HONG KONG—Joy Fajardo likes to spend her Sundays meeting friends from her hometown in Chater Garden, a famous gathering spot for the Philippine community at the heart of Hong Kong’s financial center.

But yesterday was an exception.

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The 30-year-old said she was warned to stay away from Chinese crowds for fear of retribution over the dramatic hostage crisis that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead in Manila last Monday.

“We are very worried to be living in a Chinese community now,” Fajardo told Agence France Presse.

Anger and grief mounted last week after a busload of Hong Kong tourists was hijacked in Manila by a sacked policeman armed with an assault rifle, in a bloody siege watched live around the world.

Eight tourists were killed in the final stages of the 12-hour standoff, triggering widespread accusations about police bungling.

Tension

In a sign that feelings are running high, the message “Stop hiring Filipino domestic workers!!!” has sprung up on Facebook sites set up by Hong Kong people to mourn the hostage victims.

Domestic helper Melisa Adolfo, 42, said they understand why the Hong Kong nationals are angry, so instead of mingling with other Filipinos, she avoided the streets yesterday. She is hoping the tension will subside soon.

Malacañang has also advised Filipino workers in Hong Kong to be careful so as not to add anger to the tension-gripped relationship between the Philippines and Hong Kong.

The hostage drama has whipped up a frenzy of fear and rumors in the 200,000-strong Philippine community in Hong Kong, where most are employed as domestic helpers.

A series of unconfirmed reports of Hong Kong employers trying to vent their anger by sacking or attacking their helpers has been widely circulating among Filipinos.

Fajardo said text messages had been exchanged saying that more than 30 Filipina maids have been sacked following the tragedy, including one whose contract was terminated allegedly because her family name was the same as the gunman’s, Rolando Mendoza.

She said she had heard that three maids had been killed, with one of them having acid splashed over her face, but a police spokesman said the rumor was unfounded and they had received no such reports.

“We don’t know if these cases are true. But we are very scared,” Fajardo said.

Release

Philippine vice consul Val Roque downplayed fears about possible reprisals, saying there had been no confirmed reports of harassment or physical abuse.

“We trust our friends in Hong Kong would not do anything untoward against Filipinos here,” he told AFP. “But we understand the anger must be released. We hope as the days go by that anger will dissipate.”

Still, Filipina worker Julie said her 60-year-old employer, for whom she has worked for 14 years, did not speak to her after the hostage crisis.

“She watched news on TV about the hijacking. She did not talk to me and did not give me dinner on Wednesday,” she said. “I was worried because she’s not happy and I didn’t understand what the Chinese news was about.”

Many also complained about being berated on public transport in the aftermath of the siege.

The hysteria reflects the vulnerability of Filipino domestic workers, who underpin the city’s economy by taking care of the children and elderly relatives of working parents.

2-week rule

Under law, a domestic worker must be paid a minimum salary of 3,580 Hong Kong dollars (US$460) and a food allowance of 750 Hong Kong dollars each month. They have to be given one day off every week.

But unlike other foreigners, domestic workers do not have the right to apply for permanent residency after living in Hong Kong for seven years, effectively depriving them of the right to vote in the city.

Under the “two-week rule,” domestic workers must return to their home country if they cannot find a new job within two weeks after their employment contract is terminated.

“They do not want to return home because their salary in Hong Kong is higher than a police officer or a professor in the Philippines,” said Fermi Wong, founder of Unison Hong Kong, a group that helps ethnic minorities.

“And once they return to their country, it would be difficult for them to come back to Hong Kong because they have to pay their employment agencies a lot of money for the arrangement.”

Wong said there were reports of workers being sexually or physically abused, and in one case, a Hong Kong employer banned his maid from using their washroom at night for “hygiene reasons.”

Mistrust

Cases of maids stealing from their employers or abusing their children behind their backs has raised levels of mutual mistrust.

“Filipino maids have a very low status in our city,” Wong said.

Yet Filipinos remain the largest group of domestic workers in the financial hub, often preferred by employers because of their proficiency in English.

Wong said she hoped Hong Kong people would not allow their anger and grief to transform into long-term hatred against the Filipino race.

“They were vulnerable even before the hostage siege. Now they feel even more vulnerable because they are guilty and ashamed. They feel they are morally responsible for what their government has done.”

Diana Delossandos, a 30-year-old domestic helper, voiced the same hope.

“We are also shocked and angry with the way the Philippine government handled the hostage crisis. The reaction of our president is so disgusting and our police are so stupid,” she said.

“But we are not supposed to be blamed.” (AFP/With RRF)