SALAYSAY: Foreign workers for the US are casualties twice over (4th Part)

AIG recently offered a one-time payment of $22,000, Torres said. She turned it down. She hired a U.S. lawyer and is pursuing full compensation through the Labor Department’s dispute resolution system, a process that can take years.

AIG declined to comment on any individual case.

Qatar International, a logistics and support firm, did not return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Torres used the $21,000 she received after her husband’s death to build a two-story, two-room concrete house among tin shacks and rutted roads in a poor area of San Fernando, a provincial capital on Luzon, the Philippines’ main island.

The bottom floor houses the family business, a store crammed with sacks of rice, cases of soda and canned squid. Gorgonia and the five children live upstairs.

Business is bad. One December day, Gorgonia fretted that she would not earn enough to put food on the table. One of her children hunted for snails in a ditch for dinner. Another went Christmas caroling in hopes of getting donations to buy pants for school.

“As time goes by, it gets worse and worse,” she said.

Claim goes unfiled

MARCELO Salazar, a Filipino from the resort island of Cebu, was killed in Iraq in April 2005 while working as a truck driver. He left behind his partner, Vicky Buhawe, their baby son and an unfinished house.

Buhawe has no right to benefits under the Defense Base Act because she and Salazar were not married. Their son, John Mark, now 4, is eligible for a one-time payment of about $14,000, based on his father’s wages. But Buhawe was unaware that civilians employed in the war zone were covered by insurance and never filed a claim.

There is no record that Kuwait-based El Hoss Engineering and Transport Co., Salazar’s employer, reported his death to the Labor Department. The company did pay compensation to Salazar’s son by a different relationship, according to a Philippine government news release.

Efforts to reach El Hoss for comment were unsuccessful.

“Sometimes we go to Marcelo’s grave and we whisper, ‘How will we survive tonight?’” Buhawe said as she held John Mark on her knee. “Tonight, I am not sure where we’re going to get dinner.”

Another Filipino, Leopoldo Soliman, took a job in a warehouse on a U.S. military base in Iraq in 2003, hoping to save enough to build a home for his wife and children in a village northeast of Manila.

He earned $9,000 a year working for Prime Projects International, a KBR subcontractor. In 2004, he was given a commendation by U.S. soldiers for “hard work and tireless dedication.”

Then, in May 2005, a mortar shell fell near his living quarters in Balad, a military logistics hub north of Baghdad. Shrapnel blew a hole in his knee.

Prime Projects paid for his initial medical care in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates and his transport back to the Philippines, he said. But since then, he has had to pay out of his own pocket for pain medication, follow-up surgery to remove shrapnel and physical therapy.

Soliman said Prime Projects ignored his pleas for help. He said he never received any information about the war-zone insurance and has not filed for benefits.

Prime Projects did not respond to requests for comment.

Solomon said the company “treated me well during the accident. After that, when I came home, nothing.”

(To be concluded)