Unraveling the lives of house helpers in the Philippines

When Mom and Dad couldn’t always be around growing up, who was there to help look after you? While some had grandparents to take over, a number of us recall having someone we fondly called, “Yaya!” Overseas, they are referred to as domestic helpers, nannies, sitters, or maids. Here, we call them yaya, inday, or kasambahay.

Many of them came to urban areas looking for work so they could support their families back in their home provinces. Familiar stories of yaya’s rearing other people’s children while they miss their own children’s birthdays have become part of a social reality these people face just to make ends meet.

Household Worker - CJ Magalit []

Living away from family

Originally from Bacolod, Grace shares that her previous jobs had always involved domestic work. She used to have foreign employers, working as a yaya for their new-born babies. “Noong nag 4 years old na sila, umalis na ako,” she adds.

Grace is her family’s breadwinner, working hard to finance her youngest daughter’s studies. Life away from her family is not that difficult for Ate Grace, though, who gets to visit her other daughter, who lives near her working place, whenever she’s on leave. She adds that Kai’s family has always treated them fairly, almost as if they were part of the household.


Kasambahay Law explained

Grace is thankful for landing in a decent job where she is treated with fairness, and provided with her basic necessities, such as lodging and food. But her case is a far-cry from the millions of local domestic workers still experiencing cruel working conditions, unjust salaries, and maltreatment at the hands of their employers. Many of them, including children, have been trafficked into forced labor and exploitation.

In 2015, there were about 1.99 million Filipino women domestic workers, the Federation of Free Workers reports in an interview with UCA News.

The Philippine Commission on Women and the Federation of Free Workers are among the many organizations lobbying for social protection for local domestic workers. Their long overdue advocacies seem to have paid off with the fairly new Kasambahay Law enacted last 2013. The law aims to protect domestic workers by holding their employers responsible for their welfare.

Stipulations of the law mandate employers to pay their house helpers a minimum wage of P2,500 per month within Metro Manila (P2,000 outside Metro Manila) and enroll them in SSS, Philhealth, and Pag-ibig benefits. House helpers are also entitled to a 24-hour leave weekly.

Dr. Chona Sebastian from the Political Science Department, however, explains that the implementation of the law is lop-sided in many ways, saying that some of the provisions failed to take into account the situations of both parties. For instance, she expounds on the topic of benefits by saying, “The help could opt to get the premium payment instead because, as they would reason, they could not continue paying for the voluntary premium anyway once they resign. Hence, they remain socially unprotected.”

Kasambahays earning more than P5,000 per month could soon be obliged to pay taxes, if the tax bracketing of BIR remains unadjusted, explains Dr. Sebastian. “The help holds on to [their] number for the rest of [their] life, even if [they are] no longer employed. Hence, the government would not know who is actually covered by the social protection programs.”

When asked if she was familiar with the Kasambahay Law, Ate Grace says that she and her employer were not able to discuss the matter before she got hired. However, she shares that it doesn’t make much difference, as her salary already covers her personal expenses and allows her to send enough money back to Bacolod.


Gender dynamics

Gender roles in the Philippines remain the principal reason why the domestic work sector is female-dominant. GENDERS professor Ms. Ella Oplas from the Political Science department explains that women from impoverished areas often go to domestic work because gender expectations prevent them from taking jobs stereotypically dominated by men.

Dr. Sebastian, however, posits a different view on this matter. “Domestic work in the Philippines is usually dominated by women, not only by female helpers, but by the mothers, wives, female figures in the household,” she explains. “Hence, female dominance in the domestic front is not a function of socio-economic strata.”

History shows that gender roles are remnants of 16th century colonization of the Philippines by the Spaniards. Aliping sagigilid, the lowest class in the social hierarchy created by Spanish conquistadors, served as domestic workers, in charge of all the house chores delegated by their owners. According to historical records, these alipin sagigilid consist mostly, if not wholly, of women.

Fast forward to the present, where the similar but differently labeled socio-political structure has become part of the status quo. Women, especially from the low-income group, are still expected to assume housekeeping and child care work due to their “nurturing” capacity, as if women have monopoly on this human quality.

Oplas explains that this type of job does not have to be limited to women. She mentions her own experience of hiring a ‘manny’ in the past, who performs all the typic­al duties of a nanny with few exceptions, considering her daughters are still young.



For centuries, and all around the world, this profession has been looked down on. From the Yaya Dub parody to the Yaya meal controversy a few years ago, Filipino mass media itself makes fun of our kasambahays. While so many social media sites have become forums for reviews and stories gone viral about bad experiences with helpers at home, yayas remain under-appreciated. More often than we care to share on Facebook, we’ve actually overlooked the good ones, the unsung heroes of our orderly homes and childhood memories.

“When I was a kid, I used to be annoyed at my maids for various reasons,” begins Javier* (IV, BS-AEC). “Like when they’d force me to go home while I was still playing with my friends. I realized they were just following my parents’ orders,” he explains. Yayas have the grueling task of keeping both parents and children happy. And for the children who early on grew close to their yayas, this attachment would often last a lifetime.

When Erika Rellera (BS-ENT, ‘16) was just six years old and her longtime yaya, Delen, took a short leave to take care of her own child in the province, she wouldn’t stop crying. And when she had heard that her yaya had a cough, she got a bottle of cough syrup and sealed it in an envelope, hoping to mail it to her. “Their problems are our own problems. I think this is why they are also very concerned [for] me whenever they see me having a hard time,” Erika explains, enthusiastically adding that her yayas give her advice. On the other hand, Miguel’s* current yaya, Manay, cooks him his favorite food, he says, “lalo na pag alam niya malungkot ako.

Samantha Yap (AB-PSM, ‘16) has her Yaya Mitos who has been around for 15 years, and Yaya Adelpha, who was even her mom’s yaya previously, and she sees the two growing old with the rest of their family. Raised to treat kasambahays as equals, when Samantha sees other people treat them bad, “I get shocked and can’t help but say something because people tend to forget they are human beings too,” she explains. “Me and my sisters see [Yaya Mitos] as a second mom,” Samantha says. “One day it will be our turn to take care of her.”

In the same spirit of paying it forward, Erika’s mom raised her to see equal potential in maids as you would see the possibility of a janitor becoming a manager. “It’s just a matter of training them,” she says. “My driver, my bodyguard, my secretary, my everything,” Erika describes her all around yaya, Ann, whom her family taught to perform tasks beyond the typical confines of the house. Erika adds, “Some people just don’t have the opportunities, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have the drive to be something more than they are now.”

Sana masaya mga buhay ninyo ngayon kasama mga pamilya ninyo. Kung magpunta kayo sa Manila, bisita kayo sa amin minsan, sigurado pati si Mommy at Daddy matutuwa,” says Javier* to his yayas that are no longer around. Miguel would also like to say thank you to his yayas. “Kasi di naman kasama sa job description nila ang mahalin ako, pero ginagawa nila.

Adrienne Tan

By Adrienne Tan

Cirilo Cariga

By Cirilo Cariga

One reply on “Unraveling the lives of house helpers in the Philippines”

Leave a Reply