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Special Features | National

Beyond Mother’s Day: OFW's family cries for justice
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines - How far can a mother's love go for her children?  I asked this so many times when I traveled hundreds of miles to Dubai last year in hopes of providing a better future for me and my children. I stayed there for just a mere two months but each day I was away from family and friends was filled with unspeakable loneliness and an intense longing to be able to hug them once more. 

Having experienced this displacement from country and loved ones made me empathize with the case of Terril Atienza, a mother of four, forced to work abroad as a domestic helper in order to escape poverty. She was a dental assistant here in the Philippines while her husband was an electrician.  Even though both of them had jobs, the rising cost of living and school fees made their salaries simply inadequate to sustain their family of six.  Being a high school graduate only, Terril knew her options here in this country were limited.

Her eldest daughter Nyrriel recalled that when she was just five years old, she and her mother used to laugh as they dreamed of a better life for their family.  Nyrriel would proudly say that when she graduates college, they would be rich! Both mother and daughter would burst out laughing at he thought.

Having learned from a neighbor about jobs abroad as a domestic helper, Teryl made the ultimate sacrifice of leaving her own children to care for other people's kids in Singapore for better pay. The family borrowed from relatives, pawned the family's motorcycle and scraped every bit of money they had to raise the P95,000 needed for Terril to be able to leave for Singapore.  The plan was to work there for two years so her eldest could finish college and help the whole family after she graduates.

Terril was able to leave for Singapore on January 26, 2010, after paying Regent Employment Services through a certain Violeta Bermudez of All-Pro Ticketing Agency. Terril was able to work there for one and a half years, regularly sending money, before deciding to come home sometime in June 2011. Unfortunately, her agency (Regent) did not allow her to leave yet since he has yet to finish her two-year contract.

To Terril's surprise, she was sent by her agency to Mongolia to work for another employer.  According to accounts of friends, whom Teryl corresponded with through her Facebook account, Teryl worked for Sergelen Davaakhuu, consul to Austria and son of a former prime minister of Mongolia.

Terril's duties involved staying up late at night cleaning since there were often parties at the housewhich left a lot of guests drunk, including her employer.  She was not paid for her services and was not allowed to leave the house nor use her laptop and cellphone.  Terril would hide and use her Facebook account to be able to reach her family and friends.

Sometime in November, to the great joy of Terril's family, Terril sent a message to her husband through Facebook and said she will be flying back home on December 16, 2011.

But on November 23, a friend of her mother called to say that Terril was found dead in her room. Regent, her mother's agency corresponded with the family and informed them that Terril committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.  The family found this difficult to believe since Terril had been a strong but caring person and was about to come home the next month.

When the body arrived, the family was aghast to see Terril's body full of wounds, cuts, burns and bruises.  They sought the help of journalists and had the body autopsied by the National Bureau of Investigation for free. It was then discovered that Terril's heart was missing. One of the coroners who was about to put formalin into the body called Nyrriel and one of her uncles, and showed them that Terril's body has been stuffed with rags. The NBI findings state that cause of death was “probably hypertensive cardiovascular disease” and  “secondary to a stabbing incident.”

Nyrriel and her family sought the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs to investigate Terril's mysterious death, but officials denied having records of Terril working overseas.  

In an even more bizarre development, All-Pro, the local agency which the family paid for her deployment (the fees going directly to owner Violeta Bermudez), denied having met Terril and her family. 

Migrante, an international organization of migrant workers, asked Nyrriel's family if they were willing to campaign for Terril's case, and they agreed.  

On Wednesday, support groups will launch a full campaign for justice for Terril.

A child’s love

Now, how far would a child's love for her mother go?

Nyrriel, at 16 has stopped schooling to work on obtaining justice for her mother's death and for the cases of other migrant workers deprived of government support.  Together with their barangay officials (Sacred Heart)  and former employers of Terril, the family launched the “Justice for Terril Movement.”

According to Nyrriel, the family won’t stop until Teril's murderer has been punished.  

They also hold both All-Pro and Regent Agency responsible for illegal recruitment and human trafficking, and the DFA accountable for its inaction in getting the official results of Terril's mysterious death from the government of Mongolia.  Up to this day, the personal belongings of Terril including her cellphone, laptop, passport and work ID stamped by the government of Mongolia have not been returned to her family.

Mother's Day just past made those of us working in our own country, surrounded by the warmth and laughter of our children, feel truly blessed. In this age of commercialism where malls abound with Happy Mother's Day greeting cards,  I dream of a country where mothers  like Terril Atienza would have adequate and well-compensated jobs so that they need not leave their own children due to poverty and sheer necessity.   

Maybe then, it would truly be a happy Mother's Day for all.