January 26th, 2013 05:55 AM
ALAMINOS CITY—Thanks to the social networking site, Facebook, and a white towel hoisted outside the window, a 32-year-old domestic helper from this city was rescued by the Philippine embassy officials after being locked up for 19 days without food by her employers in their house in Amman, Jordan.
Lalane Fontanilla Balcorta, however, had access to a laptop computer, and her posts over Facebook page, “Taga-Alaminos Pangasinan Ka Kung… (You are from Alaminos, Pangasinan if… ),” caught the attention of Mayor Hernani Braganza on Monday.
For nine hours, Braganza said he communicated with Balcorta through the instant messaging system, Yahoo! Messenger, as well as embassy officials.
At 11 p.m. on the same day, Philippine embassy staffers retrieved Balcorta, who was placed under the custody of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), pending her return to the Philippines.
Braganza said he tutored Balcorta about installing the chat program to help ease their online conversation. He said they talked through the system’s video chat component. A frantic Balcorta panned her laptop to show him that the room where she had been locked was escape-proof.
“She showed me the steel bars of her windows, so I was convinced she could not escape,” the mayor said.
Balcorta claimed she did not know her employers’ address, so Braganza asked her to describe the buildings and landmarks outside the house.
“I advised her to tie a white towel around a mop and hoist it outside the window so that rescuers would know her exact location,” he said.
Consul General Emmanuel Fernandez coordinated with Amman authorities, who fetched Balcorta from her employers, he said.
Balcorta arrived in Jordan in September to work as a domestic helper and as nanny to her employers’ child.
She claimed that her ordeal began when her employers left for Iraq, leaving her under the supervision of a relative.
“He (relative) did not provide me meals and he always locked the door behind him whenever he left the house. Some neighbors took pity on me and shared some food whenever he was not home,” she said.
A Hong Kong-based Alaminos native and another based in San Diego, California, who follow the page, “Taga-Alaminos Pangasinan Ka Kung…” forwarded Balcorta’s post to Braganza’s Facebook account. Yolanda Sotelo, Inquirer Northern Luzon