“We will fight for this, because we do not want others to be victimized.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
STO. DOMINGO, Nueva Ecija – Ana Marie Gonzales, 28, was only one signature away from getting the same fate as Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipina on deathrow in Indonesia. If not for her gut feel and anxiety that she would be terribly homesick, Gonzales said, she would have agreed and signed a contract to work abroad.
She did not. But it does not mean that she is letting her recruiters walk free.
Gonzales and three others filed a large-scale and syndicated illegal recruitment case against Veloso’s recruiters Ma. Kristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao, and it was their complaint that led to the arrest of the two. Sergio and Lacanilao entered a not guilty plea before the Sto. Domingo Regional Trial Court in Nueva Ecija, a town 140 kilometers north of Manila.
“Tintin (Sergio) asked me several times if I want to work abroad. I told her that I do not have papers. But she said that it is not a problem because they will take care of my passport and my medical (exam) and that all I need to worry about is my fare,” Gonzales told Bulatlat.com.
Sometime in September 2014, at around 10 p.m., Sergio arrived at her home asking if she could sign “some papers” so she could work abroad. She told Gonzales that there are lots of opportunities abroad and that she could work in a place of her choice.
“But at that time I became reluctant. I also thought of Mary Jane,” she said. Veloso had been languishing in prison in Indonesia for four years at that time.
Six months later, Sergio and Lacanilao were arrested. And Gonzales could not be any more relieved.
‘Tintin was good to me’
Lorna Mitch Valino, 20, said she used to have nothing but praises for Sergio, her neighbor and regular customer for manicure.
“She was really good to me. She would always tell me that opportunities await abroad. I told her I do not have money. She said she would wait when I am at a right age to qualify for work,” said Valino, who was only 16 years old when Sergio attempted to recruit her.
Valino, now a mother of a two-year-old boy, said she was very ecstatic when she was offered the job. “All I said was, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’”
But when Valino’s mother learned of the offer, she told her not to go. At that time, Valino said, there were already rumors about Veloso’s fate. Whenever Sergio talked to Valino, she asked: Has she heard the rumors circulating in the village? Does she believe it?
“I told her I have no idea because I stay in our house most of the time,” Valino said.
Sergio would always tell her, “Only God knows the truth.”
When Veloso’s case was already out in the public, Sergio stopped getting manicure services from Valino. She also observed how Sergio was avoiding her. When the two saw each other at the National Bureau of Investigation back in May, Valino could not believe how her neighbor and regular customer denied ever knowing her.
But her determination to pursue the case is not without risk. She said there have been threats against their family. Valino said she was told that she better prepare all the canned goods she could get her hands on because ultimately, she is the one who would end up in jail.
But Valino said she is not afraid.
“We will fight for this, because we do not want others to be victimized,” she said.
Though Veloso’s fate was already an “open secret” in their neighborhood, both Gonzales and Valino said it was nearly impossible to resist Sergio’s offer. Both agreed on two things: Sergio gave excellent “sales talk,” and fed on their desire to uplift their living conditions.
Gonzales’ husband sells bread. If sales are good, her husband could bring home $3. But most of the time, they would be lucky enough if they have at least $2. On the side, the couple also sell balot (unfertilized duck egg).
Valino’s family rely on tilling a small parcel of land, growing rice, onion and vegetables. Most of their produce would be for their consumption. If they are lucky, they could sell some in the market.
Migrante International deputy secretary general Mic Catuira said it is not surprising that women who nearly have the same “story” as Veloso would fall victim to such recruitment scheme.
Veloso, a mother of two young boys and whose husband was a tricycle driver, trustingly agreed to Sergio’s offer to work as a domestic helper in Malaysia.
“It is common thinking among Filipinos that they would prefer to be together in times of crisis. But the actual situation is that their income could not cover the increasing prices of goods and services. So despite wanting to stay together, they are forced to choose otherwise,” he told Bulatlat.com.
Catuira noted that while the other complainants did not leave the country as Mary Jane did, “they were seriously tempted because they want to have a comfortable life.” He added that most of the victims do not have steady income and described themselves as “dalawang kahig, isang tuka” as their spouses’ income is not enough.
“What do they aspire for? They just want to send their children to a good school. They want financial independence as they still live with their parents. They want to buy their own house,” Catuira said.
He said they have observed the same condition with other victims of illegal recruitment and trafficking as in the case of the so-called D.C. Teachers, who were illegally recruited to work as teachers in the U.S.
Catuira said that they had thought they would get better salaries, but in reality, they did not.
For Mary Jane, too
Gonzales reportedly withdrew her case against Sergio and Lacanilao. She said there were even rumors that she embraced Sergio during a hearing, and that they have ironed out the issues between them.
But in an interview with Bulatlat.com, Gonzales clarified that it’s not true that she withdrew from the case. She said that she initially wanted to pull-out from the case because she thought that she needed to be in court everyday, which would take a toll on their livelihood. She also denied that she and Sergio embraced.
“Hindi ko binabawi ang mga sinasabi ko, pero talagang malaking abala (I’m not taking back what I had said, but pursuing the case is really time consuming.),” she said.
But the two said they are resolute to pursue the case.
“If it were us who fell victim, wouldn’t we need all the help we can get?” Valino said.
For her part, Gonzales said she might not have the courage to go on if she were in Veloso’s shoes. She added, “I may have given up so easily because I would terribly miss my daughter.”