MANILA, April 9, 2011â€”Home at last.
Lola Irene Sto. Domingo, 75, is now in the arms of her family after long months of waiting. Sick and undocumented, she has been in the care of Bahay Kalinga, a transient home for repatriating distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) for three months. Bahay Kalinga is being managed by the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Prior to this, she had run away from her employer, whom she had worked for years, after they refuse to pay her. Old and weak, Lola Irene opted to run away and looked for some odd jobs. But illness made her too weak to work, that a fellow OFW, Marcelina Maramag, who has been working in a small dressmaking shop in Saudi took care of her. Even if itâ€™s illegal to take care of an absconder, Maramag had taken care of Lola Irene, feeding her and sometimes, giving her medicine. Until, Lola Irene had decided to ask the Philippine Embassy for help.
John Leonard Monterona, regional coordinator of Migrante-Middle East (ME), assisted Lola Ireneâ€™s repatriation. Bombarding the embassy with letters of plea and follow-ups, Lola Irene finally arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) morning of April 6, on board Gulf Air from Bahrain.
Teary eyed, Lola Irene for the first time, embraced her son Vergel, whom she left in 1984 when she decided to work abroad.
A long saga coming home
In an email interview with Monterona about the situation of Lola Irene prior to her going home, here in the Philippines, the migrant workerâ€™s leader said that Lola Irene had left the Philippines in 1984.
â€œNang mag-abroad siya by 1984, she’s only 43 years old,â€ Monterona told this reporter in an email.
Just like most of the stories of OFWs who had run away from their employers, Lola Irene was also a victim of maltreatment and abuse.
â€œNapilitan pong mag-run away from abusadong employer [and] eventually naging undocumented up to now,â€ Monterona said.
It was on December 16, 2010 when Lola Irene had come to Maramagâ€™s home, begging for assistance. It was Maramag who had coordinated the case of Lola Irene to Migrante-affiliated Kapatiran sa Gitnang Silangan (KGS) and asked for assistance.
â€œThe following day, I formally endorsed her case to the attention of the Philippine Embassy concerned officials seeking to provide medical assistance to her and placed her at the embassy-run Bahay Kalinga,â€ Monterona said.
Help did comeâ€”but slowly
The last letter of this reporter, after Lola Ireneâ€™s story was published in CBCPNews.com, was last January 11. Then, Monterona told this reporter that the case of Lola Irene was already at the hands of the Philippine Embassy personnel in Riyadh.
â€œSi OFW Irene Sto. Domingo, 70, is now staying at the PH embassy-run Bahay Kalinga in Riyadh along with more than 100 distressed OFWs. She has been there for almost 2 months now since her rescue.â€
â€œWe were told that the embassy-Assistance to the Nationals section is working for her repatriation. But we would like to reiterate that her repatriation should be done immediately with no letting up. As she is already a senior citizen and has been sick, it is but wise and for humanitarian consideration that she soon be repatriated without any delay. The PHL embassy should get her repatriated through diplomatic channel and must request from the host government to exempt her not to go through the normal process [of] getting exit clearance from her sponsor, as it could not be located.
â€œShe should be given proper medical help and care. The PH embassy must provide her airfare ticket as well. Thanks po, – John,â€ reads Monteronaâ€™s letter to CBCPNews.
However, months had passed but Lola Irene was still waiting for her repatriation.
â€œEven the family in Sta. Cruz, Manila is vainly pleading for her repatriation. [The] inept embassy officials are dilly-dallying to issue a ‘guarantee’ letter to Saudi immigration authority and thereby issue the needed travel clearance for her. Kaya lang ina-antay pa daw ng embassy ang green light from DFA-OUMWA (Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workersâ€™ Affairs) since last month,â€ said Monterona.
Calling it â€œdisgusting to the max,â€ the slowness of the Philippine Embassy to respond on these kinds of cases, is really deplorable, said the migrant leader.
However, Monteronaâ€™s group and Lola Ireneâ€™s family did not stop pressuring the DFA-OUMWA to facilitate the immediate repatriation of the old and sick OFW. Finally, the letter was released early this month, and Lola Irene is now finally home.
Lola Irene could be considered lucky as she was still alive at the time of her repatriation.
Jameel Macasanton, 48, from Marawi City, Lanao Del Sur, died in one of the Philippine Embassyâ€™s shelters in Jeddah while waiting for his repatriation. He died due to kidney failure as a result of being diabetic.
Monterona said that it was Macasantonâ€™s nephew Arafat Kamal, who called him to say that his uncle had died at the King Abdul-Aziz Hospital.
â€œI have spoken to Arafat over the phone that morning of March 28, and he confirmed that his Uncle Jameel died last night due to kidney failure, a complication of his diabetes,â€ Monterona said in his email. Monterona said that the incident was immediately reported to Macasantonâ€™s family in Marawi.
Like Lola Irene, Macasanton was an undocumented migrant worker, too, in Saudi.
â€œIt is known [to his colleagues] that Jameel had been undocumented since 2008, after he run away from his employer due to labor malpractices. He just survived looking, and working from, one job to another,â€ Monterona said.
Just like Lola Irene, the Philippine Embassy had been slow in processing the OFWâ€™s documents so that he could go home to his family in Marawi. It was Arafat, Monterona said, who sought refuge last February to the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah for repatriation.
â€œThere are also two stranded OFWs who have suffered stroke, based on the reports that we have received here,â€ said Monterona. â€œBut this information is yet to be verified with our colleagues in Jeddah.â€
As of this writing, there are still more than 600 distressed and stranded OFWs seeking refuge at the Al-Mina hajj terminal in Jeddah. Living in deplorable conditions, with no sufficient food, clothing, water and other necessities, Monterona said that the President should look on this.
â€œThis is what we have been saying since last month, we have repeatedly called on the PH consulate and the DFA to seriously attend the stranded OFWs in Jeddah as they are living under deplorable condition[s]. Children have been sick and adult OFWs are coughing â€“ all complained of no medicines provided by the Philippine consular officials,â€ Monterona lamented.
He also said that because there is already a reported death among the stranded OFWs, may be this time â€“ again may be this time, the PH consulate in Jeddah and the DFA and other concerned agencies will provide too-late-as-always services and assistance to the distressed and stranded OFWs in Jeddah.
During the visit of Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, Monteronaâ€™s group and other organizations of Filipinos working and living in Saudi had opened the issue to him, hoping that the Philippinesâ€™ second chief has some remedies to offer.
â€œWe hope that these OFWs, would eventually have their papers processed, so that they can be sent back home. Itâ€™s lonely to be apart from your family; but it is lonelier, if you donâ€™t have the means to go back to the Philippines because youâ€™re penniless and the people, who should be extending fast help are working too slow for your repatriation,â€ said Monterona. (Noel Sales Barcelona).