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TASTE OF FREEDOM: A Dispatch from a High-Threat Philippines

Updated: May 28, 2020

By Jomar T. Sadie, PGDip-TS

LEAPS Academy Philippines

Basra, Iraq - It was barely over a year ago, when we were pulling all stops sorting things out with prison officials in order to extract one kababayan Jocelyn Capate and bring her back home. She burst into tears the moment she saw us that morning of 03 April 2019. And more so when we told her she's flying home the same day, mere hours after her release from jail.

Joyce's ordeal started in July of 2018 when she was promised a job in Dubai. Instead of arriving in the UAE however, she ended up in Iraq using a Kurdistan visa. Such a visa is easy to acquire online. For three days, Joyce was transported by car from Erbil to Basra, a journey that should have been only 8 hours long at most. This is because the visa she holds is not valid for travel to the rest of Iraq.

During that trip, she was transferred from one car to another at least five times in order to avoid inspection at various checkpoints that pepper their route. She is among the luckier ones. At least twenty (21) other Filipinos experienced traveling the same route from July to December of 2018. Some were detained, two were allegedly kidnapped, and several were molested during the 3-day journey.

Last October, Joyce managed to escape. She ran away to escape the maltreatment she was enduring from her employers in Basra. But it was a dangerous trip. She traveled via taxi to Baghdad amidst the protest and violence that erupted in that city during that month. She stayed in the Embassy for a few months along with other Filipinos who were victims of human trafficking.

By December, we were sending home 22 victims of human trafficking. This was no easy feat, but no one heard about this. We couldn't celebrate. Joyce was left behind even with her duly processed exit visa dated 10 December 2018. Her employer had filed a case against her, as if fate deemed it, a day before her flight. She was detained at the airport. She was so close to getting home. And she was devastated. We couldn't fully rejoice for the 21, because even if the men and I are rough around the edges, "No one gets left behind" is not just lip service but a mantra we take to heart at the Embassy.

Because of the case filed by her former employer, Joyce was locked up for five months. Frustrated with the situation, but still keeping true to the spirit of diplomacy, the Philippine Embassy in Iraq transmitted a strongly worded note verbale to the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating, among others, that the Baghdad Philippine Embassy aspires to regularize Filipino workers in Iraq as well as combat human trafficking, but Capate’s prolonged detention made it difficult to advance these advocacies.

The central government took notice and responded; thus, Joyce was released. I remember looking at Joyce enjoying a cigarette in the other vehicle within our heavily guarded convoy that's running fast to the airport. I see her finally free. And she is celebrating with that cigarette, windows open. I roll down my window and light a stick to join the celebration. And damn, what a celebration! I wrote personal thank you letters to those who helped us, without friends, it is impossible to bear Iraq.

I remember writing this then and I say it now “To those, who are eyeing jobs in Dubai or Erbil with shady details, may this story serve as a warning to always be careful. If the offer is too good to be true, it is not true. And to those recruiters who are feeding off the blood and sweat of your very own "Kababayans", we sincerely wish that you live long, may you never be hungry, may you never be cold in bed or without a bed, and may you never be left alone, for the world is round, and life is long and you'll never know that twist of fate when it's your turn to be behind bars wanting and waiting for kind words. We are happy to be the first one to wish you well. See you there.”


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