Rolly’s gift to overseas Filipinos

INSPIRED by his own experience as an overseas worker, Roland “Rolly” Amaranto has created a masterpiece – a collection of songs he composed – which now serves as his lifetime gift to all Filipinos working abroad.

A gift of love. That’s how Rolly says of his outstanding work.

Aptly titled “Awit Abroad — Para Sa Inyo, OFW Ng Buong Mundo” (Songs Abroad – For All Of You, OFW Of The World), the music album has recently been released in the Gulf and the Middle East, where Rolly is working as a secretary of a multi-national firm, particularly in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There are 10 songs in the album, beautifully rendered by famous Filipino singers such as Nora Aunor, Claudine Barreto, Nonoy Zuniga, Juan Rodrigo, Miriam Pantig, Jo Awayan, Cindy Rosas, Kelly Grace Salcedo, Aldoe Rubee and Richard Villanueva.

The songs highlight the difficult life an OFW faces, as experienced by Rolly, himself. Having had to go through the loneliness of being separated, though temporary, from his loved ones, Rolly took refuge by singing and strumming his guitar, thus giving him the chance to express his pent-up emotions. It was sort of a therapy for him, enabling him to go through his day-to-day existence. At night where one would ordinarily be sound asleep, Rolly would stay awake, dreaming of his family left behind in the Philippines. At times he would feel his tears welling and those were the times he would always feel the need to sing and strum his guitar.

In one of those lonely nights, Rolly thought of creating his own song. Although not a composer, he ventured into song-writing, first as his way of coping up with his difficult situation. Later, he discovered that he was more relieved of his temporary and momentary longings if he vocalized his own feelings. The words uttered, while singing impromptu, were soon put into writing until he actually composed one full song. In a span of five years, he managed to collect over 10 original compositions.

Rolly actually didn’t think of going public about his ‘amateurish’ songs. After all, they were just serving him to cope up with his own loneliness. Not until year 2000, when it was declared as “Year of the OFWs”, that Rolly thought of sharing his songs. He got inspired and bold enough to go out of his nutshell and immediately saw an opportunity to share his own work in celebration of the year-long event.

Immediately, Rolly contacted Rhoel Mendoza. Rhoel, through his Philippines to the World Entertainment Foundation, Inc. (PWEFI) based in Riyadh, was responsible for the declaration of year 2000 as ‘Year of OFWs.’ Talking to Rhoel finally sealed Rolly’s conviction to go public. That was March 2000.

By July 2000, during his annual leave to the Philippines, Rolly put into action his plan. With the help of his brother Raffy and friend Ric Santos, all the songs he composed were recorded and put into a demo CD, which in turn, was presented to various Filipino artists. Months passed by and in March 2001, the full album was finally released in the Philippines.

Producers of the album, POPPSINC Philippines and Artistika Records Philippines, have launched the album last September 28 in Saudi Arabia, through Stallions Records. Within a week following the official launch, the albums were simultaneously made available in the Gulf countries as well as the neighboring Middle East and African countries. Soon the album will be launched in Asia, Europe and America.

The songs

AKING MAHAL (My Love), interpreted emotionally by superstar NORA AUNOR, relates a woman’s anxieties over her loved one’s journey to foreign shores. The painful longing, but full of promises for a better future, is evoked deeply in the song. A mellow soft tune.

I DO is a sweet song by a loyal girlfriend, rendered by CLAUDINE BARRETO . The song speaks of an overwhelming gaiety of a young heart whose patience so unparalleled in waiting for her lover finally pays off. This is the only English song in the album.

We feel the extreme desire of a melancholy heart for a loved one in MAKAPAGHANAPBUHAY LANG (Just To Have A Job) by NONOY ZUNIGA. The interpreter appreciated the piece so much, claiming the song was really well-thought of, a product of both wit and emotion. This is a pop-song with a shade of blues.

The family takes centerpoint as a moral booster in the song KABAYAN HUWAG MAG-ALALA (My Countryman Don’t Worry) by JUAN RODRIGO. The nostalgic feeling, quite universal in nature, is deeply etched in the song. This song has a sweet jazzy tune.

MIRIAM PANTIG gives her OFW emotion in the ballad song MAAYOS NA BUHAY (A Better Life) which rages over unspoken sufferings and sacrifices. Amidst a hurting milieu, the realization of a dream is the only thing that holds dear to someone to continue living a drab life.

Over time takes ambivalent meanings in the song O.T. giddily interpreted by ALDOE RUBEE. Here, the Filipino sense of humor surfaces in times of trials. This song has a rock and roll beat.

Acculturation embraces a pedantic touch in the song RAMADAN, brought to life by RICHARD VILLANUEVA. The uninformed OFW is given caution to keep up with a Muslim tradition and discipline, and to respect them. A little fast tempo with combination of rap.

One feels the echoes of a ghastly wind and the rage of turbulent sea in the song DOON (There) by CINDY ROSAS. The swing dance rhythm of the song seems to sway with the rippling waters on the shore. A song for the seamen.

JO AWAYAN and MIRIAM PANTIG blend beautifully in PARA SA INYO, OFW NG BUONG MUNDO (For All Of You, OFW Of The World), the theme song of the album, a tribute to all the OFWs worldwide whose tool for survival are brains, talents and physical power. With upbeat tempo, a “come on” song for OFWs.

KELLY GRACE SALCEDO and NONOY ZUNIGA move with passion and pride in demonstrating to all and sundry the greatness of OFWs in the song DAKILA KA (You Are Great), which these Filipino modern day heroes truly exemplify.

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: October 30, 2001 

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OFWs among victims of terrorist attack

AS top absorber of Philippine labor, the United States of America, employ as many as four million Filipinos, naturalized individuals and family members included. It is no wonder that Filipino workers were among the thousands of people reported missing – and presumably dead by now – after that unprecedented and tragic attack of terrorists in America last September 11, 2001.

Official report coming from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila states that around 18 Filipinos, as of September 21, have been reported victims of the recent tragedy in America. Two were confirmed dead, passenger each of two of the four hijacked planes. Ruben Ornedo, 39, of Los Angeles, California, was a Boeing propulsion engineer who was on board the American Airlines Flight 77, from Washington to Los Angeles which crashed into the Pentagon. Ronald Gamboa, 33, of Los Angeles, California, was a Gap store manager and on board the United Airlines Flight 175, from Boston, Massachusetts, to Los Angeles, California, the second hijacked plane to strike the World Trade Center.

Those officially reported missing, as gathered by the Philippine Consulate General in New York from the Family Assistance Center of New York City’s Mayor’s Office, are: Cesar Alviar, Marlyn Bautista, Grace Alegre Cua, Jay Ciril Dichavez, Benilda Domingo, Judy Fernandez, Bernardo Gallardo, Ramon Grihalvo, Frederick Kuo, Jr., Arnold Lim, Manuel Lopez, Carl Allen Peralta, Rufino Flores Santos, Maritess Santillan, David N. Sullins (Fil-American), Larry Sumaya, Hector Tamayo, and Cynthia Motus-Wilson (earlier reported as Cynthia Betia or Betita).

CNN’s database of missing persons, as submitted by families and friends of those missing, reveal quite a number of Filipino-sounding names and those with photos are easily identifiable as Filipinos. As more people become aware of the victims’ list, wherein photos and/or vital identifying information can be submitted by anyone who is aware of a missing loved one, it is fairly expected that the number of Filipino victims will still increase. A brief visit to the site earlier showed more new faces, a significant increase in the entries as compared to yesterday’s list of missing persons.

