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‘Bring Mary Jane home,’ advocates urge Marcos

Groups say President should make Veloso’s release a priority in first-ever state visit

Migrant rights advocates urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to appeal for clemency for jailed Filipina Mary Jane Veloso when he meets with Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo next week.

On the occasion of Marcos Jr’s first ever state visit to a foreign country, Migrante International (MI) and the Church Task Force to Save the Life of Mary Jane Veloso (CTFSLMJV) said the new president should take the opportunity to bring Veloso home.

“[We urge] President Marcos to prioritize the case of Mary Jane Veloso, a victim of human trafficking who has been imprisoned and in death row in Indonesia,” both groups said in a statement Friday, September 2.

The groups added that Marcos should heed Veloso’s family’s ongoing petition for the Philippine government to appeal to Widodo to grant her clemency and release her on humanitarian grounds.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced on September 2 that Marcos chose Indonesia and Singapore as the first countries he would visit as president to “strengthen ties” with two of the Philippines’ geographically closes neighbors.

“As close neighbors and founding members of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), the Philippines enjoys active engagement with Indonesia and Singapore in (a) myriad of areas including security and defense, trade and investment, people-to-people exchanges, and more,” DFA spokesperson Ambassador Teresita Daza said in a briefing.

In the case of Indonesia, Daza pointed out that both the Philippines and its closest neighbor are both archipelagic states that share an extensive, porous border and are close partners in maritime cooperation, a priority issue to be discussed by Marcos and Widodo.

Marcos is scheduled to meet Widodo from September 4 to 5 in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta for a series of discussions, including the renewal of a defense and security agreement between the two countries first signed in 1997.

Marcos’ chance

Both MI and CTFSLMJV however said Marcos should not forget about Veloso who had been on Indonesia’s death row in the last 12 years.

Arrested and convicted in April 2010 for smuggling 2.6 kilos of heroin into Indonesia in a suitcase, Veloso maintained she was unaware of the contraband and was only a victim of human trafficking.

Veloso’s execution by firing squad was stayed in 2015 pending the resolution of her appeal.

Meanwhile, her traffickers Maria Kristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao were found guilty of illegal recruitment and estafa by a Nueva Ecija court in January 2020 and are sentence to life imprisonment.

Bringing Veloso home would foster a message of hope to all overseas Filipinos who have fallen victims to human traffickers, Rev. Homar Distajo of the CTFSLMJV said.

“We continue to appeal for clemency or any other appropriate remedies that will allow Mary Jane to come home to the Philippines. Mary Jane can bring hope that there can be rescue for those used and abused through the trickery of traffickers, while also amplifying a strong message for migrant workers to be careful,” Distajo said.

MI meanwhile pointed out that Marcos mentioned about his government’s campaign against human trafficking in his first State of the Nation Address last July.

 
“If he is truly genuine in his commitment to combat the problem of human trafficking, he should exert all efforts to appeal to President Widodo to release Mary Jane under humanitarian grounds,” MI chairperson Joanna Concepcion said.

“As President Marcos journeys to Indonesia, we truly pray that the case of Mary will be a priority issue. It is now time to bring Mary Jane home,” Concepcion added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva) 

Quake victims complain of difficulties in receiving assistance

DMW: OWWA teams will make distribution ‘a bit faster’

Victims of the earthquake in northern Luzon last July 27 face difficulties in receiving the P3,000 (US$54) financial assistance from the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), a group of overseas Filipinos revealed.

Members of the Abra Tingguian Ilokano Society-Hong Kong said many of their families are not included in the list of beneficiaries released by OWWA (Overseas Workers and Welfare Administration) for the financial package.

DMW secretary Susan Ople earlier announced that the new agency has allocated a financial package of P20 million for families of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) hit by the intensity 7.0 earthquake last week.

The OFW group reported however that not all of their families are eligible for the assistance based on the criteria released by the OWWA.

“The OWWA clarified that only its active members are eligible for the P3,000 assistance. But what about those who are active but have been left out of their list?” the Society asked in Filipino.

“And how about OFWs who have become inactive members but whose family are also victims of the earthquake,” the group added.

