ILO ILO, An extraordinary Filipina DH in Singapore

January 30, 2022

A few years ago, while working for a software company in Singapore, I met a young Singaporean just out of college. This guy was our point of contact for the Japan office.

He doesn’t speak the ethnic Chinese dialect he comes from (if I am not mistaken, it’s Teochew) and he admits that his standard Chinese isn’t so good. However, he spoke excellent English and Japanese. 

He often talks about their Filipina maid’s exceptional work. The Filipina learned how to cook Teochew from their grandmother and also helped them with their English. She has since gone back to the Philippines. I told this colleague that it was likely that she was a college graduate.

As you hear stories like this, you feel both happy and sad at the same time. You are proud of our Filipino domestic helper’s kindness and productivity here but saddened to know that despite their immense potential, circumstances beyond their control limit their options. 

I recently rewatched the movie “Ilo Ilo” with my family. I first saw it on local TV for free a number of years ago.

I was reminded of this coworker’s story while watching the film.

It was loosely based on the Singaporean director, Anthony Chen’s experience with their Filipina maid. It was the first Singaporean film to win at Cannes Film Festival.

Teresa, or Terry, was portrayed by Angeli Bayani. Amidst the Asian financial crisis, Terry’s Singaporean family had to adjust to difficult circumstances. 

I will refrain from critiquing the film since I am ineligible to do so. For me, the fact that it moves me makes it good.

I have no information on whether the movie got shown in Philippine cinemas. 

Who is Terry in real Life

The real Auntie Terry is Teresita “Auntie Terry” Sajonia, the Director’s childhood Filipina domestic helper.

The Filipina’s artistic preferences clearly inspired the creative director. Auntie Terry used to play Miss Saigon songs to Chen when they were children.

Having completed midwifery school but not having the money to pursue it abroad, she applied for a position as a helper.

In the years since returning from Singapore, Sajonia has lived in dire straits. There are levels of poverty in our country – she lived in a shack with her husband.

As a youngster, I thought those who worked abroad end up rich. As I grew up, I realized this is not true.

For Filipino overseas workers, it is all too common to send most of their money home with little to nothing invested or saved for themselves. 


The Chen’s (Sajonia looked after three kids) found their Auntie Terry and managed to help her a little. Local media helped them since all they know about her place of origin is that it is called Iloilo.

The reunion took place about 7-8 years ago. I wonder if Auntie Terry’s life has improved since then. At the time, she was reportedly ill. How is she now?

If there is a consolation, her life contributed to the creation of perhaps the greatest film ever made in the little red dot known as Singapore.

Perhaps even for that, the sacrifices she made were worthwhile.

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