Looking at those faces and faceless names, one can’t really help but feel sad and angered as I had been at the very first instance I saw the initial few photos shown on the site. I still can’t believe that such a barbaric act could happen to one civilized world, and to the greatest of all nations!

What has happened in America, I believe, can happen anywhere. We are all vulnerable to this kind of an attack. It doesn’t really matter which country we are stationed because terrorists are everywhere. If they managed to actualize an obviously well planned operation of attack on America and its multi-national people, these terrorists and/or terrorist network are/is widespread, that anytime, a simultaneous attack of the same or less proportion as that which transpired recently in America can materialize. And this can possibly happen even before America can stage its well announced war against these terrorists!

Should this happen, what will become of us overseas Filipino workers? Should we go back to our country or should we stay put where we are now?

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: September 24, 2001 

 

 

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Pinoy claimants air grievances

IN a bid to formalize complaints arising from delayed distribution by a special Philippine government body of compensation approved for payment by the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC), a small group of overseas Filipino claimants sent last August 19, 2001 a letter to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Timed purposely with the Advocacy Visit to the Philippines by selected overseas Filipino workers and migrants, the complaints were made public during a dialogue held last August 21 at the premises of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila.

Present during the dialogue were officials of the main Philippine government departments and agencies involved in the affairs of the overseas Filipinos. These officials were Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, DOLE Undersecretary Manuel Imson, DFA Undersecretary Merlin Magallona, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Administrator Rosalinda Baldoz, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Deputy Administrator Delmer Cruz and Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) Executive Director Jose Molano.

Tasked by the claimants to represent them was the Overseas Filipinos Worldwide Net Foundation, Inc., through its Managing Director Dr. Rachelle Garcia. Dr. Garcia, fortunately, was given a special time to read the letter. In an email she sent to the group – Pinoy Gulf War Claimants Club – Dr. Garcia related the following:

“Anyway, everyone listened intently to your letter. Be assured that I did not edit it nor “soften” any of the words used. I read it the way it was written (and the people present congratulated me after as they thought I was “brave” to read it as is). Well, I did so because it is high time that the issue is discussed with both parties present (with our group representing our ‘kababayans’ in Kuwait). Fortunately, Mr. Bayani “Bani” V. Mangibin, the Secretary-General of the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat (PCCCS), was there. He answered your allegations point by point (but didn’t delve into specifics as he didn’t have some documents with him). However, he gave everyone present tabulations of the update on Gulf War claims (for the First and Second Phases of Payments, as of July 31, 2001).”

For information, the full text of the letter, addressed to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is hereunder presented:

August 19, 2001

Dear President Arroyo:

Warm greetings from Kuwait!

We are a small portion of the over 40,000 claimants of the Gulf War Compensation approved for payments by the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC). We have been victims of corrupt practices of certain government officials manning the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat (PCCCS) under the Department of Foreign Affairs. Our efforts in the past to curtail the anomalies committed to us had all been fruitless and we continue to suffer while the officials concerned remain untouched and unabated in making use of our money which should have been given to us years before. For this reason, we come to you now, believing in your honest pronouncement that you will curb graft and corruption within the government bodies.

The deliberate delay of payments of our claims is the main injustice we suffer from the corrupt PCCCS officials. All the rest of our problems stems from this anomalous practice. The officials are holding the fund for as long as they can, which, had actually resulted to the Philippines being suspended by the UNCC. The last release made by the UNCC, the only one, in fact, the Philippines got in the past 28 months – in the amount of US$15.5 million – was February 17, 2000. PCCCS personnel started sending out notices in October 2000 and majority of the claimants, until now, are not in receipt of the notices. Notices of those whose claims amount to high figures are being held while those with lesser figures had been sent ahead of schedule. UNCC has ruled that payments are to be distributed to claimants in order of approval by the Panel of Commissioners.

Lately, the PCCCS officials resorted to scheduling payments in batches. Despite their confirmation of names as among those recipients of the latest UNCC fund release, they still refuse to pay until the claimants receive their respective notices. Yet these notices the officials regularly claim to have been sent are nowhere to be found! Please know that there are cases where claimants can attest to the fact that their notices were found lying idle in their trays! These incidents happened between 1997 to 2000, during which time the PCCCS distributed in a turtle-like-pace the UNCC release of the first batch of payments to Filipino claimants!

Claimants have been, and still are, easy preys to fixers proliferating unabated within the PCCC vicinity. Some of these fixers are from the PCCCS itself and PCCCS Secretary General Bayani Mangibin admitted, in an interview with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, that one staff member had been lately terminated when discovered.

There are those cases of claimants not receiving any single penny until now because their checks are nowhere to be found. The PCCCS officials are always quick to answer that the checks had all been returned to the UNCC because of the payees’ failure to claim the checks! How can you claim a check when you didn’t receive any notice?

Some rightful claimants are now doomed to “non-compensated status” because of their checks having been claimed by others. A lot of cases even go as far back as 1993 to 1995 when claimants’ papers had been kept unattended by the DFA officials. Those files were returned by the UNCC for completion of some paper requirements and would have been consequently approved had the DFA officials informed the claimants. More than 5,000 claimants are affected by this unfortunate incident.

A lot more were either uninformed or misinformed by the DFA officials of their privilege to seek compensation from the UNCC. The people affected are those who were immediately absorbed for employment by other countries. Nearly 50,000 Filipinos were evacuated then and most of them found new employment in Asia, America, Europe and other areas in the Middle East not affected by the Gulf War. They never got the chance to claim for their losses, a privilege only enjoyed by Filipino workers who returned to Kuwait after the Invasion. Yet, even those who were in Kuwait were not all timely informed as most had filed claims past the January 1, 1995 schedule of non-acceptance of individual claims by the UNCC!

We would not want to go further into lengthy recounts of our sufferings, our dear Madame President. Suffice it to say that what we have been through in the hands of our government officials are no less cruel than what we had been through the hands of the Iraqi invaders! We are indeed twice victims!

It is not only the desire to get what we rightfully own from the PCCCS – a reality which actually drove us to seek your assistance – it is also now the conviction that those officials responsible for the misuse of the compensation fund be punished. These officials are only added smear to your relentless effort in freeing our government from corrupt practices. We would want them removed from their office so they may no longer spread their corrupt wings!

We thank you for hearing us and we all look forward to a positive intervention by your good self. You are now our only hope and we would like to wake up one day with the realization that for once in our OFW lives, a President of our beloved Philippines, has finally come to our rescue!

Please, Madame President, do not deny us that right, that privilege and allow us to add to your SONA’s endearing end pronouncement our own motto: “Let us do what is right. Let us do what is best. Let us leave to God the rest . . . then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will sure act in haste!”

We are attaching herewith helpful information for your easy reference. The UNCC data presented have all been carefully researched and now actually serve as our only weapon against the lies and misinformation that the PCCCS officials have been subjecting us, and other people, into in the past six years or so.

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: September 7, 2001

 

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Pinoy claimants air grievances

IN a bid to formalize complaints arising from delayed distribution by a special Philippine government body of compensation approved for payment by the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC), a small group of overseas Filipino claimants sent last August 19, 2001 a letter to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Timed purposely with the Advocacy Visit to the Philippines by selected overseas Filipino workers and migrants, the complaints were made public during a dialogue held last August 21 at the premises of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila.