The group also complained about the “most terrible” list of requirements in order for their families to claim the amount, including the following:

1. Authorization Letter from the OFW

2. Photocopy of pages 2 and 3 of the OFW’s passport (with signature)

3. 1 2×2 inch ID picture of claimant

4. Proof of relationship with the OFW

* Birth certificate of the OFW and claimant (if claimant is a sibling)

* Birth Certificate of the OFW (if claimant is a parent or child)

* Marriage Certificate (if claimant is a spouse)

5. Photocopy of Government Valid ID of Claimant

The Society said their families have started claiming the package on Wednesday in different municipal halls around Abra Province but were frustrated by the requirements.

“We learned that our families need to have the requirements printed at the cost of P10 to 15 per page. Also, is it really necessary for them to submit ID photos?” the group asked.

Many beneficiaries have to apply for birth and marriage certificates from the Philippine Statistics Authority as well as barangay and police clearances in order to present valid government identification documents, it added.

“It seems they would be spending more than the amount they are supposed to receive in order for them to claim the assistance benefit,” the group said.

Society president Ludy Guinaban said their families have yet to return to their homes and badly need the assistance.

“They should not be making it difficult for our families to receive help, given the terrible crisis they face. They need immediate help, not a list of requirements that they also need to pay for,” Guinaban said.

OWWA teams to adjust

Asked for comment, a DMW official said it will assist as much it could in order for the beneficiaries to receive the amount “a bit faster.”

“We understand their apprehensions. They have families in distress and they are near powerless to physically help,” DMW spokesperson Toby Nebrida told Kodao.

Nebrida said that the difficulties faced by the beneficiaries may be explained by the fact that it was the distribution’s first day on Wednesday.

A total of 449 initial beneficiaries were given the assistance package yesterday, he said.

“The OWWA regional and provincial teams will adjust to make the distribution a bit faster given the challenges in the earthquake affected areas,” Nebrida said.

Nebrida added that if there is difficulty with presenting or bringing the needed documents, the OWWA teams may consider photographs of passports as well as birth and marriage certificates sent through social networking services such as Viber.

The OWWA teams may also take photographs of claimants who could not present ID photos, Nebrida said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

HK OFWs protest mandatory fee increases

Migrant workers held a protest action in front of the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong on Wednesday against additional fees in government health, insurance and housing program fees.

The United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK) led the picket protest against the new and mandatory fee increases it said it said are “undemocratic, unscrupulous, and unnecessary.”

They were joined by members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-HK, Gabriela and Filipino Migrant Workers Union.

In a statement, UNIFIL said the Consulate General prohibited them from entering the Consular office to properly register their opposition to the new impositions but failed to stop them from conducting a rally in front of the building.

UNIFIL chairperson Dolores Balladares Pelaez said the event on Wednesday was the first in a series of protest actions around the world as collection of fee hikes started.

“Imposing fees on a population who can ill afford it is undemocratic. Overseas Filipinos budget their salary to the last cent. Imposing more fees will mean a reduction in their family’s quality of living,” Balladares-Pelaez said.

“For OFWs, this is heart-breaking as we work overseas so that our families can be given a good life,” she added.

READ: OFWs oppose new order on mandatory Pag-IBIG membership

The outgoing Rodrigo Duterte government ordered a monthly Philippine Health Insurance premium increase of Php1,200 as well as an expanded mandatory insurance premium of Php8,000 per contract for OFWs.

A recent joint advisory between the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG) also made securing Pag-IBIG Membership Identification Numbers and paying the monthly contribution of Php2,400  through the POEA’s system mandatory for migrant workers.

Balladares-Pelaez said they suspect that the new increases will again be misspent following the Php15 billion controversy involving PhilHealth as well as dubious purchases made by the Social Security System.

“With no moves to ensure that our hard-earned money will be taken care of, can anyone blame us for refusing to cough up these fees? If you multiply that by millions (of OFWs), just imagine how much that will amount to,” she added.

‘We demand that the mandatory fees be revoked. These should not be pre-requisites for getting an overseas employment certificate (before deployment),” Balladares-Pelaez said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Filipina nanny in Dubai wows readers by publishing her own book of poems

Biriterang Makata’s release has 136 award-winning poems she wrote during the pandemic

By Angel L. Tesorero

Dubai: Ester Vargas-Castillo, 50, is known among her peers and in the online world as ‘Biriterang Makata’. It’s a Filipino phrase that loosely means ‘Diva Poet’ in English. ‘Biriterang Makata’ is also the title of her first book of poetry — published recently — containing 136 award-winning poems she wrote at the height of the pandemic.

