By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Francisco Caagbay could still remember how a ranking government official tapped his shoulder and said in Filipino, “I got your wife.” But it has been a year since his wife, now bedridden, has made it back to the country and the words and the promises have been replaced by cold silence.
“No nights have passed that I did not shed a tear. It feels like I am losing my sanity,” Caagbay, 50, told Bulatlat in a phone interview.
Caagbay’s wife Estela, a domestic helper in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, had an accident at her employer’s house. She suffered a serious head injury and was in a Saudi hospital for over a year until she was safe enough to be brought back to the Philippines.
She is now bedridden in their home in Lucena, Quezon province. She is on a soft diet and breathes through a tube, following surgery.
After more than three decades of being one of the country’s so-called modern-day heroes, Estela’s family laments that they are now left on their own, without government aid provided to them.
On working abroad
Estela first worked abroad as a domestic helper back in the early 1990s in Singapore. She also worked in Kuwait before she was hired in Riyadh Saudi Arabia. The family relied on her salary and the income of her husband as a tricycle driver to send their son and adopted daughter to school and put food on the table.
She finished her contract as a domestic helper in Riyadh in 2016. But the following year, she decided to return as a “direct hire” after a lending agency went after her. She served as a loan guarantor for individuals who failed to pay their debts amounting to P200,000 ($4,180).
“It started out as a small loan. But because those she guaranteed could no longer afford to pay the monthly dues, the interest began to pile up,” said Caagbay.
Her previous employer took her in again and sent her a ticket to Saudi Arabia. She left the Philippines again in February 2017.
On June 20, 2017, just three months into her new contract, Estela was walking with a tray in her hand when she accidentally stepped on a plastic ware lying on the floor. She slipped and hit her head hard.
Her employer brought her to the hospital, where a doctor checked on her and eventually sent her home with medications. Estela was also told to return after a few days.
Back at her employer’s house, she managed to call her husband and told him what happened. She complained of a headache but assured him she would be fine.
That was the last time they spoke.
Though worried, Caagbay said he just assumed that his wife’s cell phone was no longer working. After all, it had been days since his wife complained that her cellphone would easily heat up. It was only in September that year that he received another call – this time from her wife’s employer, telling him that Estela had been bedridden, and could no longer talk.
No help from the government
Caagbay remembered how shaken he was with the news. But he gathered his resolve to make sure that his wife would be able to return home safely. Meanwhile, for at least a year, Estela was being cared for by her employer at the hospital before she was moved to a nursing home, this time by the Philippine government through its embassy in Riyadh.
“I went to OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration), POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration), and the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs). But each time, I was told to return to another day, leaving me no choice but to go back to Quezon empty-handed,” he told Bulatlat.
He tried the government’s hotline 8888, where he was interviewed, and was even given a reference number. But he never received a return call.
From June 2017 to February 2020, the month his wife finally returned, Caagbay had practically knocked on every door possible, from one government office to another.
His despair even led him to a radio show that promises instant delivery of justice through public shaming. But even that proved to be futile in the face of a systemic injustice that has long been happening among Filipino migrant workers, with scenes of so many families of migrant workers seeking government’s help for their loved ones who have suffered a sorry fate abroad would time and again flash in Caagbay’s mind.
Through migrant rights group Migrante International and its chapter in Saudi Arabia, he was able to bring his wife’s case before government officials during dialogues.
Caagbay also had the opportunity to talk to OWWA Chief Hans Dacdac, who even assured her that, “I got your wife,” with a tap on Caagbay’s shoulder. But more than a year since Estela was brought home, Caagbay has never heard from any government office.
“I only ask for a small consideration for my wife’s hard work abroad. I am not asking anything beyond what is due us,” said Caagbay.
Now back in a rented home in Quezon province, Caagbay takes care of his wife full-time.
Twice or thrice a week, he is forced to leave her on her own while he borrows a tricycle to earn a living. But with the pandemic, his livelihood, too, has been affected.
Caagbay estimates that his wife needs at least P500 ($10) a day to get by – from medication, diapers, and food. To complement her soft diet, Estela needs milk that costs at least P1,500 ($30) every two weeks.
With the pandemic at hand, life has been more difficult for the family, with the limited number of hours that Caagbay could ply the streets of their hometown and the number of passengers he could get along the way.
They managed to get two tranches of aid from the government, amounting to P6,000 ($125) and P5,000 ($104) respectively. All these, Caagbay spent to replenish his wife’s needs.
Migrante – Saudi Arabia said concerned government agencies such as OWWA, POEA, and the Department of Foreign Affairs should extend the much-needed assistance to the Caagbay spouses.
To reach out to Estela’s family for any assistance, please contact her husband Francisco Caagbay through his mobile number, +63995-648-8684.