remembering the kabayan who never came back: the Christchurch 11

[ Note : the video above is a memorial service for the Christchurch earthquake victims of February 22 2011, during which the names of the victims were read out for around 12+ minutes.  If you listen carefully, the names of our 11 kabayan are read with care, if not with 100% accuracy.  Thanks to youtube poster celphoneconz and mabuhay New Zealand! ]

SENDING OFF a kabayan OFW, whether as a friend, loved one, or family member, is always a poignantly bittersweet exercise.  You are sending him / her off to the job of her dreams, after years and years of education and preparation, not to mention investment and financial support, so that the grand plan of building lives can begin in earnest.

But behind all those bright beginnings and lofty dreams is the vague fear of the unknown.  The destination, after all, is a place far far beyond the shores of our homeland, where a culture vastly different from ours requires every bright-eyed OFW  to make adjustments that can make our head spin.  There is also the danger that the uncertainty of long-distance travel, and the randomness of accidents can befall anyone, especially someone in an unfamiliar land.  No matter how auspicious the start, there is always a chance that the worst may happen.

This fear was a nightmare that came true for the families of 11 kabayan who perished three years ago today in Christchurch, New Zealand on what Prime Minister John Key called New Zealand’s darkest day.  Most, if not all of them were Pinoy nurses who in every sense of the word died in the service of their nation, for after all aren’t our OFW the heroes that contribute mightily to our fledgling economy?

Some of them had just arrived in town to start a language and competency course that would ease them into the New Zealand nursing profession, with all the quirks and nuances specific to its culture.  In fact, some of our kabayan hadn’t even unpacked and the policemen who released their belongings to relatives found luggage, cash and valuables of the deceased still sitting on the bed.   Tragic indeed.

If we can remember the sacrifices they made and the bright hopes and dreams they represented and continue to represent, then certainly our Christchurch 11 would not have died in vain.  Three years on, we salute each of them below , proudly call them our very own, and enshrine them forever in our hall of OFW heroes:

Lalaine Collado AGATEP, 38 years old; Mary Louise Ann Bantillo AMANTILLO, 23 years old; Emabelle Cabahug ANOBA, 26 years old; Valquin Descalsota BENSURTO, 23 years old; Ivy Jane CABUNILAS, 33 years old; John Kristoffer Villegas CHUA, 24 years old; Jewel Jose FRANCISCO, 26 years old; Ezra Mae Sabayton MEDALLE, 24 years old, Erica Avir Reyes NORA, 20 years old, Jessie Lloyd REDOBLE, 30 years old; Rhea Mae SUMALPONG, 30 years old.

Mabuhay po kayong lahat!

Pinoys to Kiwis : maraming maraming salamat po!

Prime Minister Key warmly accepts the token of appreciation from the Pinoy community in NZ from Ambassador Virginia Benavidez

Prime Minister Key warmly accepts the token of appreciation from the Pinoy community in NZ from Ambassador Virginia Benavidez

[ Note : One thing you can’t deny about our Ambassador, and it’s the fact that she’s one of the hardest-working ambassadors around.  Here she is taking time from her busy schedule to personally thank one of our biggest supporters post-Haiyan, the people of New Zealand.  Mabuhay tayong lahat! ]

TO PERSONALLY convey our President’s best wishes and reiterate the millions of Pinoys’ heartfelt gratitude for the New Zealand Government and People’s generous support after supertyphoon Haiyan ravaged Central Philippines last year, our Philippine Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez paid a courtesy call on the Right Honourable John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Words will never be enough to thank countless New Zealanders for the outpouring of generosity, care and compassion which gave comfort, strength and hope to recover and rebuild what nature’s wrath had laid to waste, said the good Ambassador.

Prime Minister Key warmly welcomed Ambassador Benavidez and was pleased to hear about the latest developments in the multi-stakeholder and multi-dimensional reconstruction and rehabilitation in the Visayas region.  He also acknowledged the continuing important roles and contributions of 40,350 Filipinos in New Zealand.

