By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – As a former overseas Filipino worker (OFW), Teresita Lictawa knows the risks one face when leaving the country to work abroad. And when her youngest son Sonny bade farewell one September morning of last year to work in Saudi Arabia, her heart sank.
Half a year later, her hunch was proven right, but her son befell a circumstance worse than what she had ever expected.
While cleaning in his worksite, Sonny, 26, accidentally slipped on the floor in February this year. He took pain relievers and tried to ignore the excruciating pain for fear that his employer might fire him. Five days later, he could no longer endure the pain and told his employer about it. An x-ray showed that his hip bones had serious, dark bruises. Sonny agreed to be sent home and to have his contract terminated as he was no longer fit to work.
“We thought that he would be sent home immediately because it was an emergency that should be dealt with as soon as possible. But that did not happen,” Teresita told Bulatlat in Filipino.
Without anyone to care for him, Sonny slipped again inside the toilet of their living quarters on Feb. 29. This time, he suffered even more serious fractures and left him bedridden in a hospital. Still, it took a month before he was finally repatriated to the Philippines on March 31, empty-handed and needing immediate medical help.
Recently, Teresita lodged a complaint before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) to look into the agency’s apparent neglect of her son’s case and to compel them to provide Sonny his unpaid salary and other damages.
Should she win this case, she said, not only would she be able to secure funds for son’s medical expenses, now amounting to almost a million pesos, but also attain justice for Sonny.
Accident mars young man’s effort to ‘gain experience’
The Lictawa family had relatively enough means to get by. Teresita’s husband, a seaman, earns enough to cover their needs. And when their two sons were still studying, Teresita worked abroad to make ends meet. Still, her two sons followed their footsteps and left the country to find jobs abroad. Her youngest Sonny left first and, soon, her other son found work in Taiwan.
“(Sonny) said he wanted to gain experience. He is an HRM (hotel and restaurant management) graduate and he knows it would be easy to find work abroad,” Teresita recalled.
Her son did not immediately inform his family of his plans. It was only when he was already accepted and was already processing his travel papers and medical examinations that he broke the news to his family. He applied sometime mid-August of 2015 and flew to Saudi Arabia on Sept. 6, about two weeks later.
When Sonny arrived in Riyadh, there was no job waiting for him. He had to wait for about two months before he was deployed to a worksite, where he worked as a shawarma cook instead of the waiter job he signed up for here in Manila. During the two months of waiting for a job, it was Teresita who sent money to his son so he could buy food and other personal needs.
But her son’s harrowing tale was only about to begin. Sonny’s two consecutive accidents left him bedridden.
After Sonny’s second accident, the agency informed them that surgery could be done. But they need to cough up 12,000 Saudi Riyals to pay for her son’s operation. They could not afford it and Sonny was brought home, through the facilitation of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). He did not receive any medical assistance, and it was his insurance that paid for his one month hospitalization in Saudi Arabia and his plane ticket back to Manila.
Sonny was treated at the Philippine Orthopedic Hospital, where he incurred bills amounting to nearly $21,400. He was discharged from the hospital last June 24 but still returns every other day for his therapy.
“We spent all our savings and sold or pawned our possessions,” Teresita said, briefly touching her neck, perhaps remembering a necklace she once had.
The Lictawa family filed a case before the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) against Sonny’s recruitment agency FVJ Overseas Placement, which offered conciliation amounting to $6,000. But the family thought it would be an injustice to his son to accept such meager amount compared to his sufferings.
Finding comfort from other victims of labor migration
On a humid afternoon last Aug. 30, Teresita sat quietly at the patio of the Migrante International’s office in Quezon City. She waited for her turn as she asked a migrant rights activist to look into the complaint she filed before the NLRC and what she should expect from this quasi-judicial body.
“I was lining up at the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Agency) to follow up my son’s case when I overheard somebody say that if the government agency would not act on their case, they would approach Migrante for help,” she said, recalling how she ended up in the office of the migrant rights’ group.
Despite the family’s uphill battle, Teresita said his son remains optimistic that they could get through this.