Castillo also got the name ‘Biriterang Makata’ because she is a soprano and an active member of FilSoc Chorale, which is under the Filipino Social Club that performed last year at Expo 2020 Dubai. She’s both a singer and a poetess.

Ester 03-1653195697493
Ester Vargas-Castillo making a statement with her new release. Image Credit: Supplied

Speaking to Gulf News, Castillo said: “When you say that you work as a nanny or maid, people would sometimes look down upon you, thinking you’re illiterate and uneducated, that you’re only good at household chores. Thanks to my friends who helped me publish my book, a nanny like me has shown that we have every right and the ability to also shine and make a mark in society. Given the opportunity, we can eloquently express ourselves and write our own poetry and stories,” she underscored.

Poignant and poetic

Castillo’s recently published 206-page book contains her feelings, triumphs and tribulations. She said: “There is comedy, women empowerment, romance and erotic poetry. I’ve also written a morbid/dark poem. I penned a verse on patriotism and wrote two poems in Baybayin, an ancient writing system native to the Philippines.” She added: “My book has 47 English poems and 89 odes written in Filipino because I also want to share with my kababayans (countrymen) the love for our own language and country,” she added.

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Ester Vargas-Castillo says she is very thankful to her friends who helped her publish her 206-page book. Image Credit: Supplied

Castillo continued: “Most of my poems, however, are about my own emotions — the pains hidden in rhymes told through a third person. I’ve also let go my feelings that have bottled up. But more importantly, I’ve written about melancholy — the sadness of being away for too long from my family — as well as my long aspiration of going back home for good, though I have to stay and work here for the sake of my children.”

Ageing hand

Castillo said her book was inspired by and dedicated to her four children — Christopher Lester, Christine Abegail, Chloe Felixia and Gideon Chris.

A poem, titled ‘Ageing Hand’, is addressed to her son:

‘Used to hear that laughter/ To and fro, you wanted it to go higher’/ “More, more, mommy,/ swing it farther!”/ I hope you can still remember.

Now you’re a fine young man./ I wanted to hold you as long as I can./ Someday you’ll venture into a faraway land./ But please don’t forget mama’s ageing hand.’

Pandemic poems and praises

Castillo, who was born in Cebu, a province in central Philippines, started writing poetry late in her life. “It was actually during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when most people struggled with isolation and depression due to lockdowns, that I seriously began scribbling down my thoughts and feelings in verses, which I posted on different online poetry sites,” she added.

“My first poems focused on love, friendship and most importantly, my work as a domestic help,” noted Castillo, adding: “I caught the attention of online readers and my poems were also recognized in various online competitions in the Philippines and abroad. That gave me the boost to write more poems. So far, I have written around 500 poems,” she said.

Awards aplenty

Some of the awards won by her include Hall of Fame, Poet of the Year 2021, given by Philippine-based Bigkis ng Panitik; Reyna ng Balagtasan 2022, awarded by Horizons, an organization of talented migrant workers based in Hong Kong; Poet of the Week (Passion of Poetry), for her poems ‘Sound of Silence’, ‘When Rain Reigns’ and ‘St Basil’s Cathedral’; Platinum Award (for various poems in Filipino); Excellence Award for ‘Outcry of Valor’; Gold Award for ‘Figures of (Love) Speech’ and ‘Healing Ray’; Silver Award for Ode/Rhyme Mnemonics, and more. It was in February, when she tested positive for COVID-19, that Castillo decided to collate her winning poems into a book. She got support from Manila-based McKinley Publishing Hub, that helped her with the design and layout of her book as well as making it available on Amazon. Her friends and supporters pooled money and printed 200 copies for distribution in the UAE.

Literary journey

Castillo’s book launch was recently attended by friends and her employers. She first came to Dubai in 2017 and settled as a household service worker because the previous job she had — where she worked as a teaching assistant and accounting clerk — paid her a Dh2,300 monthly salary. “Thankfully, I found an employer who was ready to pay better,” she added.

