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Sisyphus’ Lament

The story of an offloaded lady from Roxas

/ 05:06 AM November 19, 2018

This is a story of four overseas Filipino worker (OFW) siblings, all named Gerry.

G1 is a service leader in one of Singapore’s most famous restaurants. G2 and G4 hold similar jobs in the huge Marina Bay Sands (MBS) complex.

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G3 also worked in Singapore, but moved to Germany after marrying a German.

They earn more than many Manila professionals and rent a large government-built apartment.

They sometimes fly in relatives from their native Roxas City. G1 put it: “Minsan lang din sila makaranas ng maginhawang bakasyon, maranasan man lang nila ’yung ibang bansa (They rarely have a comfortable vacation, they may as well experience being abroad).”

They gifted a ticket to their ecstatic second cousin M, 23.

Being a young, first-time female traveler with a provincial salary from tiny Roxas, she was offloaded by immigration. Her ticket was forfeited.

The distraught siblings redoubled their efforts.

G2, on a workday, traveled to our embassy to pay P1,600 to notarize an “affidavit of support.”

G3 flew in from Germany to escort M and personally speak to immigration.

But M was offloaded again, forfeiting a second ticket.

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It was a tragic fluke of law.

Our officials rightly fear Filipinos being mistreated abroad, down to the maid found dead in a freezer in Kuwait.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) oversees immigration. Its 2012 “Guidelines on Departure Formalities” flag, for example, those without financial capacity escorted by a foreigner or minors traveling alone.

It makes allowances for OFWs.

Immediate relatives are not scrutinized. Those up to the fourth degree of consanguinity may travel with the OFW’s affidavit of support.

In contrast, affidavits for nonrelatives are closely screened.

What was the fluke?

M, a second cousin, was defined as a nonrelative.

But this result disbelieves how the siblings treat her like a sister. They grew up together in Roxas. This is perfectly normal in Filipino extended families.

(It may also be unconstitutional to restrict who one considers family. The famous US 1977 decision Moore vs East Cleveland voided a city ordinance restricting what relatives were defined as a family and legally allowed to live together.)

The result also disbelieves how many OFWs earn relatively well.

G3 did not fully understand the affidavit but had the siblings all signed. No one could doubt their combined financial capacity to fly M over.

Labor and immigration officials must understand this context. Singapore and Hong Kong OFWs are far closer to home, especially with budget airlines.

A week in Singapore is cheap if one has a free ticket and housing. Hawker meals cost less than P200. The subway reaches far. Many attractions are free, such as the nightly MBS light show over the bay.

But OFWs need a simpler system for invites. One must picture how difficult it is, given strict work hours and limited leave, to travel to the embassy and pay a large sum to notarize an affidavit. Such even deters OFWs from voting.

Ultimately, guidelines that may result in offloading need to be less subjective.

G1 showed me old pictures of her extended family in her Roxas home.

She had shopped for new blankets for M’s visit. She was about to buy Flower Dome tickets.

Most heartbreaking of all, she had saved up all her tips for a dream dinner at her famous restaurant, a lavish treat worth M’s two forfeited tickets.

But M’s story does have a happy ending.

The fluke eventually reached the DOJ. I was told Secretary Menardo Guevarra himself reviewed her case and the 2012 guidelines. He personally cleared M to fly to Singapore.

Again, the DOJ hardly lacks compassion.

Perhaps one day, Singaporeans will travel to Roxas to a restaurant G1 manages.

Perhaps M will be emboldened by her maginhawang bakasyon to help turn Roxas into Singapore.

Or perhaps they will lead uneventful lives, but law exists precisely to protect little joys such as G1’s dream dinner abroad. Law must be grounded on empathy as much as wisdom.

React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan. This column does not represent the opinion of organizations with which the author is affiliated.

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