Present during the dialogue were officials of the main Philippine government departments and agencies involved in the affairs of the overseas Filipinos. These officials were Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, DOLE Undersecretary Manuel Imson, DFA Undersecretary Merlin Magallona, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Administrator Rosalinda Baldoz, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Deputy Administrator Delmer Cruz and Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) Executive Director Jose Molano.

Tasked by the claimants to represent them was the Overseas Filipinos Worldwide Net Foundation, Inc., through its Managing Director Dr. Rachelle Garcia. Dr. Garcia, fortunately, was given a special time to read the letter. In an email she sent to the group – Pinoy Gulf War Claimants Club – Dr. Garcia related the following:

“Anyway, everyone listened intently to your letter. Be assured that I did not edit it nor “soften” any of the words used. I read it the way it was written (and the people present congratulated me after as they thought I was “brave” to read it as is). Well, I did so because it is high time that the issue is discussed with both parties present (with our group representing our ‘kababayans’ in Kuwait). Fortunately, Mr. Bayani “Bani” V. Mangibin, the Secretary-General of the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat (PCCCS), was there. He answered your allegations point by point (but didn’t delve into specifics as he didn’t have some documents with him). However, he gave everyone present tabulations of the update on Gulf War claims (for the First and Second Phases of Payments, as of July 31, 2001).”

For information, the full text of the letter, addressed to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is hereunder presented:

August 19, 2001

Dear President Arroyo:

Warm greetings from Kuwait!

We are a small portion of the over 40,000 claimants of the Gulf War Compensation approved for payments by the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC). We have been victims of corrupt practices of certain government officials manning the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat (PCCCS) under the Department of Foreign Affairs. Our efforts in the past to curtail the anomalies committed to us had all been fruitless and we continue to suffer while the officials concerned remain untouched and unabated in making use of our money which should have been given to us years before. For this reason, we come to you now, believing in your honest pronouncement that you will curb graft and corruption within the government bodies.

The deliberate delay of payments of our claims is the main injustice we suffer from the corrupt PCCCS officials. All the rest of our problems stems from this anomalous practice. The officials are holding the fund for as long as they can, which, had actually resulted to the Philippines being suspended by the UNCC. The last release made by the UNCC, the only one, in fact, the Philippines got in the past 28 months – in the amount of US$15.5 million – was February 17, 2000. PCCCS personnel started sending out notices in October 2000 and majority of the claimants, until now, are not in receipt of the notices. Notices of those whose claims amount to high figures are being held while those with lesser figures had been sent ahead of schedule. UNCC has ruled that payments are to be distributed to claimants in order of approval by the Panel of Commissioners.

Lately, the PCCCS officials resorted to scheduling payments in batches. Despite their confirmation of names as among those recipients of the latest UNCC fund release, they still refuse to pay until the claimants receive their respective notices. Yet these notices the officials regularly claim to have been sent are nowhere to be found! Please know that there are cases where claimants can attest to the fact that their notices were found lying idle in their trays! These incidents happened between 1997 to 2000, during which time the PCCCS distributed in a turtle-like-pace the UNCC release of the first batch of payments to Filipino claimants!

Claimants have been, and still are, easy preys to fixers proliferating unabated within the PCCC vicinity. Some of these fixers are from the PCCCS itself and PCCCS Secretary General Bayani Mangibin admitted, in an interview with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, that one staff member had been lately terminated when discovered.

There are those cases of claimants not receiving any single penny until now because their checks are nowhere to be found. The PCCCS officials are always quick to answer that the checks had all been returned to the UNCC because of the payees’ failure to claim the checks! How can you claim a check when you didn’t receive any notice?

Some rightful claimants are now doomed to “non-compensated status” because of their checks having been claimed by others. A lot of cases even go as far back as 1993 to 1995 when claimants’ papers had been kept unattended by the DFA officials. Those files were returned by the UNCC for completion of some paper requirements and would have been consequently approved had the DFA officials informed the claimants. More than 5,000 claimants are affected by this unfortunate incident.

A lot more were either uninformed or misinformed by the DFA officials of their privilege to seek compensation from the UNCC. The people affected are those who were immediately absorbed for employment by other countries. Nearly 50,000 Filipinos were evacuated then and most of them found new employment in Asia, America, Europe and other areas in the Middle East not affected by the Gulf War. They never got the chance to claim for their losses, a privilege only enjoyed by Filipino workers who returned to Kuwait after the Invasion. Yet, even those who were in Kuwait were not all timely informed as most had filed claims past the January 1, 1995 schedule of non-acceptance of individual claims by the UNCC!

We would not want to go further into lengthy recounts of our sufferings, our dear Madame President. Suffice it to say that what we have been through in the hands of our government officials are no less cruel than what we had been through the hands of the Iraqi invaders! We are indeed twice victims!

It is not only the desire to get what we rightfully own from the PCCCS – a reality which actually drove us to seek your assistance – it is also now the conviction that those officials responsible for the misuse of the compensation fund be punished. These officials are only added smear to your relentless effort in freeing our government from corrupt practices. We would want them removed from their office so they may no longer spread their corrupt wings!

We thank you for hearing us and we all look forward to a positive intervention by your good self. You are now our only hope and we would like to wake up one day with the realization that for once in our OFW lives, a President of our beloved Philippines, has finally come to our rescue!

Please, Madame President, do not deny us that right, that privilege and allow us to add to your SONA’s endearing end pronouncement our own motto: “Let us do what is right. Let us do what is best. Let us leave to God the rest . . . then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will sure act in haste!”

We are attaching herewith helpful information for your easy reference. The UNCC data presented have all been carefully researched and now actually serve as our only weapon against the lies and misinformation that the PCCCS officials have been subjecting us, and other people, into in the past six years or so.

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: September 7, 2001

 

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Too many a fight . . .

FIGHT! Fight for your right! Stand up and don’t allow anybody to step on you. You are a person, a human being with all the good things entwined, as anybody else!

Those are the words inculcated in my brain from the earliest time I was made aware of my ‘being’ up to this very moment.

Life is a struggle indeed with its many bumps and curves, all God-given adversities to make us strong. Yet no matter how we try to believe in nature’s kindness, we always end up frustrated and angry. For indeed, bullies abound!

A fighter, early on

A fighter, I am, yes, and one who wouldn’t just easily give up! And all my life I’ve been just like that – and as far back a time as when I was a toddler. Let me tell you a story. . .

When I was a teenager, struggling with my identity – too young to be old, as my parents used to admonish me – I had this good chance of talking heart-to-heart with my father. He told me that he believed in his heart that I will grow to be a brave and strong woman someday, someone who will never allow any obstacle to block her way. How did you know that, I asked him then. He related an incident which transpired when I was three years old.

One day, he said, I was happily playing with a ball, a new toy recently acquired. The ball went far to the wall, underneath a display cabinet. I ran to the ball, peeped through the narrow space and tried to grab it with my tiny hand. I couldn’t reach the ball! I tried and tried and still couldn’t reach it. My parents who were in the living room decided to leave me alone upon my father’s prompt. They went to their bedroom and left the door slightly open so they can observe me.

I tried to squeeze by body underneath the cabinet but it won’t fit. Normally, for a child my age, I would have come to seek for help, my father said. But I didn’t. Maybe I was afraid to leave the ball or maybe that’s how I was – a stubborn child, as I was already branded then! My parents saw me stand up and look around. I then walked to the corner of the wall on the far left side of the cabinet where a broom was resting. I grabbed the broom, ran back to the cabinet, went tummy-flat on the floor and pushed the stick-end part of the broom until it reached the ball. Then out came the ball from the right opening side of the cabinet and rolled just in front of my parents’ door! Sweating but happy, I pushed the door and ran straight to them showing off my accomplishment!

