Regalado has been there. In 1983, she was a maid for two years in Singapore. In 1991, she left two children with her parents to become a domestic worker in Hong Kong. There she saw how exploitative bosses and unfair government polices push such workers around.
In Hong Kong, they fought back. Regalado and others blocked the government – three times – from cutting domestic workers' pay, which was already at minimum wage. They also persuaded the Filipino consulate to provide services on Sundays, the only day off for many domestic workers. They stopped a proposal that would have allowed an employer to fire a foreign maid if she got pregnant.
Regalado has been a key player in effecting much more far-reaching change. When she first went to work in Singapore and Hong Kong, overseas Filipino workers had no voting rights.
That changed in 2003, thanks to the activism of Regalado and others, with the passage of the Overseas Voting Act. For the 2004 elections, activists also organized the Migrante Sectoral Party and tapped Regalado as its chairwoman. In elections the following year, the results – in terms of the law and the party – were disappointing. Only 370,000 overseas Filipino workers registered to vote, with just over half of those voting. Regalado's party failed to win a seat.
But passing a law was just the beginning, she says. Now they need to push the government to better implement it. They need to make it easier for Filipinos abroad to register and cast their ballots. She cited the example of a Filipino construction worker in Saudi Arabia, who now must take leave and travel 500 miles to register to vote.
She's optimistic, too, about her party. Regalado's eyes brighten when she talks about expanding its base. Finally, she says, once-disenfranchised migrant workers have their own political voice.
"For a long time, politicians pretended to bring our voice inside Congress," she says. "Even if we didn't win one seat [in 2004], it was a breakthrough for us to be recognized as the one, legitimate group that can fight for the issues of migrant workers."