By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA –Mary Grace Travilal, 42, was forced to work abroad because she and her long-time partner Felix Catajay, 62, could no longer afford to send two of their four children to college. She left behind a “beautiful relationship,” as described by Catajay, and their children in the hope to give them a better future.
She left the country on July 7, 2007 and worked as a domestic helper for an old Greek couple in Cyprus. While she was tasked to clean the house once or twice a week, her main job for three years was to assist her female employer in taking care of her husband who is now on a wheelchair.
“At first she said it was very difficult because the couple could not speak English,” Catajay said. As soon as she learned conversational Greek, Catajay related, they became very close to each other. “They were very good to her.”
“The couple knew that Mary Grace missed her family, so they gave her prepaid credits twice a month so she could call us,” Catajay added.
(Photo courtesy of Felix Catajay / bulatlat.com)
However, on September 28, Travilal was rushed by a neighbor to the hospital at around 2:00 p.m. after she complained of chest pains. She spent the night at the hospital and was discharged the following day. Then, on September 30, Travilal was again brought to the hospital, but, this time, was proclaimed dead on arrival. She succumbed to thoracic aortic aneurism at the age of 42.
Since Catajay was out-of-town working at that time, he only found out about the dreadful news on October 1, when his brother-in-law finally managed to contact him. “He told me that we have a problem. And it is a serious one.” He did not know how to inform his children, especially the eldest.
“We could not understand each other over the phone. We were very emotional,” Catajay said.
Catajay said he often wonders if Travilal could have been saved if she underwent surgery when she was first brought to the hospital on September 28. “Maybe they could not do it because it was expensive. But this is hard to prove.”
He was able to contact Migrante International, an OFW group, through a friend. “We went there to seek for advice because we did not know the process of repatriation of remains,” Catajay said, “Migrante’s welfare services staff accompanied us in going to different government offices.”
During the first week of October, they found out, during a dialogue with officers from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), that Travilal was not able to renew her OWWA membership during her three-year stay in Cyprus. Because of this, they were told that they could not avail of death and burial benefits amounting to P120,000 ($2,749). However, OWWA officials said the family could avail of an educational assistance being provided by the OWWA regional office in Korondal City, which has jurisdiction over their hometown in Tacurong.
On October 5, they received a call from Philippine Overseas Labor Office – OWWA in Cyprus that Travilal’s remains would be repatriated later that evening because the insurance company provided by the employer paid for the airfare. They were also informed that the insurance company would not pay for the flight from Manila to General Santos City.
They were supposed to return to OWWA’s main office that day to ask them to arrange a connecting flight from Manila to General Santos city when they received another call from POLO-OWWA Cyprus informing then that the OWWA would not pay for the flight to Genearal Santos city. Because of this, they headed for the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
The DFA official they talked with informed them that Travilal’s remains could not be repatriated without the approval of the Philippine embassy in Greece. But they had to wait until Monday october 11 because they had to prepare all the necessary letters for the embassy’s approval.
As for the connecting flight, “we were asked if we could pay for it. But I told them that I did not have any money,” Catajay said. The DFA official said he would send an endorsement letter to the OWWA main office to help facilitate their request.