From then on, my father told me, my life had been filled with independent struggles and each time I emerged a winner. It didn’t matter how big or small the fight was, I was relentless, my father proudly told me, because of my stubborn attitude of not easily giving up. Yet, I was always patient and wouldn’t ever consider momentary obstacle a failure. In all my tasks, I just kept on going and going and won’t stop until I accomplished whatever I’ve set my mind into. But never would I ask for something impossibly gargantuan. I seemed to have an extraordinary grasp of life’s possibilities yet I have always believed that nothing is impossible if you really work your heart and mind into it.

Life’s major fights

Four of the many major fights I had in life happened during my OFW (overseas Filipino worker) stint in Kuwait. Two are work-related and the other two are personal, the last one concerns my health and a very recent one. There’s another major struggle brewing up, but I would like to discuss it separately.

In early 1994, bothered with a nagging frustration of having stripped off of my indemnity pay from an institution which I’ve served selflessly during the most tiring times in the history of Kuwait, I decided to file a formal complaint. The normal way for the gripe to be taken to – then and now – is the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. This I was made to understand enough while asking around on how I can go about the complaint. Something made me skip this and instead I went straight to the Human Rights Committee of Kuwait’s National Assembly (Parliament).

As soon as I started with the preliminary proceedings, I was discouraged left and right by those immediately surrounding me. Three significant men were behind me though. First was the man who later became my husband; second was my immediate boss, Head Teacher Brian Errington of The English School where I changed employment in 1992; and third, the head of the Philippines’ Diplomatic Mission to Kuwait in the person of then Ambassador Shulan O. Primavera.

On that fateful day – February 21, 1994 – I was to go to the Parliament to submit my complaint, I was nervous as you can imagine one would be in the same situation. I almost turned my back, believe me, but I braved myself and thought about my late father. I also thought about those three men who believed so much in me.

My initial meeting with MP Ahmed Nassar, chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the Parliament, although brief, was smooth and uneventful. He politely accepted my papers, handed them over to his secretary and outrightly informed me that he’ll see me the following Monday for the Committee hearing.

Committee hearing

Days passed by quickly and on the scheduled day, I found myself facing the Committee. There was a microphone in front of me and an interpreter seated nearby. As the members, one of those was the staunch leader MP Ahmad Baqqer who is currently the Minister of Justice, were already briefed, I was just made to relate my complaints briefly. I was told beforehand that I will be given no more than a 20-minute audience. After a few questions asked and answered, nervously, by me (who wouldn’t be nervous anyway, facing those big men of Kuwait’s Parliament), I was soon asked to stand and was ushered out politely by an aide.

Long story short, in the end, I got what I fought for! Who said that you can’t steer those high and mighty institutions? I mean both – the one which aggrieved me and the other which I took my grievances to!

The second work-related fight is still new and is very sensitive at the moment. I wouldn’t go into details but please know that I also got what I fought for and I continue to hope that no other obstacles will come my way as a result of this latest stir. I love my work and I wouldn’t dream of losing it, taking into consideration, that is, the sole responsibility I face of looking after a big and extended family.

The main purpose of relating this story is to inspire others to fight for their rights and not to falter, once started. You should go on, empower yourself by acquiring knowledge – a knowledge of your limitations, a must – and don’t just give up! As I’ve always told those who have come to me in the past and those who I’ve met lately on cyberspace:

If you know and really believe that what you’re into is right, then go on and fight! Be not afraid and remember that RIGHT will always WIN over WRONG!

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: August 24, 2001 

 

 

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On overseas Filipinos’ right to vote

THE media, nowadays, is buzzing with talks on overseas Filipinos’ right to vote – and this, despite the more glaring news of one newly-elected senator’s alleged involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering activities and the recent attempt to establish the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by way of a plebiscite, has made well-known newspaper columnists to feast on the subject.

The current frenzy has actually been fired off by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s mention, in her first State of the Nation Address or SONA, of the overseas Filipinos’ right to suffrage. In that July 23, 2001 feisty address, she asked the 12th Congress to enact a law allowing the overseas Filipinos to vote.

It is indeed ironic that in such a democratic country as the Philippines, one sector, comprising seven million qualified voters – the overseas Filipinos – has been left out in the exercise of one of the fundamental rights of her citizenry. It is not that the overseas Filipinos, per se, are not allowed to vote. They are, of course, but the mechanism to put their right into action has never been concretized since the amendment of the Philippine Constitution in 1987. Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines states:

“The Congress shall provide a system for securing the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot as well as a system for absentee voting by qualified Filipinos abroad.”

To those of us overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have been unaware – after all we are far away from the country and too busy earning a living – of the goings-on in the process of passing or enacting laws that would govern our motherland Philippines, the first question which comes to mind, once confronted with the above-given fact, is: “What the hell have those elected lawmakers been doing all this time?” For it is now 14 years, indeed, since the Constitution provided that absentee voting right to the overseas Filipinos and how come only now a President is vocally asking the Congress to enact a law? Something is really wrong in here!

Certain members of both the House of Representatives and Senate, of course, have authored a number of Absentee Voting (AV) bills in the past, with President Macapagal-Arroyo, herself, at one time, proposing a similar one to the Senate. Some got read and deliberated upon, like the House Bill 10720 and Senate Bill 1746, which have almost reached the last stage preparatory to final enactment by the 11th Congress. The early events leading to former President Estrada’s removal from Malacanang, accordingly, have prevented the proposed bills to be enacted into law. Campaigners then were eyeing for the May 2001 elections to be the first of those voting exercises to be enjoyed by overseas Filipinos.

The overseas Filipinos, themselves, have been actively working on their fundamental right to suffrage. The first group to be recognized as relentless campaigners of the AV bills is Europe-based Platform of Filipino Migrant Organisations in Europe or simply Platform. Its member organizations originate from Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Greece, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Ireland.

In August 1998, the group sent 20 representatives to the Philippines in what it termed as “Platform Advocacy Delegation Visit to the Philippines” and successfully held dialogues with then President Estrada, members of the House of Representatives and Senate and a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Presented by the group was its “Migrant Agenda” with absentee voting as one of its concerns. This was repeated in August 2000.

This year, specifically on August 19 to 23, an “Overseas Filipinos Advocacy Visit to the Philippines 2001” will unfold, ably organized by Platform in cooperation this time with EMPOWER-The Global Campaign on Overseas Voting and the Philippine-based eLagda, Inc. and KAKAMMPI or Kapisanan ng mga Kamag-anak ng Migranteng Manggagawang Pilipino. The delegation, comprising over 50 overseas Filipinos from Europe, America, Middle East and Asian countries, will, foremost, seek public commitment or official pronouncement from President Macapagal-Arroyo and the 12th Congress for immediate legislation on the Overseas Voting. A one-day forum is scheduled just to discuss about this voting right and non-participating overseas Filipinos are urged to join by way of sending emails or texts to KAKAMMPI officials.

On the Internet, which is now the OFWs’ fastest link to their families and friends back home and abroad, electronic lists or groups and mails also abound with the subject and other matters pertaining to eventual passing of AV bills. Sentiments range from aggressive pronouncements to complacent or non-committal stance among overseas Filipinos, and everyday, more and more people are being caught up in the on-going discussions.

