A story I will tell the world

Ilena Saturay

I AM just one of those faceless two thousand Filipinos who left the country that day, one of the two thousand Filipinos who leave everyday, and just one of the seven million Filipinos who had to work overseas. There wasn’t anything special the morning I left: People went to their everyday work, the masses of the poor were still hungry and burdened of poverty while they worked to make ends meet and the small group of rich people were eating breakfast served by their katulong, their maid/s. Beyond my circle of family and friends, my departure was left unnoticed. But I hope the story behind my departure wouldn’t be unnoticed, because it is the story of so many others.

“It could have been me but instead it was you,” my father often sings the song of Holly Near. “And it may be me dear sisters and brothers before we are through.”

He was invited by Friends of the Earth to give a speaking tour to Indonesia and the Netherlands about mining in Mindoro. By that time, the government had sent more military battalions to Mindoro. A few days before my father left, human rights organizations organized a fact-finding mission to investigate reports of abductions, killings, disappearances and burning of properties by the military. A close friend of his, Eden Marcellana, was one of those who investigated. He asked her if he could come with the fact-finding team. Eden Marcellana told him not to go because it was too dangerous, and to just tell their story to world. So my father went to Indonesia and the Netherlands to speak about the situation in Mindoro.

On the day that he left, he received news that Eden Marcellana and Eddie Gumanoy, who was also with the team, were found dead. The Department of Justice dismissed the charges although there are many witnesses that point to the military as her abductors and killers.

“It could have been me but instead it was you,” my father often sings. “But if you can fight for freedom I can too.”

When he was supposed to go home, back to the Philippines from the Netherlands, a friend called him and told him that it was too dangerous for him to go back. The military is looking for him, too. He should better stay in the Netherlands and tell their story to the world.

He applied for political asylum here in the Netherlands. After three years of being away from us and his home, he received a confirmation that he can stay here as a political refugee. After three years, we, too, had to leave the Philippines. More and more political activists were being killed or abducted. During the Arroyo regime alone, there were at least 900 documented political killings.

Life abroad is not as easy and sweet as a lot of people think. There is no easy money for ordinary people like us. You have to work. And in a place like these where you have to learn the language first, you have to work extra hard.

When we arrived here, we had to stay in an asylum center for a week until our papers and documents were processed and until we were allowed to stay here with our father. That place was like a prison for us. We were not allowed to leave the big room for the whole day. When we had to leave the room to get some things from our bags (which were locked up in another room), we had to be accompanied by guards. We stayed with other political refugees. Some of them were allowed to stay here, and some of them were deported to the place where danger impatiently awaits them. We were clearly not the only one. I often wonder what happened to them. What was happening in the Philippines was clearly not happening only in the Philippines.

Last October 26, we attended a commemoration of the Schiphol fire that happened in 2005. There was a fire in a detention center where they keep migrants who were awaiting deportation, locked up like they were criminals just because they don’t or can’t have the proper paper as evidence that they are worthy to live here. Eleven of them died. During the commemoration, I saw a lot of people like me. Behind their faces were different stories of why and how they came here in the Netherlands, waiting to be told to the world.

We are hoping to come back home. But while we can’t, we will do what we can do to improve the world so that the two thousand Filipinos who leave the country don’t have to leave anymore, so that the people of the other countries just like the Philippines don’t have to leave their own countries anymore because of economical and political reasons. Telling our story to the world would be a good start.

“. . . but if you can fight for freedom I can too,” we often sing.

Ilena Rose Saturay is the 15-year-old daughter of Dr. Glorioso “Jun” Saturay, granddaughter of the venerable anti-martial law veteran Louie Saturay.¬†The article was published recently in Munting Nayon, a Filipino magazine in the Netherlands.


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