SINGAPORE: One of the maids accusing their employer's wife of abusing them in her multimillion-dollar Sentosa Cove home took the stand on Wednesday (Dec 9) and described her odd working hours as well as the pinches she allegedly received.
Ms Jenefer Vegafria Arangote, 39, told the court that she slept from 1pm or 2pm and woke up at 5pm or 6pm daily in the three months that she worked for the accused, Tan Lee Hoon, at her Paradise Island home.
Testifying through a Tagalog interpreter, the Filipina said the arrangement was inherited from the maid before her, and said she and the other maids had meals twice a day before sleeping, sometimes skipping the second meal if they were too busy.
When she joined the household in August 2018, Ms Arangote's chores included cleaning the house, cooking, gardening, as well as massaging Tan daily until the woman fell asleep. She would work through the night, she added.
She shared these chores with up to three other maids including fellow victim 33-year-old Lizardo Joan Lozares. The remaining two maids –known to Ms Arangote only as Claire and Emily, either left or were sent away during Ms Arangote's time working for the household.
She said she received her instructions from Tan, who mostly stayed at home, while Tan's husband would leave the house with the children in the mornings.
Tan would usually be sleeping when Ms Arangote went to bed at about 1pm, and would sometimes be awake by the time Ms Arangote woke up at 5pm to do her chores.
With her consent, Ms Arangote had no days off in the three months that she worked for the household.
THE ALLEGED INCIDENTS
The incidents that she recalled occurred sometime in October 2018, with the first one taking place in Tan's bedroom. She was massaging Tan at around 10am or 11am before Tan went to bed.
"When I started massaging her, she was not happy (with) the way I did it to her. Then she got angry with me, that's why she pinched me," said Ms Arangote.
She added that both her and Ms Lozares would take turns massaging Tan until she fell asleep, but Ms Lozares would usually leave the room midway so Ms Arangote was left to massage Tan alone.
The first time, Tan allegedly pinched Ms Arangote twice on her shoulders. The pinches left "blue marks" on Ms Arangote's shoulders, and she took a photo of them.
During another massage, Tan allegedly pinched the upper right part of Ms Arangote's chest twice. After a few days, Ms Arangote noticed a bruise in the area and took another photo of it, which she showed a friend.
During a third incident, Ms Arangote was arranging paper lanterns on a tree when she accidentally knocked over a statue, angering Tan. Tan then pinched her on the back of her thigh, said Ms Arangote.
There was a fourth incident when Tan allegedly pinched the maid on her inner forearm with her fingernails.
THE INCIDENTS INVOLVING THE OTHER MAID
Ms Arangote also testified about how Tan allegedly abused her fellow maid Ms Lozares.
In one incident, after Tan asked Ms Lozares to help her put on her socks, Ms Arangote saw Tan using her fist to knock Ms Lozares on the head.
Tan was wearing a ring at the time and used it to knock Ms Lozares, said Ms Arangote, who said she was shocked at seeing what happened.
After this, Ms Lozares helped Tan to put on her shoes but made a mistake and did not put them on properly. Tan got angry and kicked Ms Lozares in her chest, said Ms Arangote.
In another incident, both maids were preparing to cook when Tan used a thin wooden stick to hit Ms Lozares on her shoulder.
Ms Arangote said she could not remember why Tan did so. She told her then-boyfriend and another maid about the incidents, and sent them the photos of her bruises or marks.
Sometime in October 2018, the fourth maid Emily left the house with her bags, and Ms Arangote took it to mean that she was being sent home.
When Tan returned to the Paradise Island house from the airport, she confiscated all the phones belonging to the maids, said Ms Arangote.
PHOTOS GONE FROM HER PHONE
Tan asked Ms Arangote for her phone's password and checked her photo gallery. When she found the photos of the bruises, Tan asked Ms Arangote why she saved those photos.
"I told her that I just saved it, and she didn't give our cell phones back," said Ms Arangote. She added that she eventually got her phone back from her agent, but the photos had been deleted.
On the morning of Oct 17, 2018, the maid that Ms Arangote told about the bruises informed the Ministry of Manpower about what happened, and the police arrived at the house.
They took the maids to the hospital and returned to the house a few days later to seize the closed-circuit television server, but nothing was found on it as there was no hard disk.
Tan is contesting eight charges of voluntarily causing hurt to Ms Arangote and Ms Lozares.
According to charge sheets, she is accused of pinching Ms Arangote's right bicep, stomach, chest, arm and thigh in September 2018. She is accused of hitting Ms Lozares' head with her hand and kicking her chest in October 2018, as well as hitting her torso with a stick on another occasion that year.
The trial continues, with Tan defended by lawyers Sunil Sudheesan and Diana Ngiam. They are set to cross-examine Ms Arangote subsequently.
If convicted of voluntarily causing hurt, Tan could be jailed for up to two years, fined up to S$5,000, or both, for each charge. As the offences are against maids, she could be given up to one-and-a-half times the original punishment if found guilty.