By ALDWIN QUITASOL and DELIA BAGNI
BAGUIO CITY — Geraldine Banganan, an igorot of the Mangali tribe of Kalinga, is grateful that non-government organizations (NGOs) and cause-oriented groups helped her and her daughter break free from the maltreatment they were suffering from her Indian husband and in-laws in Chandigarh, India.
Through the initiatives of Innabuyog-Gabriela, Cordillera Women Education and Research Center (CWEARC) in close coordination with the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) and the Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network (APIYN), their partner organizations in India such as the Naga Peoples Movement for human rights, Campaign for Peace and Democracy and Asia Pacific Indigenous Peoples Pact were able to assist Geraldine and her daughter in their escape from their miserable situation. According to the organizations in India, when they talked to Geraldine’s husband Sukhjinder Singh and her in-laws, the family cannot accept her as a member of the family.
According to Geraldine herself, she used to work in Cyprus from 2007. She said she met Singh in that country and they got married in 2008. She continued that she bore a child in the same year.
She said that when she first met Singh’s parents, she already sensed that they did not like her. She added that they were only treating her well that time so they can persuade their son to stay home in India. She narrated that in January this year, Singh convinced her to live with his family in India promising that he will stand by Geraldine and give them a better life. Geraldine and her daughter went home to the Philippines while Singh flew to India to process the necessary papers for his wife and daughter.
On April 25, the mother and child went to India. According to Geraldine, her husband shouldered all the expenses. However, three days after arriving at the house of the Singhs, her husband’s parents started maltreating her and her daughter. She recounted how they were treated as slaves and were locked in a room without being fed properly. She said that they were given two potatoes only for several meals. Further, she said, her husband did not have the guts to help them for fear that he will not inherit anything from his parents.
Geraldine said that it is fortunate that she managed to keep her cell phone that she used to contact her sister Gemalyn.
Gemalyn, upon knowing her sister’s situation, approached a staff of member of CWEARC and sought their assistance. She was advised to talk to Regional Director Edgar Canta of the Department of Foreign Affairs-Cordillera Administrative Region (DFA-CAR). The director asked her about the plans of the NGOs helping them. She was also told that there was nothing they can do for her sister because she was not a documented oversesas Filipino Worker (OFW).
According to CWEARC Executive director Vernie Yocogan-Diano, they wrote the DFA Baguio office and even the Philippine embassy through Migrante International hoping that the said agencies can take it as an urgent case. She said CWEARC and Innabuyog appealed to the DFA to allocate funds for the immediate repatriation of Geraldine and her daughter from the Assistance to Nationals (ATN). She said that the agency told them that Geraldine is not covered by the ATN because she and her daughter were not OFWs.
Diano said they even wrote a letter to the office of Vice-President Jejomar Binay but they got no response at all. She added that they also wrote the concerned committees of the House, of Senate but to no avail. She said they were only told by a senator to approach the DFA.
According to Innabuyog-Gabriela Deputy Secretary Veronica Malecdan, DFA’s Legal Assistance Fund is a budgetary allocation that was supposed to be for the OFWs and Filipinos abroad that are in a distressed situation. Malecdan said that Geraldine is a former OFW who contributed much to the Philippine economy. She said that Geraldine like other OFWs paid the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) $25 membership fee entitling them to a lifetime coverage of necessary assistances. She explained that Geraldine is supposed to be covered by OWWA’s legal assistance fund but when the Omnibus OWWA policy was passed, the said assistance will cover only OFWs who are currently working.
CPA Chairperson Windell Bolinget said that if not for the help of NGOs and concerned groups, Geraldine and her daughter might not have survived their ordeal and could have just perished without a trace. He said the case of Geraldine only shows how the government responds to its people who are in helpless situations in foreign lands. He said that the Philippine embassy in India should be abolished as the agency is useless. “Sayang lang ang pera ng mga Pilipino,” (the money of the Filipinos is only being wasted) he stressed.
Geraldine said she hopes that she and her daughter will cope and rebuild their lives. She added that despite what she and her child had experienced, she is determined to look for means to live normally again. # nordis.net