As a token of appreciation, Ambassador Benavidez presented to Prime Minister Key a painting by Paco Gorospe, a leading Filipino artist, depicting fishermen casting their net and catching bountiful fish.  It is especially meaningful as among those affected by the unprecedented devastation are the fishing communities who are now being assisted in the on-going restoration of livelihood in the massively affected areas.

Prime Minister Key thanked Ambassador Benavidez and admired the painting which he said would be hung in an appropriate place in the Parliament.  Ambassador also presented a special thank you message from the Philippine community who were deeply moved by the overflowing kindness and overwhelming support from the people of New Zealand.

For his part, Prime Minister Key gave a framed and signed photograph of the Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 aircraft which was sent immediately to provide the much needed airlift and logistical support delivering tons of relief supplies and equipment and evacuating a large number of survivors to nearby Cebu.  In expressing her deep appreciation, Ambassador Benavidez said that the Prime Minister’s gift is a much treasured one that will always be a grateful reminder of New Zealand’s humanitarian mission and assistance in the aftermath of super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

just another day in the life of a clueless balikbayan dad

thanks and acknowledgment to!

thanks and acknowledgment to!

[Note: Just a heads up to you Precious Reader.  My last trip home wasn’t supposed to be of the rest and recreation type, but I resolved that at least one good thing was going to come out of said trip, and my notes are below. Thanks again for the awesome help Doc Marcia & boyfriend !]

SER, MADAMI na pong transferee papuntang abroad ang humihingi sa amin, at sigurado po akong course description at hindi syllabus ang kailangan ng anak nyo, yon na po ang ipi-print ko kahit ilang subjects po yan?  Said the guy from the Office of the Registrar.

[rough translation: listen you clueless balikbayan yahoo, i process transfer documents like your daughter’s every day of my life, so just hand me your list and let me do my job intiendes? ]

Hmm… This wasn’t gonna take a 30-minute walk in the Luneta Park like you thought, Noel, I said to my  less-than-confident self.

Because daughter Ganda knew that the all-knowing Office of the Registrar apparatchiks in the so-far college-that-must-not-be-named (out of respect to Ganda) would say something like the above, she made me bring copies of course descriptions which were precisely what she didn’t need.

Sorry pero hindi nga course description ang kailangan ng anak ko, heto nga oh may dala pa ako mula nung last time na humingi sya.  Gumastos nga sya para sa wala eh.  I said.

OK lang po, pero di ko po kayo matutulungan.  Mga ganyang requirement makukuha nyo siguro sa mga kanya-kanyang faculty department, he countered right back.

So off to the various departments this hopeful clueless balikbayan dad went.

Entrepreneurship Department?  Only one professor in campus, and classes for six hours straight.  I.T. Department?  No professors since yesterday, none expected till next week.  Same with Economics Department, and professors from G.E. subjects completely unaccounted for.   Grand Total of professors who helped me: Two, including an Accounting professor who uncharacteristically stepped out of her class to help me out (maraming salamat po mam!), and a Financial Management prof who was only there because she was also a college official.  (And I’m not any less grateful mam.)

The only way I was gonna get all the precious syllabi I needed, I was told by a faculty clerk (who must’ve belonged to the same union as the registrar guy) was the last-chance saloon, and that my best hope would be the administrative office of the College of Arts and Sciences.

So off to the College of Arts and Sciences I went…

Which told me, in so many words, that they would love to help me in my desperation, as soon as I provided the necessary paperwork, school-to-school.  Requests like these needed supporting letters, and that was how things worked.  Sigh.

Only a few months ago, a friend Ganda had sent had been given the exact same runaround by this little kingdom that had its own rules and regulations.  The school  she was transferring to found it hard to believe that something as simple as course syllabi wasn’t in their college website, but still gave her a final chance to prove that she had already taken the courses that would shorten her academic load to as little as a schoolyear in her new university.  She would only need to show the actual, hard copy of subjects passed in her home country.  And that was why I was now seated on a hard bench outside the Arts and Sciences admin, wondering what to do.