Castillo said she was also thankful that her employers gave her an opportunity to pursue her literary journey. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree. She had previously worked as an assembler, operator, marketing assistant and accounting clerk in the Philippines. She is an avid reader and a keen student of literature. She said: “I carefully studied literary styles of various writers and my works were edited and polished by my mentors.”

Castillo said she has no plans to change her job after the release of the book. “I value loyalty and gratitude to my employers,” she said.

Castillo also serves as a volunteer editor and proofreader to help budding writers get their works published.

She is now busy working on her next literary project — OFW Diaries — a compilation of short stories written for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). #

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This report was original to Gulf News.

Covid-positive OFWs in HK forced to stay in parks in cold weather

A number of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who have tested positive of Covid-19 are being terminated, abandoned and forced to live in parks in cold weather in Hong Kong.

Migrante International (MI) and the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (Unifil-HK) reported that several employers of Filipino domestic workers in the territory have refused to take back their employees who are sick with Covid-19.

“[They have] no immediate place to go as they were advised to stay home by the HK health authorities since they were found to be asymptomatic,” MI said in a statement.

Unifil and Migrante-HK secretary general Eman Villanueva said in a radio interview Friday that they received reports of OFWs staying in parks and sleeping on cold concrete floors surrounded only by their luggage.

“Some non-government organizations are trying to find temporary shelter for the sick OFWs but it should really be the Philippine government’s concern,” Villanueva told DZRH.

He added that not all Covid-positive migrant workers have access to NGOs or others for assistance.

5th Covid wave in HK

The HK-based Mission for Migrant Workers said it has assisted no less than 10 domestic workers who were “preliminary positive” (with Covid-19) and were left in the cold the past 2-3 days.

The humanitarian organization said the situation is “a developing crisis due to the fifth wave of COVID-19 pandemic” in the territory.

The mission added that HK hospitals and quarantine facilities are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, migrant domestic workers who have mild symptoms were told to isolate at home.

“With no assistance available, these workers are abandoned on the street overnight, stranded at hospitals, lacking food and supplies. Some are not eligible for public healthcare due to contract termination,” the mission revealed.

[The Mission for Migrant Workers has launched this appeal to Help Abandoned Domestic Workers in Hong Kong.]

PH gov’t abandonment

MI and Unifil-HK added the situation of terminated and sick OFWs is made worse by the apparent abandonment by the Philippine government.

“Clearly, government neglect is the trademark of the Philippine government whose one of the main sources of revenues is the mandatory collections of fees imposed by the PH government under its Labor Export Program,” MI said.

The groups demanded that the Manila government through its Consulate General in the territory to make immediate arrangements with the HK administrators to set up a free isolation center for COVID-19 positive Filipino migrant workers.

“We also demand the PH government for an immediate cash relief to OFWs who were terminated and affected by the pandemic in Hong Kong and other countries,” the group added.

The PH Consulate General in HK has yet to reply to requests for comment. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Migrante International lauds Taiwan’s decision to welcome back OFWs

Urges PH government to shoulder fees and dismantle recruiters’ broker system

A Filipino migrant group welcomed Taiwan’s decision to start allowing several thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) into the island after eight months of prohibition due to surging Covid-19 cases last year.

Migrante International said many OFWs waiting to fly back to the island may now heave a sigh of relief knowing they are now allowed to fly to Taiwan starting February 15.

Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) of Taiwan announced on Monday, February 7, it will welcome migrant workers from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand to enter Taiwan beginning next Tuesday as part of island’s special program gradually allowing more foreign workers into the territory.

Taiwan will however require foreign workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the country of origin before their entry into Taiwan.

“After foreign workers arrive in Taiwan, their employers can arrange for them to stay at a quarantine hotel to complete quarantine and self-health management; both foreign workers and employers must abide by related epidemic prevention rules and guideline,” the CECC said.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) likewise welcomed the development and expressed gratitude to Taiwan.

“We thank Taiwan for welcoming once more our compatriots in their various employment industries starting February 15,” DOLE secretary Silvestre Bello III said Tuesday.

Migrante International however asked the Philippine government to make it easier for outbound OFWs to return to their jobs abroad and do away with unnecessary requirements.

