Susan Ople: OFWs face new chapters in life

Susan “Toots” Ople is the youngest daughter of the late Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople. She has a Sunday column in Manila Bulletin’s Panorama Magazine and Tempo and two public service radio programs, “Bantay OFW” at DZXL RMN 558 every Monday to Friday, 12.30-2 pm and “Global Pinoy” at DWIZ 882 every Saturday from 5.30-6.30 pm.
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OFWs face new chapters in life
by Susan Ople
First posted in Arabnews

Filipino worker Reynaldo Esmero Reposar, 71, walked the length of a dimly lighted street in Marikina City, trying to identify which house was his. His confusion was understandable. The elderly gentleman had not seen his family in more than 10 years. He arrived in the Philippines on Nov. 6 as part of the first batch of workers repatriated from Saudi Arabia as an offshoot of the Kingdom’s ongoing Saudization program. His wife couldn’t leave the house to fetch him at the airport due to her own fragile health. This writer brought Tatay Rene home, and ended walking up and down the street until he could pinpoint where exactly his house was.

In the end, it was Reposar’s daughter, Maria Cristeta, who found her father and brought him home. The reunion was sweet and heartfelt. I asked him how it felt to be home after decades of working in Saudi Arabia. Papa Rene, as his daughter calls him, said that he felt lucky to be home without going through deportation proceedings, by obtaining his exit visa before the amnesty period ended. His wife, Julia, was speechless. Her radiant smile showed clearly how she felt. He went to Saudi Arabia in the ‘80s as a worker in a printing shop. The shop owners declared bankruptcy a few years ago, leaving Reposar in a lurch. Despite his age, he persisted in doing part-time work for a printing press, a practice that is strictly prohibited by Saudi laws. He decided to come home before the amnesty period ended, rather than risk being deported.

Diego Mag-atas Sr., a 53-year old Filipino worker, came home in a wheelchair, after more than 30 years in Saudi Arabia, around two weeks ago. It took him weeks of lining up to complete all the requirements needed for his journey home. Senator Cynthia Villar, whose family is known for helping distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), provided the air tickets needed for Mag-atas, Reposar and several other Filipino workers to come home.
Mag-atas felt happy and yet was also anxious about coming home. It has been over 30 years since he last saw his wife and children. His eldest son, Dennis, was around 10 years old, when Diego left the Philippines for Saudi Arabia. They would converse sometimes over Skype but there were months, if not years, of intermittent silence.

The plight of Diego Mag-atas reached the public through a popular Filipino current affairs program known as “Balitang Middle East” (“News from the Middle East”). It was through this show that the Mag-atas family learned about Diego’s real physical condition. A rare spinal ailment had made it difficult for the worker to walk. He had long wanted to come home but couldn’t because he had lost all of his savings and could no longer work in Saudi Arabia.
Today, Diego is happily reunited with his wife and children. Senator Villar is helping him seek medical treatment. He is eager to rekindle his ties with his family, and vice-versa.
Not all homecomings will be as warm and gracious as that of Reynaldo Reposar’s or Diego Mag-atas Sr.’s. There are bound to be sad stories of failed dreams, heartaches, and financial setbacks that reflect the darker side of labor migration. Every foreign worker has his or her story to tell.

As part of its reintegration program, a Filipino worker affected by Saudization is entitled to financial assistance from the labor department amounting to 10,000 pesos (PHP 10,000). He or she can also apply for livelihood and skills training programs offered by the government.

Starting over after years of being away is difficult. The best foundation for a new chapter in life is a loving and understanding family. In this sense, reposar and Mag-atas are truly the lucky ones.

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