Repatriated OFWs resist pandemicâs stresses through family bonds
In this file photo, an official of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration gives outbound Filipino workers a briefing.
The STAR/Joven Cagande, File

Repatriated OFWs resist pandemic’s stresses through family bonds

Kristine Anne Macasiray ( - July 18, 2020 - 3:37pm

MANILA, Philippines — Wilfredo Pamposa’s wallet subdued him yet again, for a fifth straight year. Unpaid salaries and benefits from two bankrupt Saudi Arabian construction firms had long emptied Pamposa’s wallet, almost draining his resilience.

COVID-19 came to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia mid-March. Pamposa’s iqama (the Kingdom’s permit for employment visa holders) expired. Since 2019 Pamposa and fellow Filipino workers had been economically immobile: “I was on standby for a year, remitting nothing to my family.”

Raising funds through whatever means necessary, Pamposa miraculously paid the penalty for his expired iqama and his exit visa fees. With the help of Philippine diplomatic and labor personnel in Riyadh, Pamposa got repatriated last May.

Pamposa’s eyes and his voice’s tone got hushed as he narrated this story during a webinar on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) repatriated by the COVID-19 pandemic. During a nine-day quarantine sortie at a small motel in Quezon City, he finally slept on Philippine soil, roused that years of overseas financial agony will finally end.

And when the negative swab test result came out, wife Grace sobbed in glee. What’s important, Grace narrates, “is that he’s back home safe —even without money.” The return trip from the motel in Cubao, Quezon City to the rented apartment in Antipolo City had ceased Pamposa’s years of wallowing in financial despair, before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Familial love not only saved this breadwinner and his family. I tended to an ihaw-ihaw (grilled street food) stall here, Grace said. Two of their three children stopped schooling since 2019 and they earn from tutoring elementary school children who are their neighbors.

A pandemic pushed OFWs, both with unstable and stable jobs, to the limits. Repatriation saved them, even if quarantine routines and rapid tests back home suspended their excitement to be relieved from the physical, financial and mental stresses of overseas migrant work.

However, the all-enduring Filipino safety net during crises —the family— soldiered migrant breadwinners to confront uncertain economic futures together, with love.

“We’re happy even ‘without money. At least he’s back home [Masaya po kami kahit walang pera. At least nakauwi na],” a teary-eyed Grace Pamposa uttered. “We can earn money once again. What’s important is he’s safe [Iyung pera naman, mapagkikitaan uli iyan. Ang importante, ligtas siya].”

This Filipino safety net calmed the emotions and stresses of some 55,859 repatriated land- and sea-based OFWs who bore the brunt of massive overseas job layoffs. The repatriations continue, possibly reaching 300,000 repatriated OFWs by August, government authorities estimate.

In March, seafarer Archie Arce saw his cruise ship grounded just a month from his return to active duty, with COVID-19 hitting passengers and crew of many luxury cruises. Nobody expected this pandemic to happen, Arce said, “so I wasn’t ready, honestly [hindi ako naging ready, sa totohanan lang].”

Docked for five weeks by required quarantine measures, Arce —now back home— got stomped also by what Caloocan City residents are doing now to survive this pandemic. “I still can’t think of a business until now because many, many people here are now doing business online [Wala kaming maisip na puwedeng business. Dami na kasing nago-online].”

Wife Regine (a church volunteer) and a 16-year-old daughter comforted their “sad” father with smiles upon his stepping foot in their humble abode. “Finally [Sa wakas],” Regine said gleefully, “You’re here! We’ll take care of you.” (“Until the financial support comes back,” Grace said their only daughter will skip school this year.)

These tales by the Pamposa and Arce breadwinners reveal a “grieving process” that these returned OFWs have to go through,” veteran OFW counselor Fr. Nilo Tanalega, S.J. of the UGAT Foundation said.

“A job and a dream were both lost,” Tanalega told the OFW couples during a July 10 webinar organized by the Catholic-run nonprofit Scalabrini Migration Center.

Tanalega recommends constant communication for the returned migrant worker and the spouse in these moments of reintegrating back to the country beside quarantines and movement restrictions. This approach, he adds, is a “process that will take time for them to adjust and adapt to family life again.”

Remember, Tanalega explained, “the OFW is accustomed to living alone. Then he or she went back abruptly.”

The pandemic and the resulting quarantines OFWs faced saw them teeter from mental health problems. Recent reports of suicides by Filipino seafarers for example “are serious matters,” Tanalega said.

And now that COVID-19 had grounded Filipino families and livelihoods, Tanalega proffered couples with repatriated OFW breadwinners to ask themselves how they and their families should soldier on.

“It is easy to say that you are now with your families and you should support each other,” Tanalega said. “But they should execute such forms of family support, especially the families’ emotional and relationship needs, at this time.”

Economically, for example, Tanalega prodded OFW couples to ask themselves during this pandemic: “How will we know if what we have is enough for us [Paano natin malalaman na sapat na iyan para sa inyo]?”

And with Filipinos still perplexed at the uncertainties their immediate futures hold, 28-year seafarer Teodoro Rosello worries about his next work. Will we get rehired, Rosello asked, “if our companies recover from this pandemic?”

But the return home, the Rosello patriarch said, “is freedom from work” for seafarers like him.

Going home to Bacoor City, Cavite is “the happiest part,” and wife Charity made Teodoro’s return happier with a tight hug.

The family’s whole again. I’m seeing my three boys again, Teodoro said.
Yet the unseen enemy, COVID-19, pushed the Teodoros mostly inside home even if Cavite’s now on general community quarantine. All plans for out-of-town leisure got cancelled.

But in handling boredom, the family’s up and about to spend happy times. They cook and grill together, singing to their hearts delight, Charity narrates.

Something else held the Teodoros tight in these times. It’s prayer, Charity said.
“During this time that we do not know what happens next, we need to cling to prayers. If before we had trust in the Lord, now all the more we need to stick to Him.”

Oops, Charity reminded her hubby: “We have programmed our house chores. Get the broom. Clean the car!” Daily loud serenades by the singing Teodoros pacify the stresses a pandemic continues to bring, and an overseas worker’s fears about the future.

Freelance journalist Kristine Anne Macasiray is a 2019 product of the University of Santo Tomas journalism program.

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