“While we recognize the importance of health requirements and protocols, we are very concerned that such health requirements will again bleed dry our OFWs. They have suffered too much from this pandemic for delaying their livelihood and now they will be burdened by long list of fees,” the group said.

The group urged the government to shoulder outbound OFWs PCR test fee, medical test fee, Bureau of Quarantine certificate and other expenses related to quarantine.

‘Exploitative broker system’

Migrante International also revealed it received reports from stranded OFWs that their employment agencies require another round of payments for the processing of their overseas applications under the so-called broker system.

These payments include multiple medical examinations at least every three months, training fees, yellow card, visa renewal, PCR test, BOQ, OEC as well as PhilHealth, Pag-ibig, SSS and other mandatory contributions, the group said.

“Deprived of the promised government ayuda (assistance), they are buried in debt in order to pursue their only hope to work abroad in order to meet the economic needs of their families,” Migrante Internation added.

The government must dismantle the so-called broker system of local recruitment agencies in Taiwan that controls the living and working conditions of OFWs and charge OFWs with several fees ranging from NT$60K to NT$200K per working contract from day one up to the time they depart Taiwan, the group revealed. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Do not blame health workers going abroad’

Image by Carlo Francisco/Kodao

On the deployment ban of health workers abroad:

“We cannot blame our nurses and other healthcare workers who want to seek better paying jobs abroad despite the risks to their own health and anxieties of leaving their own families behind…[O]ur government leaders have clearly proven that their labor, remarkable contributions, sacrifices and voices are not valued.”–Joanna Concepcion, Chairperson, Migrante International

‘Malaking bagay ang suporta ng 33 Kongresista para sa P10K na ayuda’

“Malaking bagay ang suporta ng 33 na Kongresista para sa P10K na ayuda. Ito ay isusulong natin nang tuloy-tuloy para mapakinggan pa sa Kongreso. Kailangang ulit-ulitin ang panawagan na P10K ayuda para sa lahat, lalo na sa mga na-dislocate na mga manggagawa at OFW sa panahon ng pandemya.”Inday Bagasbas, Tagapagsalita, Ayuda Network

OFWs press for scrapping of mandatory PhilHealth membership

A group of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and overseas Filipinos pressed their demand for the scrapping of the mandatory Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) membership amid difficulties brought them by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, Migrante International said OFWs have been facing job losses amidst the pandemic that is aggravated by “onerous government fees” such as the proposed PhilHealth premium rate increase this year.

The group said mandatory PhilHealth membership has been a burden for OFWs since the passage of the Universal Healthcare Act (UHC) signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on February 20, 2019.

The law requires OFWs to be PhilHealth members before leaving for work abroad.

Migrante earlier said majority of the OFWs have no use for mandatory membership as PhilHealth is practically useless in helping them pay medical bills when they get sick abroad.

Instead, Migrante said PhilHealth membership should be “voluntary for those with capacity to pay contributions.”  

Migrante also scored the corruption at the health insurance agency that has yet to properly account for at least Php 15 billion in allegedly misspent funds.

“PhilHealth has been used as a tool for unscrupulous health officials appointed by the President to amass billions of members’ contributions for their own selfish interests,” the group said.

“Why should contributors suffer by paying increased premiums in response to the agency’s lack of funds?” the group also asked.

Migrante demands “corrupt” PhilHealth officials involved be held accountable and prosecuted. 

Migrante also said OFWs believe that Duterte’s recent announcement to defer the collection of increased PhilHealth premiums is only a tactic to quell the anger and anxiety of the people especially during this COVID crisis.

“Merely deferring the increased premium does nothing to calm down the people,” Migrante said in its statement.

Instead, the group said OFWs want a genuine, pro-people, universal health care program through free and comprehensive medical and health services. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Filipina nurse helps compatriot deliver baby girl on board plane to Manila

(This report was first published on Gulf News)

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A Filipina delivered a healthy baby girl on a flight from Dubai to the Philippines on Saturday — thanks to a nurse, another Filipina and a former airline crew, who was on the same flight.

Nurse Keizel Cruz confirmed both the mother, Lalaine Edip, and the newborn baby named Sheikah McQueen, were healthy and in a stable condition.

