BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
Vol. VII, No. 13 May 6- 12, 2007
At 2 a.m. of May 3, a day after her birthday, Felisa “Fely” Garcia was finally back home after almost four years in the United States as a domestic helper. But hers was the saddest of all overseas Filipino workers’ return; not because she had no balikbayan boxes containing her pasalubong (bringing home gifts) for friends and relatives; not that her 59th birthday had been forgotten by her children and relatives in Batangas; but what her family and friends had been waiting and wanting to see? her smile and happy gestures when she arrived at the airport ? were not there. There were no warm hugs from Fely as she arrived at the airport inside a box, lifeless.
On October 2003, Ate Fely, as she was fondly called by fellow OFWs, (Overseas Filipino Workers) arrived in the U.S. as a caregiver. Her permanent resident card was issued on that same month, seemingly a realization of a dream for Filipinos in the U.S..
As widow, she supported her four children in the Philippines by working as a domestic helper in New York. Ate Fely used to send $400 almost every month to them.
“My mother was paying for my studies. I’m not sure if I can still go to college, both my parents are dead,” said Gliff John, Garcia’s 17-year old son.
Fely Garcia was found hanging dead in her rented New York Bronx apartment on March 14. In an alleged suicide note that she left behind, she complained of being harassed by her employer, a certain “Wener Oppenheimer”.
“Ito ang tao (Wener Oppenheimer) ang dapat mananagot sa akin. Hinaharash niya ako marami siyang kasalanan sa akin. Nag-sorry na ako di niya ako pinakinggan,” (This is the person, Wener Oppenheimer, who is responsible for my death. He had been harassing me and had done many things to me. I already apologized but he did not listen.) read the suicide note dated March 13 allegedly left by Garcia.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) concluded that it was a suicide based on the four handwritten suicide letters believed to be left by Garcia. But her children and friends could not believe she would end her own life.
Consul Edgar Badjaos earlier reported that according to the Bronx Medical Office which conducted the autopsy, “there was no foul play, no rape or physical abuse (committed) against Garcia.” He said the information paved the way for the repatriation of the body to Manila.
John was so shocked he could not believe his mother would commit suicide.
Fely’s 40-year old brother Garry said, “She was never depressed. She always looked after the interest of her children.”
Tessie Ibanga, landlady of Garcia in the Bronx, could also not believe Garcia committed suicide.
“That night, we were so happy. We were eating together,” recalled Ibanga. “She didn’t say she had problems. We were so relaxed. There were no indications of a forthcoming tragedy.”
Along with the family, leaders of the GABRIELA Women’s Party-list (GWP) and Migrante International, who accompanied Fely’s relatives at the airport to pick up her body, suspected foul play in Garcia’s death.
Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante International Chairperson, said that their group and GWP, together with other organizations in the U.S., demanded for a reinvestigation of the case. She said that cases like this are often “brushed under the rug by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Philippine Consulate officials.”
Filipino community outrage
Last April 29, hundreds from the Filipino community gathered to join Fely’s family in a public wake and community farewell to the Filipina domestic worker at the Greenwich Village Funeral Home in lower Manhattan.
Aside from the prayer service, the event was also highlighted by the presence of Fely’s two sons, Gabriel and John, whose travel expenses to the U.S. were raised by Filipino community groups there.
Eldest son Gabriel Garcia delivered a tearful eulogy to his mother, letting the audience of mainly Filipina domestic workers and youth know who exactly Fely Garcia was.
“Mabuting siyang tao, pinalaki niya kaming lahat na mga anak niya sa mabuting paraan. May pinag-aralan, titser siya sa high school noon sa Batangas at nag trabaho din sa office of the Mayor sa amin,” (She was a good person and she brought us all up in a good way. She was educated, a teacher in high school in Batangas and worked in the office of the Mayor in our province) said Gabriel.