CHICAGO – A US court has denied a motion by former Philippine ambassador Lauro Baja to dismiss forced labor and human trafficking charges filed against him, saying the diplomatic immunity that came with his job did not extend to his personal household needs.
Baja and his wife, Norma, are facing charges before the US District Court of Southern New York for wage violation, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation, among others.
The charges stemmed from the complaint of Marichu Suarez Baoanan, who alleged that the Bajas recruited her from the Philippines to work in the United States in January 2006. She said they forced her to work 16 hours daily and paid her only $100 for three months, plus another $100 for taking care of the son of Baja’s daughter Elizabeth Baja-Facundo.
She complained of verbal abuse from Mrs. Baja and said she was made to sleep on the basement of the Philippine Consular residence in New York with only a thin blanket on the cold floor.
In seeking to dismiss the case, Baja argued that he was covered by “residual diplomatic immunity" even though the case was filed in mid-2008, more than a year after he ended his stint as Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations.
Baja held that position from May 11, 2003 to Feb. 21, 2007, until he was replaced by retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr.
Citing previous rulings, Judge Victor Marrero said the hiring of Baoanan is a private act and that her “duties benefited the Baja family’s personal household needs, and are unrelated to Baja’s diplomatic functions as a member of the mission."
Judge Marrero set a conference with the court on July 10 to discuss case management.
A group monitoring the Baoanan case hailed the June 16 court ruling as a welcome development for exploited migrant workers in the United States.
“This is an exciting victory for Marichu Baoanan, and for other domestic workers who have been exploited and mistreated by diplomats. Ms. Baoanan will finally have the opportunity to have her case against the Bajas heard in court," said Ivy Suriyopas, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund staff attorney.
She added: “At last, nannies, cooks, housekeepers, and other workers will be able to seek a remedy for their claims."
Salvador E. Tuy, Baja’s lawyer, made light of the ruling, saying it “was not unexpected.
“This outcome does not affect our defense. The decision pushes the case to a trial on the merits," he said.
“We look forward to a full jury trial, where we will show to the whole world that this lady Marichu Baoanan is a liar and a fraud and make her pay for these perjuries. A conviction of perjury will strip her and her family of the immigrant visa that she hoped to get by this lawsuit," Tuy added.
Baja has claimed that Baoanan filed the case so that she could continue to stay in the US.
He said that when Baoanan chose to leave his house less than three months after arriving in the US, she became an illegal alien and was subject to deportation.
Under US law, a foreign worker will not be deported until the case he or she filed in the court against his or her employer is resolved. - GMANews.TV