One such body is the OFW-Vote, one of Overseas Filipinos Worldwide’s community of lists. As early as now, plans are being discussed on how the actual electoral process will be conducted, that is, in preparation for the May 2004 elections. Serving as its main campaign in reaching all the overseas Filipino citizens, the Overseas Filipinos Worldwide has sent out, early this year, a Petition Letter which is currently going around.

OFW-Suite101 is joining the campaign and I would like to encourage readers and supporters of this OFW topic to sign the Petition (as presented below) and to spread the word around. Overseas Filipinos are also encouraged to join the main OFW-Vote mailing list and the fast-sprouting geographical links, and become a part of a working group which will later on be established in specific voting areas abroad. To join, please go to Overseas Filipinos Worldwide.

Nothing can stop us now to enjoy our only right to become active players in the affairs of our beloved country. Let us not just be hailed as economic saviors, or modern-day heroes, let us also, and most importantly, be taken seriously this time by our country’s leaders and lawmakers! Let us not rest until we get that right to suffrage. It is high time that we choose those who we believe are best able to look after our affairs, as well as those of our loved ones!


PETITION LETTER OF OVERSEAS FILIPINOS TO THE PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT ON OUR RIGHT TO VOTE

WE, Filipinos working outside the Philippines, strongly urge President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, members of the Administration Party, the Opposition and all prospective Legislators in the 12th Congress, to prioritize and ensure the passage of a law that will allow us to exercise our inalienable right to vote, a right that is enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

The Philippine Congress has, in fact, been mandated by the Constitution to pass a law enabling overseas Filipinos to participate in electing officials that would run our country. Article V, Section 2 states that “Congress shall provide a system for securing the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot as well as a system for absentee voting by qualified Filipinos abroad.”

In this age of a globalized economy, we have made our mark in the world as “internationally shared human resources.” We have certainly made our mark in the Philippine economy: in 1999 alone our remittances totaled $7 billion, an amount equivalent to a fifth of the country’s total export earnings for that year. For this we have been hailed as “modern-day heroes” by politicians and the media.

But we find this to be little more than empty rhetoric. The reality is that we are forced by economic circumstances to labor far from home, to save our families from poverty and starvation.

The Philippine Government, meanwhile, profits from the sweat of our toil through the billions of dollars generated annually from our remittances and fees. And yet no clear mechanism exists to ensure the protection and promotion of our rights as migrant workers. This fact alone, if nothing else, makes it imperative for the Philippine Government to hasten the process in all government levels to ensure that we may exercise our right to vote in the soonest time possible.

We demand that Congress deliberate and approve an enabling law for Absentee Voting at the earliest possible opportunity. We also demand that the appropriate government bodies, OFW representation, and Congress ensure that our voices are heard regarding issues we face as overseas Filipino workers.

OUR CALL TO ACTION: We cannot allow the government who calls us “modern-day heroes” to continue to deprive us of this very basic right. We want this May Elections to be the last time we will be denied our right to Suffrage. Although the next election is still three years away, passing an enabling law is just the first step in making this a reality. There is still a lot of work to be done.

Signed:

Special request from Overseas Filipinos Worldwide: PLEASE COPY this on to a new email message, sign the bottom (NAME, EMAIL, ORGANIZATION (if any) and LOCATION, and forward it to everyone on your distribution lists. If you receive this list with more than 100 names on it, please e-mail a copy of it to: OFW-Vote@yahoogroups.com or OFW-Vote-owner@yahoogroups.com

(Send after every 100 names.) Even if you decide not to sign, please be considerate and do not kill the petition. We will be running this petition until December 8, 2001.

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: August 17, 2001

 

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Worse than Iraqi invaders

DR. Fawzi Elhami Ali, one of OFW-Suite101 frequent visitors, observed it right when he noted in a previous Discussion:

“It’s a sad situation . . . that the Filipino officials entrusted with solving the OFWs’ problems are in fact prolonging their suffering and profiting from it. In this way, I find these officials no less cruel to the Filipino claimants than the Iraqi invaders of Kuwait!”

It is indeed a sad situation, and abominable, especially hearing such a comment from a non-Filipino!

The officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) manning the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat (PCCCS), since the mess involving fund distribution to claimants was exposed early last year, have continuously denied and vigorously covered their anomalous activities. But the facts and figures presented – in public at that – by the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) prove, without reasonable doubt, that the officials have indeed misused the compensation fund which should have been long distributed to the rightful claimants. One has only to read the numerous decisions, reports and recommendations, and press releases on the UNCC website in order to draw an intelligent conclusion. The tales of difficulties faced by and disheartening experiences of concerned Filipinos in the whole process of claiming their grossly-delayed compensation from PCCCS are also living witnesses to the anomalies committed by these Philippine government officials!

A long 11 years

IT IS eleven years today since Iraq invaded her neighboring Kuwait. For seven agonizing months, Iraqis occupied and ransacked Kuwait and terrorized her people. Imagine how those individuals battled the dangers – unfathomable ones – to their lives.

Soon after the liberation of Kuwait, the United Nations Security Council declared it just for Iraq to pay for its misdeeds (please read Resolution 687, 692, and 986). Thus the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) was created. The UNCC, after setting up rules and regulations, almost immediately sent out forms, through representative governments, for distribution to people and institutions affected. Members of the UNCC Governing Council, early then, deemed it URGENT that the people who suffered during the invasion be compensated for their losses! (Please read Claims Processing).

After January 1, 1995, through Decision 23: [S/AC.26/Dec.23 (1994); 21 October 1994], the UNCC stopped accepting further individual claims. Shortly thereafter, it began sending out payments to duly approved claimants, prioritizing Category ‘B’ claims (serious personal injury or death) through their governments. In October 1995, the UNCC approved to release to the Philippine government US$155,000.00 for distribution to 45 approved ‘B’ claimants. (Please refer to Decision 32: [S/AC.26/Dec.32 (1995); 12 October 1995], Decision 26: [S/AC.26/Dec.26 (1994); 15 December 1994], and Decision 27: [S/AC.26/Dec.27 (1995); 22 March 1995]).

The Philippine government sent out word about the release of fund only in the early months of 1996.The 45 names of those successful claimants were published front page of the maiden issue of Pinoy Expat News or PEN, an independent paper circulating in Kuwait in early to mid 1996. Filipino ‘B’ claimants, accordingly, began receiving their compensations shortly thereafter. Between 1996 to 1997, the PCCC was quiet while the UNCC continued to release funds to other governments whenever it received then from the 30% revenues from Iraq’s petroleum and other petroleum products sales. At the moment, UNCC is receiving 25% share under the “oil-for-food” provision of the UN Security Council.

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In early 1998, news came out from the DFA announcing new fund releases from UNCC for some 1,846 claimants under Category A and C. I was entrusted then, luckily enough, by Philippine Embassy officials in Kuwait, to disseminate the information. It was also published front page of the Pinoy News, another publication and the last of my failed newspapering ventures in Kuwait. Sadly, that was the last public announcement made by the DFA. It also ceased to make public the list of successful claimants.

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Approval of those 1,846 claims by UNCC was contained in two separate decisions: Decision 28: [S/AC.26/Dec.28 (1995); 22 March 1995] subtitled ‘Decision Concerning the Second Instalment of Claims for Departure from Iraq or Kuwait (Category “A” Claims)’ and Decision 36: [S/AC.26/Dec.36 (1996); 30 May 1996], ‘Decision Concerning the Second Instalment of Individual Claims for Damages up to US$ 100,000 (Category “C” Claims).’ Nearing the end of each of the UNCC’s decisions on claims approval, one may read the following:

Reaffirms that when funds become available, payments shall be made in accordance with Decision . . .” (Decision numbers change according to the claims type and installment bracket).