Deeper Sigh.  I didn’t want to disappoint Ganda again after promising to bring home the bacon, but the official communication thing was a bit much to take.  Being at a loss as to what to do next, I decided to make use of what remained of the day, and the NBI not being too far from the U-Belt (which should give you a clue on where the school was), I went to said office to get my NBI clearance.

Because my cousin worked in a hospital near said NBI, I chanced a visit and brought her lunch.

Between spoonsful of Chao Fan, she asked me where I came from.  Off on a fruitless jaunt getting syllabi from X University I said, where Ganda her niece almost graduated before leaving for NZ.

Reeeaaallyyyyyy? said Cousin Doctor.  Turned out, on pure pure coincidence, that her boyfriend taught graduate courses at the exact same university, and was (wink-wink) thick as thieves (pardon the expression) with said X University’s Vice Dean at the (guess where?) College of Arts and Sciences.  Woohoo!

Quick SMS texts and phone calls were made, an even quicker handwritten note was hammered out by said Vice-Dean who was now my newest buddy.

I won’t say I got Ganda’s syllabi that very same day.  But I came quite close.  Let’s just say, uhm, for that school… in record time.

Meantime, we’re all crossing our fingers, but methinks we saved Ganda from having to enroll in nearly one and a half schoolyear’s worth of subjects in the University of Victoria, which, in any country, costs a pretty penny.

Which just goes to show that it pays to gamble if your doctor-cousin working across the street while you’re waiting for your NBI clearance is a girlfriend of a Vice-Dean of the school your daughter used to study in (and needs syllabi from).

Just in case.

Thanks for reading!

goodbye & paalam, sa muling pagkita!

[Note  : No disrespect or sarcasm intended.  Thank you everyone I met or spoke with while I was home unexpectedly, and humblest / sincerest apologies to everyone I missed meeting! ]

Goodbye to Jollibee on every corner, Greenwich in multiple mall locations, and uplifting Chow King breakfasts;

Goodbye urine aromas redolent in many many public corners;

Goodbye to the 7000 daily NBI clearance applicants in Taft Ave Manila, confirmed because queueing numbers only go so high (and God help you if your family name is less than unique), your resilience is admired;

Goodbye to the 1500 daily OEC certificate applicants at the POEA office in EDSA Ortigas, admittedly more comfortable and accommodating to returning OFWs (than NBI applicants);

Goodbye to Beatles tribute band DynaSouls at Mizmo bar and grill in Kamias Rd., certainly one of the best kept secrets in Quezon City (but not anymore, thanks Kuya Oca Gomez Jr!);

Goodbye to friendly and reasonable street children and watch-car boys, who actually have Wi-Fi and Facebook while begging and car-watching;

Goodbye to affordable facials, manicures, pedicures, dental prophylaxis, wart-removal and all other sorts of personal grooming treats and appearance enhancements, that at a fifth of the cost overseas give you oodles and oodles of confidence and stares (or so Mahal sez);

Goodbye to magic expressways that’ve made Northern Luzon so much closer to the Metropolis now, reducing by as much as 20% less travel time;

Goodbye to generously staffed Pangasinan funeral homes, that produce the full complement of pallbearers, hearse drivers, mini-bands that provide live music during funeral marches and render each aspect of the memorial service with thoughtfulness, dignity and professionalism (o sige na nga, Caguioa Funeral which by the way went over and beyond the call of duty or whatever they earned, mabuhay kayo!);

Goodbye to high school friends who assemble at a moment’s notice as soon as they know you’re in town;

Goodbye to the front car of the EDSA MRT that allows inside only senior citizens, children, handicapped and women, as well as pregnant ladies and their husbands, which certainly took a huge load off during rush hour (well, Mahal did look pregnant after a heavy meal that night 🙂 );

So many other goodbyes that need be said, but for now, goodbye and till we meet again!