The successful delivery happened on Saturday afternoon, three hours before a flight from Dubai was to land at Clark International Airport (CRK) in the Philippines.

Back in June, the crew of another airline had also helped a returning Filipina deliver a healthy baby boy on a Dubai-Manila flight.

Keizel Cruz with her daughter who had a liver transplant in India. (Supplied photo)

Cruz, a former Dubai resident and cabin services attendant, had a connecting flight from New Delhi, India, where she had taken her one-year-old daughter for a liver transplant.

“It was really a propitious flight,” said Cruz, adding: “We (Cruz and her one-year old baby) were not supposed to be on that flight. We came from New Delhi and we decided to take the long route from India to the Philippines via Dubai because there were no direct flights to Manila.”

“We were in India for three months for my baby’s liver transplant. We were supposed to come home last month, but as destiny would have it, we were placed on the Dubai-Clark [flight],” added Cruz, who had returned to the Philippines from Dubai for good back in 2018 to work as a full-time nurse.

How baby Sheikah was safely delivered

Cruz said she was chatting with some people during the flight. Three hours before the plane was to land, the crew supervisor told her there was a woman who was about to give birth.

“Everyone was calm. I knew the crew were trained to deliver babies, but it was also nice to have a medical professional to help in the delivery. So, as a registered nurse and based on my hospital experience, I took the lead and we proceeded with the sterile technique of natural delivery. We successfully delivered Baby Sheikah McQueen two hours before landing, at 1.30pm (Philippines time),” Cruz shared.

Baby Sheikah McQueen (Supplied photo)

But there were tense moments, Cruz added. “After I held the baby, I could not hear her crying. So, I rubbed her back, wiped her nose to clear the airway and gave her another tap on the back, then she cried aloud. The purser (cabin manager) announced that a baby had been successfully delivered 35,000 feet above sea level and everyone onboard burst into a wild cheer,” she added.

Upon landing in Clark, the Bureau of Quarantine at Clark International Airport immediately attended to the mother and her newborn and they were rushed to a hospital for check-up and medical treatment. On Sunday, Cruz was contacted by the mother who sent her a photo, showing a healthy and calm Baby Sheikah in swaddling clothes.

Two propitious events

Cruz said she was happy to help in the baby’s successful delivery that came shortly after her own baby’s successful liver transplant in India.

Her one-year old baby girl, Jeorgina, was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia, a life-threatening congenital condition that occurs when bile ducts in the liver do not develop normally.

Baby Jeorgina had her Kasai procedure (correction of the bile ducts) when she was a month-and-a-half old. But the remedial procedure was not successful and they were told Baby Jeorgina had to undergo an urgent liver transplant.

Cruz, who lives in Antipolo, Rizal, resigned from her work to focus on raising funds for the treatment of her daughter.

They needed at least 3 million pesos (Dh230,000) for the entire procedure. Cruz baked banana bread to raise part of the funds for her daughter’s operation.

Sonu Sood sent help

Many Good Samaritans came to their aid. Several non-governmental organizations and foundations pitched in, friends and relatives bought her banana bread and the flight to India was sponsored by Indian actor Sonu Sood, who had chartered a flight for Indian medical students in the Philippines. Cruz and her baby took the same repatriation flight to India.

Cruz and her baby went to India on August 15 and the operation was done at Max Hospital in New Delhi. The organ donor was Justing, the baby’s father himself, and the operation was a success.

The only problem was that they were stranded in New Delhi for one month as there were no direct flights to Manila owing to flight restrictions because of COVID-19.

The family then decided to take the long route from New Delhi to the Philippines via Dubai. In Dubai, they had a 14-hour layover before taking the eight-hour trip to Clark.

‘Trip was really worth it’

“But the trip was really worth it,” said a gleeful and satisfied Cruz.

“We ourselves were recipients of other people’s kindness and it was like paying it forward when I was at the right place at the right time to help a kabayan,” she added.

“It was also worth mentioning that both our babies are fighters — my baby Jeorgina and Baby Sheikah are both survivors. Maybe, someday, when they’re grown-ups, their paths will cross again and they can share the story of how they were on the same flight on that auspicious day,” Cruz concluded. #