indeed she agreed to be a housemaid? Why in the name of idiot box will she cough up US$5,000 for her visa and plane fare thru Baja’s wife travel agency just so she gets paid US$1,000 a month? Why pay in the first place if she is to work as a housemaid which is normally paid for by the employer? An interesting report from the NY Times answers most of the question, to quote:
The woman, Marichu Suarez Baoanan, 39, said the diplomat, Lauro Baja Jr., and his wife lured her to the United States with the promise that they would help her find work as a nurse. She gave them $5,000 to pay for a visa, airfare and help in finding nursing work, she said.

But on her arrival in January 2006, Ms. Baoanan alleges, the Bajas said that she owed them another $5,000 and would have to work in their home to pay off the debt. Ms. Baoanan said the Bajas confiscated her passport, forced her to work more than 120 hours per week, prevented her from leaving the house alone and paid her only $100 per month. She was the only domestic employee in a four-story house, she said at a news conference on Wednesday to publicize a civil lawsuit filed against the Bajas late last month in the United States District Court in New York.

“They paid me with curses, insults, disrespect,” Ms. Baoanan said, choking back tears. “They didn’t treat me like a person.” After three months, she said, she fled the house with the help of someone she described only as “a good Samaritan.”
I say let the court decide whether he is guilty or not but if the accusations are valid which is more likely as AALDEF is a well respected organization and surely will not ruin their reputation just so they can assist Baoanan legalize her stay in the US. If the intention was just for a T visa as alluded to by Baja then the law firm would not have taken the case and for free at that just don’t make sense, to quote AALDEF:
“It is an honor to work with AALDEF on behalf of Ms. Baoanan and other women and youth like her to meet the humanitarian needs of trafficking victims and their families, and to preserve the rule of law and the values that we cherish in our lives and our society,” said Aaron Mendelsohn, an associate at Troutman Sanders LLP in New York, the law firm which is serving as pro bono co-counsel on this case.
Hopefully this is a rare case within the Philippine Foreign Service circle but there is no doubt that exploitation happens and most migrant workers are not aware of their rights thus they are vulnerable. The problem here is if indeed there is truth to the claims of Baoanan, will Baja who was serving as Philippine UN ambassador at the time successfully prosecuted if he invokes diplomatic immunity or could this be even brought up in a federal case like this? One thing for sure though is that Lauro Baja's daughter Maria Elizabeth Facundo is reportedly still in New York working for the UN and she is included in the complaint filed by Marichu Baoanan.

For whatever its worth Lauro Baja with a long career in the Foreign Service is faced with legal problems even in the Philippines not for human trafficking, not yet anyway but is facing scrutiny on his past performance. A case with the Ombudsman seems to be looming regarding the renovation of his residence in New York and if the congress inquiry pushes through more scrutiny is coming his way.

Gabnet’s Purple Rose Campaign has some data on human trafficking and exploitation of migrant workers that is worth participating for those who care about migrant rights.

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