The missing link, presumably released between late 1996 till mid-1997, is the first-ever payments made to Category A claimants, totaling all to 550. The particular UNCC decision noted that US$2,192,500.00 in funds were approved for payment. The amount was later corrected to US$2,195,000.00.

Suspension of delinquent governments

The Governing Council of the UNCC ruled in Decision 18: [S/AC.26/Dec.18 (1994); 24 March 1994] entitled ‘Distribution of Payments and Transparency’ that each government, upon receipt of funds from the UNCC, shall distribute same to the claimants within six months. Thereafter, the government has another three months to report on its payment activities. Should it fail to do as specified, the Council “may decide not to distribute further funds to that particular Government.”

This pronouncement by the Council has lately been emphasized by its inclusion, beginning on its October 26, 2000 press release. Previous nine press releases on payments made by UNCC – the first of which was dated April 22, 1999 – didn’t include this particular provision. For easy reference, I would like to quote the statement (page 2, last paragraph) in full:

The Governing Council monitors the distribution of payments to claimants by the relevant Governments and international organizations. Governments and international organizations are obliged to distribute funds to the successful claimants expeditiously and to report to the Commission on payments made to claimants. Any funds undistributed to claimants by Governments and international organizations within twelve months of receiving payment shall be returned to the Commission. Further payments to the Governments and international organizations shall be suspended where they fail to report on the distribution of funds to successful claimants or fail to return undistributed funds on time.”

Fund releases by UNCC

On the UNCC website, release of funds for successful claimants showed to have been reported initially on April 22, 1999. In my long years of following up the payments, I still couldn’t find the dates of fund releases prior to the initial date shown. From April 1999 until the latest release dated July 19,2001 (very recent, take note), the UNCC has made 13 releases of compensation money, now totaling to US$12.6 billion. The dates mentioned are: April 22, 1999; July 8, 1999; September 23, 1999; October 14, 1999; November 1, 1999; February 17, 2000; March 17, 2000; June 8, 2000; September 6, 2000; October 26, 2000; January 25, 2001; May 17, 2001; and July 19, 2001.

Out of these 13 fund releases, only once – on February 17, 2000 – was the Philippines included among those countries given funds by the UNCC!

Suspended or not suspended?

The recent expose’ of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) reported that PCCCS Secretary General Bayani Mangibin vehemently denied that the Philippine government was ever suspended by the UNCC. The same way that PCCCS Deputy Secretary General Sinforiano Mendiola denied, when I asked him during a face-to-face interview held in Manila last July 21, 2000.

According to PCIJ’s Alecks Pabico, Mangibin, when confronted with the issue, slipped and admitted that the Philippines was indeed suspended. But the suspension didn’t hold for long, he claimed!

Suspended or not suspended, the fact remains that thousands of Filipino claimants, who all received initial payments in 1997, are still awaiting release of their full payments by the PCCCS officials. The fund has long been released by the UNCC – on February 17, 2000 to be exact – yet majority of these claimants are still not receiving any single penny.

My wild guess? The Philippines has been suspended alright by the UNCC, countless times, I should say. As the deadline set by the UNCC had already lapsed (within one year after receiving the fund – released, as repeatedly mentioned, on February 17, 2000) the PCCCS was not looking for another suspension after having been suspended in the past. It happened before, it can happen again. Meanwhile, it keeps in the bank the US$15.5 million it received since early 2000. How much interest, do you think, has it incurred since then? The claimants? Ah . . . they can wait!

Poor Filipino claimants, victims indeed of their own government officials – DFA officials, who, in the first place, are supposed to protect their rights!

Dr. Fawzi is right, these officials are no less cruel than the Iraqi invaders of Kuwait. But I would say that these officials are worse than the Iraqi invaders!


OFW-Suite101, in the past 14 months, has extensively covered the subject on the compensation claims by Filipino victims of the 1990-1991 Invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War. For more detailed information, please visit the following articles:

On Gulf war comp claims – published on May 2, 2000 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/over…

Pinoy Gulf War claims: facts and figures, Part 1 – June 6, 2000 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/over…

Pinoy Gulf War claims: facts and figures, Part 2 – July 4, 2000 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/over…

Pinoy Gulf War claims, an update – October 3, 2000 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/over…

UNCC completes payments to Pinoy claimants – November 7, 2000 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/over…

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: August 2, 2001

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My saga continues . . .

ONE way or the other, each one of us takes his/her own share of the world’s ills. Depending on our strength – gained or inherent – we either succeed or fail. But sure – we all fight in order to survive! Those who failed, I believe, didn’t gain enough “experience” to deal with the stress, or might have just started to have the experience and the problem being faced is already serious or life-threatening!

I consider myself blessed to have undergone a lot of trials in life and I’ve learned early on that I become a stronger person each time I overcome one. As in rainy days, my life’s “pours” come incessantly. Yet each pour has given me the experience to battle bravely the coming ones!

“I won’t be surprised if a bomb falls over my head right this very moment!,” I remember telling my husband after reading a report of my first post-operative CT scans. Complications, yes, but I tell you – not the first! Let me continue with my saga . . .

Diabetes

On the sixth day of my confinement at the Kuwait Cancer Control Center (KCCC), I was informed by the head of the Oncology Team assigned to my case, that my blood sugar was continuously elevated. This could be because of the intravenous fluids I’ve received, and was still receiving (his eyes focused on the 5% Dextrose currently running) or as a result of my body’s reaction to the stress. Oh, no, I said, unbelieving and dismayed, yet very aware of the possibility!

So, I have diabetes as well! I know that I got it from my mother, who, if you remember, had her right leg amputated last year because of a gangrenous foot.

It seemed that the list of my own share of the world’s ills was adding up by the leaps. Brittle bone disease (or Osteogenesis Imperfecta), deteriorating hearing loss, diminishing eyesight, cancer and now diabetes! Hmm . . . what next?

The rest of my 11-day hospital confinement passed by uneventful. The pains I endured from daily needle pricks; gradual removal of the various tubes connected to my body (with naso-gastric tube the worst of all!) and from the still fresh 18-cm long surgical wound on my tummy were all temporarily forgotten when I was finally discharged. Actually I asked to be discharged – ahead of the time-frame established by the onco team – because I was terribly missing my own bed!

You guessed it right. First thing I did upon reaching home was to connect to the internet. I was very excited about the emails which have accumulated in my mailbox. Although my husband had been supplying me daily (all throughout the 11 days I stayed in the hospital) with emails from known relatives and friends, a lot were still there waiting to be read, mostly from members of the three mailing lists I subscribe to. Of course, all the junk mails had already been deleted by my thoughtful hubby. He’s really an angel, you know!

When it was time for the stitches to be removed, I went back to KCCC, happy with the knowledge that I will soon be freed from the irritating dressing and tapes over my surgical wound. The first 14 stitches, starting from up (1 and ½ inches above my navel), went without problem. Grip, cut, pull, grip, cut, pull – so went the forceps and scissors continuously. I felt very less pain. Ah . . . but I was wise enough to take pain killers before leaving the house!

When the surgeon reached the last four remaining stitches, he felt something extra soft, pressed down the skin a little too hard and ‘snap’ went the third and fourth to the last stitches! Serous fluid then oozed out, a lot, believe me!

Voila! Good “new” diabetes was doing its job very well! With two pieces of gauze stuffed inside the opening, I was finally sent home with instruction to come for a daily dressing.

