“The story of the Veloso family is truly heartbreaking. But what is more saddening is that we know that there are more like them.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Even before the two met and eventually got married, Cesar and Celia Veloso’s daily grind has been to make ends meet. Their families were both farm workers in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, one of the biggest landholding in the country, owned by the President’s family.
Celia said that at times she felt hopeless, thinking that they could never be able to break the chains of poverty. Even wishing for a better life, she said, has become a luxury.
But they worked hard nonetheless, for their family, most especially for their five children. They took all jobs possible that would bring food to their table.
Celia and Cesar are the parents of Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino victim of human trafficking.
“When my children eventually got married and had a family of their own, I could not blame them if they wanted to leave the country and seek greener pasture,” Celia said in her interview with Bulatlat.com.
“They do not want to be rich. They just want their children to have a decent life, attend a good school and graduate from college,” she said.
Four of their five children were OFWs. Yet, their dire living conditions have hardly improved.
“You can say that we are one of those families whose members became OFWs, yet remained poor,” she said. And in between her grumblings, she asked, “Is this destiny?”
Mary Jane’s godsister, a certain Maria Cristina Cerio, recruited her to become a domestic helper in Malaysia back in 2010.
Upon arriving there, however, she was informed that her employer has already hired someone else. Veloso was assured that a job was waiting for her Indonesia. She was lent a luggage, not knowing that 2.6 kilograms of heroin packed in plastic bags were stitched inside. She only knew of the trouble she was in when she was held at the airport and arrested, ending up in death row.
Celia, once an OFW
Celia still found it hard to believe that nearly all her children would become OFWs. Not too long ago, she herself was out of the country, away from her family.
When she was 33 years old, Celia left for Saudi Arabia to work as a domestic helper. Her husband Cesar said they spent a lot for her placement fees, which forced them to sell their carabaos, cows and even their house.
Celia said her employers were good to her. To try to keep her mind off being away from her family, she would turn on the television and would find nothing but foreign programming. This, she said, all the more depressed her.
“It was difficult. I was so homesick that it was driving me insane,” she said.
Celia returned after only three months of work.
“My husband did not know that I was coming back. He was surprised to see me home,” she said.
“We are an OFW family who gained nothing. My children and I gained nothing,” she added sadly.
Cesar, the sakada
Veloso’s father, Cesar, was born and raised in La Paz, Tarlac. His father, Emeterio, raised them by working for Hacienda Luisita, a more than 6,000-hectare estate owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos. Their family, too, used to till a small parcel of land but when his mother got sick, they were forced to sell their land.
“My father worked for a very long time in Hacienda Luisita. I remember him working for the estate since I was small. When I was 12 or 13, he would tag me along to work there too,” he said.
Cesar said that since he only finished sixth grade, he found it hard to find a decent-paying job. He worked as a utility man for a local mall in Cabanatuan City, where he earned roughly half a dollar per hour. He also found a job in a piggery where he was paid P12 per day.
“I was never choosy when it comes to jobs. I take almost anything as long as it would land food on our table,” he said.
In fact, for 10 years, the couple scavenged for scrap plastic materials and metals.
A few months before Veloso took the offer to go to Malaysia, Cesar said they were earning from a “rolling store.” They sold pails, kitchen and house wares from one village to another and earn roughly P200 to P300 a day.
Cesar, desperate to provide for his family, thought of applying for a job abroad. He was supposed to go to Saudi Arabia and work as a welder. But during his medical examination, doctors found out that he had hepatitis. He did not push through with the plan.
“If only we had land to till, I don’t think that we would go through such a hard time. I would work hard to cultivate the land and make it productive,” he said.
The Veloso family faced their first problem when their eldest daughter worked in Bahrain. They were informed that she was sick and was taken to the hospital. However, she was transfused with blood that was not compatible to hers.
“Her doctor spoke to us and said that we should keep calling her and make sure she was awake. We spent thousands for our phone calls,” she said.
Soon, another daughter, Marites left for Bahrain to work as a domestic helper. But, Celia said, she soon went home when she found out she had gall bladder stones. She said Maritess has been scheduled for treatment in a hospital, but she would now have to wait pending Mary Jane’s fate in Indonesia.
Her fourth child went to Japan to work. But it did not work out and, now, she is also back in the country.
The youngest of their children, Mary Jane, hit rock bottom. The government’s petition for judicial review has recently been denied while the Indonesian government has yet to look into the executive clemency filed years ago.
“I can endure all the hardships. But not this – not my daughter who could be executed anytime,” Celia said.
Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, the biggest OFW group, told Bulatlat.com that forced migration has been passed down from parents to their children since the government began its labor export policy.
The sending of Filipinos abroad was supposedly a stop-gap measure during the time of the Marcos dictatorship to temporarily address the growing unemployment in the country. But over the years, labor export became institutionalized, and their remittances have kept the country’s economy afloat.
“Those who became OFWs in the early years of the labor export policy now have children, perhaps even grandchildren, who are forced to work abroad. There are over 6,000 Filipinos leaving the country everyday to find work elsewhere,” he said.
Martinez said more than half of Filipinos leaving to find work abroad are from the ranks of peasants who are deprived of their right to land and decent livelihoods.