Leonora Somera during the interview at the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah
JEDDAH, 2 September 2007 — Filipino community members and the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah have helped set up a bank account for the Filipino shepherdess who worked in Al-Baha for 18 years without receiving a regular salary, following a report about her plight in Arab News last week.
Following a slew of phone calls from concerned Filipinos and Saudis who wanted to help the woman, Philippine Consul General Pendosina Lomondot instructed Welfare Officer Abdurajaik “Jake” Samain to issue a certification letter so that Leonora Somera, 65, could open a bank account at Telemoney, which handles the Philippine National Bank’s financial services in the Kingdom.
Somera was accompanied to the Telemoney branch in Balad on Friday by Samain, and with the help of PNB’s Western Region business manager, Roberto Constantino, an account was opened in her name at the PNB’s branch in San Jose City, close to Somera’s hometown in Nueva Ecija.
She deposited the SR7,000 she received from her employer more than a year ago when he appeared at the consulate and pleaded insolvency. She said her salary was SR500 a month.
The account number is 471-530606-4. All donations for Somera can be deposited at any branch of Telemoney in the Kingdom.
To ensure the safety of the funds, only Somera can withdraw the money in the Philippines.
“I’ve received several calls from Filipinos across the country who want to help. One caller even said they would help raise the money to pay for her ticket back home,” said Samain.
Free Legal Assistance
One Saudi employee of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry who was also appalled by Somera’s maltreatment, told Arab News that she felt it was equally important to find a Saudi lawyer who would help Somera pursue her back pay from her sponsor in the Labor Court.
“I’m trying to arrange a Saudi lawyer to help her pro bono (for free),” Noura Alturki said in a phone interview.
“The consulate told me that it could not afford to hire a lawyer to help Somera, so I think this will definitely help her.”
Consulate officials added that they could not even hire Saudi lawyers to defend Filipinos who have been handed down death sentences due to a lack of funds.
Somera was rescued in Al-Baha in December 2005 by a team from the consulate and taken to the center for runaway domestic helpers at the consulate in Jeddah.
Having filed a case against her employer, Misfer Al-Ghamdi, in the Labor Court, Somera claims that her sponsor still owes her SR63,000 in back pay.
Fed up with Al-Ghamdi never appearing in court for the hearings, Somera told Arab News last week that she was ready to drop her claim and return home. “I just want to go home and see my daughter,” she said referring to her 24-year-old daughter who was only six when she last saw her in December 1987.
But Alturki said that Somera should be advised not to drop her claim, as this would send the wrong signal to other abusive employers.
“I’ve checked with some lawyers who have confirmed that Somera does not have to drop the case against her employer in order to go home. Instead she can assign a lawyer to follow up the case on her behalf. Unless her employer has officially declared bankruptcy, I think a court could force him to pay the money he owes her,” she explained.
In the Philippines, Somera worked as a bus conductor but sought her fortune abroad when her husband died in order to support her six-year-old daughter.
“I never dreamed that this would happen to me,” she said, referring to her wasted years working as a shepherdess for an irresponsible employer. (With input from Ronald Concha)