E. coli infection

The following day, I was informed that the culture and sensitivity report (from a body discharge taken prior to the surgery) finally arrived and showed positive for E. coli infection. Not again!

Ah well, I said, antibiotics can easily solve the problem – as it did to an E. coli infection of urinary tract I had over a year ago! The doctor prescribed antibiotics alright but alas not the tablet or capsule kind but the intravenous (IV) one, to be taken every 12 hours! Needle pricks again! Will I ever finish?

It really helped being a nurse. You know what I did? I asked for an IV line to be established – as I know I won’t be able to take the twice a day pricks into my veins. I already developed this “needle phobia” and besides, most of my veins were already collapsed. Now, picture me with this needle-guided thin plastic tube imbedded into a vein in my arm. The tiny tube was connected to a long bigger tube curled around and taped to the base of my left lower arm with a small plastic stoppage at the end. Each time I was due for the antibiotic push, I would remove the tapes, uncurl the tube, open the plastic covering the stoppage, and push the antibiotic solution via a disposable syringe, grimace a bit because of the pain felt as the cold solution passes through my vein and then do the action in reverse.

Oh, yes, I was doing it to my self at home – most of the time alone or with my husband’s assistance! Why not, I protested, when my husband initially refused for me to do the IV push in the house! It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last! I was referring then to the first one (in a series of many episodes) I did while serving a private hospital during the infamous invasion and occupation of Kuwait by Iraq. (Please see related stories A call of duty, Part 1 and A call of duty, Part 2). Because of the scarcity of staff and the lack of time to properly imbibe food, I resorted then to giving myself an IV shot of Vit. C with calcium – alone in the ward! The fastest way I know to regain the strength continuously lost by lack of sleep and food – just like I was a drug addict!

Self-pity

During one of those recent IV pushing actions, I experienced this profound feeling of self-pity. It was actually triggered by my difficulty in removing one of the sticky tapes holding the curled tube in place. I was already using both my right hand and mouth but each time I made a move I was feeling the thin tube imbedded under my skin moving out of place. Exasperated, I almost pulled the whole thing out, especially after my right elbow accidentally pushed the syringe – full of antibiotic solution I prepared earlier – down to the carpet! Luckily enough, I managed to stop myself. I cried instead and all those unshed tears in the past days suddenly gushed out uncontrollably! Oh God, please help me, I shouted! Help me overcome this insignificant difficulty and please take me out from this pit of self-destruction and self-pity!

After I recovered from that soul-searching episode, I got up revivified, to prepare another antibiotic solution ready for another try. When it was time to remove the sticky tape, I didn’t encounter any difficulty. The tape just went easily! Unknowingly, the tears, which flowed down earlier to my left arm resting on my lap, sipped underneath the tape.

Oh, what a wonder! I then smiled and felt this unexplainable peace in my heart!

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: July 27, 2001

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Surviving cancer in a foreign land

IN the past 12 years of my stint abroad as an overseas Filipino worker, never did I think that I will ever face a “death” sentence. Yes a death sentence – not as a consequence of a crime committed but because of having the most dreaded and deadly human disease as cancer! Thousands and thousands of miles away from my immediate family and country, having had to face this life’s ultimate ordeal is something, in itself, very debilitating! I thought that I will have to deal only with earning dollars so I can provide the best for my family back home in the Philippines! I was wrong!

I admit that I was really caught off-guard with the shocking diagnosis I received that fateful day of November 16, 2000! Who wouldn’t, anyway! Foremost on my mind was not the fear of dying – it came to fore much later as I went through the process of accepting my fate. Ah, the fear I had then!

Who will take care of my ailing mother, old nanny and youngest sister? Who will look after my two children and adopted son? Who will provide the needs of my other siblings? Who will help those breadwinners under my employ? Who will look after the interest of our land which I painstakingly redeemed numerous times from various individuals? I fear the land will go because, sad to say, my siblings’ hard-up situation will force them to sell the land. Then my wildest dream of having the happiest and the most beautiful family compound will all go to naught!

Those were the questions I asked then. Of course, they were asked because I thought I will die soon! Funny, really, how the word ‘cancer’ can make us think immediately of death!

Actually, these very real responsibilities I have, were the ones which helped me fight back and stay convicted to live a long, long life! I tell you, there was once a time when I was in the last thread of hope that I asked God to end my life! Be quick with it, oh Lord, I prayed. Looking back, I strongly believe, that it was the time when I realized that God didn’t want to end my life. I strongly believe that He just wanted to shake me and tell me that: “Hey, you’ve been too much engrossed in helping others that you forgot to help yourself! Wake up and attend to your ailing body and reestablish your priorities in life!”

From then on, I faced my “death” sentence with renewed vigor! I promised myself that I will never, never allow my body to be wasted away by this dragon! As you know, some parts of my body were already removed and lately, as a consequence of another not-so-common human disease named Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) I inherited from my late father, two new bony areas are slowly wasting away. This, of course, along with my fast deteriorating hearing loss, is not connected to the cancer. I understand that some more parts will possibly be involved in the years to come but I don’t care! I will fight this monster until the last breath of my life! Even if I have to crawl in order to go to work! I want to be strong and I want to keep my body working for as long as it takes to function!

Since the publication of my article “Woes of an OFW” last December 5, 2000, so many people, known and unknown to me, have sent emails to ask about me. The steady flow of emails I received, especially the ones from the three mailing lists (two were created by me prior to my cancer diagnosis) I subscribe to, actually kept me going and amidst the trials I continuously faced, I slowly emerged from my temporary downfall into a stronger, positive and fighting demeanor!

The initial shock of the diagnosis started to wear off when I began to learn about my disease. The internet suddenly became my ally! I spent the next 10 hours or so, after hearing the bad news from my gynecologist, searching the web.

Leiomyosarcoma – such strange-sounding word! How do you get one, I asked then? Because I remember the doctor told me before that the fibroid is never malignant! Then how come I had a cancerous fibroid tumor? Leiomyosarcoma, or LMS for short, is a very rare form of cancer affecting the soft (smooth muscle) tissues of the body. And according to one of my readings, LMS is known for its high metastatic activity! Oh, my, what now? The tumor was already removed after invading my uterus. Where else can it go, I asked then.

More search and I was finally taken to this mailing list which later has become my lifeline as I struggled to accept my life-threatening ordeal. The mailing list – The Leiomyosarcoma (cancer) Online Support Group – has provided me with accurate information and the latest innovative management for my type of LMS! I really am thankful to God I found the list because it has saved me from having to accept from the not-so-knowledgeable-on-LMS oncologists in Kuwait their standard practice of subjecting a “high grade” cancer patient to chemotherapy and radiation. The caring members of the list warned me that LMS does not, if at all, respond to chemotherapy and radiation.

Another major surgery

Just over a month after undergoing my first ever major surgery – myomectomy, to remove the fibroid tumor from my uterus – I was again wheeled to the operating room last November 29, 2000. The operation, according to my husband, lasted for nearly five hours. The surgeons, after removing my uterus, two ovaries, two fallopian tubes and cervix, took their time in looking into my other organs for possible infiltration of the cancerous tumor. My appendix went, along with a very “suspicious” nodule above my small bowel.

What else did they remove? I remember asking my husband as soon as I regained consciousness. I was informed beforehand, and was made to sign a paper testifying to the knowledge, that the surgeons may remove other organs aside from our previously agreed ones (the whole reproductive organs) if needed. Did they remove my stomach, or part of it? What about my intestines? My liver? My spleen? My gallbladder? My kidneys? My urinary bladder and ureters? Oh my, you should see the expression on my husband’s face!

As related by my husband, he had difficulty controlling his tears, when he saw me after the surgery. It was too much for him to take and he wished no other husbands will ever be subjected to the same situation he faced! I was white as a paper, he said, and all kinds of tubes, bottles and bags were connected to my body. He could hardly see my face because of the oxygen mask covering almost all area of my tiny face. I have one large tube connected to my nose; another tube to the right side of my neck (central venous line) where three bottles of solution were simultaneously connected; a tube connected to my left arm where blood was dripping from a bag; a tube on both sides of my lower abdomen where drains from my abdominal cavity were pouring into weird-looking bags; and another tube for draining of urine. A funny-looking object was also connected to my right index finger (was reminded of ET, the movie) which gave off a sound every time my vital signs showed below or above normal. My chest was full of numerous small round patches connected, by tiny wires, to another machine which monitored my heart. And one tiny wire connected to my back – the only tube, in fact, which I welcomed gladly – which supplied my body with pain-relieving medication. In one hour, I was allowed to press the button four times, and the machine will pump the heavenly drug into my system.

I stayed in the Recovery Room (Intensive Care Unit) five days and four nights. By the time I was moved to my room in the Female Ward (of the Kuwait Cancer Control Center), I only had three tubes – the central venous line and the two ones connected to both sides of my lower abdomen for draining out the secretions from inside my cavity.

My saga continues, my dear readers, on the second part of this long-overdue story.

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: July 20, 2001

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Woes of an OFW

WHAT you are going to read this time is extraordinary. It is not what I planned to write about but because of my present predicament, which you will learn shortly, I feel unable to function normally as I should. I ask you, please, to read the following letter which I sent to the members of OFW Club mailing list I administrate. It is my wish to make you understand the woes of an OFW.

By the time this article comes out, I will still be in the hospital.

My dear friends and members of this Cyberkadahan,

Year 2000 – the Year of OFWs – so it seems, is not a good one for me. What I have been through so far could have made anyone lose hope and faith in God. Yet, here I am – physically and emotionally scarred and spiritually near-drained – still trying to understand why I have gone through (and still am continuing to) a lot of trials.

We have heard it often enough that a person can only take as much and that God, in all His unfathomable wisdom, won’t give us something we can’t handle. How true is this to each one of you? And how far, do you think you can go in facing the hurdles of life? Especially if they are given to you one after another?

Please bear with me, my dear friends, as this message will be a long one. I know that there are lessons to be learned from my story and I would love to share it with you all. I hope that there’s no one among you who’s facing more than I do now. I really don’t know because most of you had been very quiet recently. Some of you may also be going through a lot this year and I would like to believe that I’m not alone!

When I learned early March this year (just 3 weeks after suffering for the first time from acute urinary tract infection – ah the pain and the discomfort!) that the fibroid tumor (discovered still small last year) had started to grow uncontrollably inside my womb (uterus), and that both my fallopian tubes are blocked (crushing all my hopes of conceiving the natural way), I was devastated! Initially, the doctor advised removal of the tumor by surgery. Ever hopeful (Waleed and I) that I can still conceive through IVF (test tube), we asked for non-surgical option. In April, I commenced taking Inj. Zoladex and continued until mid-September. All along I suffered the side effects, which, believe me, had put a lot of strain in my inter-personal relationships with colleagues at work, and with Waleed, insofar as my marriage was concerned. Any ordinary man or husband could have, literally, thrown me out of his life! Through Waleed’s love and friends’ support, I passed through the six months period of treatment.

In early April, my mother was rushed to the hospital because of an infected wound in her right foot. Two weeks after my Mom was discharged from the hospital with a clean bill, I received news that my children’s Nanny’s father died. Soon after that my Mom’s foot was discovered gangrenous and she had to be rushed to the hospital again. By May 4, I was beside my Mom as she fought for the infection on her leg and lungs. May 6 when I experienced a chest-suffocating pain (similar to the one I felt when my father died in 1981) after seeing my Mom in the Recovery Room minutes after her right leg (from 2 inches below the knee) was amputated. May 8, my old Nanny (who used to be my Mom’s personal maid when she was younger) collapsed and had a convulsion because of high fever. She was also rushed to the hospital where my Mom was and subsequently treated for pneumonia and later for TB of the bones.

When I returned to Kuwait on May 19, I started to feel the side effects of the sleepless nights and unrelieved tension I went through while looking after my Mom and Nanny in the hospital. I experienced for the first time the worst headache you can ever imagine of! And also first time in my life that I spent my birthday (May 26) writhing in pain in bed!

The ensuing three months came out uneventful – except for a drained savings – as I needed to see my mother again (July/August). First week of September, my eldest son, who I excitedly and happily enrolled last May in college, dropped all his subjects and refused to go back to school! Then exactly a month after that, my nephew, whose college education I was financing, also dropped out just before the final exams! Gone with the wind the nearly P70,000 I spent for the two – tuition fees, dorm fees, food and personal allowances + books and personal things!

Then exactly a month after I took the last of the injections, it was discovered that the tumor didn’t shrink and it even grew bigger! Surgery was the only option left and on October 19, I was ‘knifed’ by a surgeon. I need not tell you the pain and discomfort I suffered after the anesthesia wore off! And while recovering, I still have to endure more pain because of gas accumulation in my stomach and intestines. And I still suffer from the gas pain up to this very moment!

Do you think all is well after the tumor has been removed? NO, and it’s for this that I’m now posting this long message to you all.

Yesterday (November 16, 2000), I was notified to see my doctor. When I went late in the afternoon with Waleed, we were told that the biopsy report turned out positive for malignancy! Oh yes, my dear friends, I have CANCER of the uterus! Although suspecting it all along, I was still in shock – not because I may be dying soon (I fully accept the fact that we will all die sooner or later and that it is not in our hands to decide when it will happen) –it’s more on the realization that I won’t ever, ever produce an offspring for my beloved husband! I will have to be knifed again, as you must have guessed by now, and this time the whole lot – uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and cervix – will be removed! And it will have to be done ASAP – within this week, most probably, just a month after I was last cut surgically.

My main worries, aside from not being able to produce anymore a child for Waleed, are my children and family members: mainly my mother, my youngest sister and my old Nanny who are all medically unfit; my other younger sister whose husband is under my employ (my own special way of dole-out actually), my older sister with her two boys who I am temporarily supporting, and my only brother who is also dependent on my support. I also worry about the three family breadwinners under my employ: two as caretakers of my Mom, sister and old Nanny and another one as helper in the house. I also am worried about Arlo – my adopted son (a member of a cultural minority group) who is doing well in his studies (Vocational course). I promised him the last time that he’ll join me here in Kuwait as soon as he gets his diploma. What will happen to them all should my body finally waste off?

I can’t afford to die now! Please, oh Lord, not yet! My family needs me and I wouldn’t want to forsake them!

Sorry, I am being overly dramatic, I know, and I may sound corny to some of you. But, please, just indulge me this very moment. After all, we may never get to “see” each other in the future!

If you don’t hear from me in 2 to 3 days’ time – that means that I’m in the hospital again. All I ask of you is to pray for me: that the cancer cells have not invaded other parts of my body. I don’t want to run after every part of my body just to prolong my life. Let it be localized only in my reproductive organs and if it turns out otherwise, let me die the soonest!

Again, so sorry I am, my dear cyberfriends for giving you my worries.

In tears,

Freda

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: December 5, 2000

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