In the Philippines it’s hard to miss ads and websites urging the western man, often of retirement age, to come to the Philippines and find a pretty, sweet young thing who’ll love him and look after him for the rest of his life. Y0u watch white men trying to outdo each other with their trophy wives or girlfriends. You hear Filipinas explain to each other that the man was just for survival, a way to get out of poverty.
Exploitation also works the other way. Over a period of about two months, three white men told me their troubles. One said his wife left him after he put her children through college. Then he discovered they’d never been legally married because she was still married to their father and had continued seeing him all along. Of course, in the Philippines divorce is still illegal. Another man said he’d made a bundle as a currency trader in Singapore and had come to the Philippines to buy property, get married and settle down. His wife’s relatives took everything from him.
Then there was Owen’s story, which he told me at my house in Tagaytay. After his marriage to an American woman ended in divorce, he married a Filipina and had a daughter with her. They moved to the Philippines in part so he could pursue business interests and in part because her behavior embarrassed him in front of his extended family, his community and his employees. Shortly after they arrived he discovered that she was married to someone else, so their marriage wasn’t legal. They split up. She moved in with another man and then a girlfriend, taking their daughter with her. Eventually he married a second Filipina. Then he got the phone call.
Idiot that I am, I believed what I was told—twice. “I’m not married.” Right.
Mary called me—I’ll never I’ll never forget this—about two o’clock in the morning on All Saint’s weekend 2002. She said, “There was a shot.”
I was just waking up. I asked what she meant. Was this about the gun I’d told her to get rid of? Where was Anne, our daughter? She told me Anne was safe, with the girlfriend’s mother, and Jade, the girlfriend, had been shot under the chin and was bleeding profusely. She couldn’t talk.
By the time I got to the hospital, Jade had died and had been wheeled out on a blood-soaked gurney. Mary was screaming, “I didn’t mean it. I didn’t want this to happen.”
Mary and Jade had gotten high on shabu [methamphetamine] and then gotten into an argument about whose gun it was. Mary retrieved it from her cupboard behind some soup cans. After an exchange about who was or was not afraid to die, Jade grabbed the gun, they struggled, and it went off. The 22-caliber bullet went from her chin right out the top of her head. She was brain dead immediately.
Mary was arrested and charged with homicide, but the charge was reduced to manslaughter. Fifteen days later I posted bond for her, she was released from jail to await trial. At a pretrial hearing the public defender and the prosecutor for the state moved for dismissal because there were no witnesses and the statements Mary had made to various people before the arrest were inadmissible.
Jade hadn’t been that well liked. She had a very long jail record for robbery and shabu. Her uncle, a policeman, came to me and said, “Sometimes God works in mysterious ways. Maybe Jade was supposed to die because she’s brought so much heartache to her mother.” The mother was then in her eighties.
Under Filipino law murder is a capital offense against the state–on paper. But, if you satisfy the relatives of the victim, then the perpetrator can go free. Mary gave Jade’s mother her motorcycle, the money she had in a bank account and the furniture in her house. That satisfied the mother, and she “withdrew her evidence,” which was only that Mary and Jade often had fights. The judge thought it would be nice if we could redeem Mary and make her a good citizen.
Four months later, Mary was arrested for possession of shabu. That judge offered her a chance to go to rehab, saying it would be good for her daughter if her life were put in order. She went off to rehab and then to a halfway house. Anne came to live with me. She was ten years old when her mother was released.
Then Mary wanted me to support her and Anne in their own place. At first I did in order to get rid of her. I rented a house next to the school Anne had been attending. Anne was miserable living with her mother, but she was going to school every day. Then Mary started limiting my time with Anne until it was almost nothing. One weekend she refused to let me see her at all unless I got a court order.
I went to the police and asked an officer to come with me to the subdivision where Mary and Anne were living and where Mary already had a bad reputation. He started quizzing her about who was paying the rent. She refused to answer. Finally he said, “Look, ma’am, I’m not a judge. I don’t write orders, but it seems like he’s being reasonable and you’re not. Your daughter says she wants to go home with her dad right now. All I can do is write a report.”
His report was not admissible in court, but very useful. Then I went to court for a custody order. Immediately Mary got a public attorney to file a case accusing me of psychological abuse, nonsupport and violence, the key words of the 2004 Republic Act 9262, also known as The Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act. That stopped everything. My case was civil, and hers was criminal. So her case took precedence.
She also claimed that I was an atheist and that I was in control of a lot of property. She had access to the titles with my name on the back of them. This made the prosecutors and the judge very interested. They told me more money could make the case go away. I said, “If you think that’s all mine you’re crazy.” There were adverse claims which they didn’t have access to because they were with corporations in the United States.
Under RA 9262, a Hold Departure Order is automatic. It’s nothing to a Filipino who has a job here, but it destroys a foreigner who depends on international travel to earn a living. It means you can’t leave the country and you can’t get a work visa. Mine was cancelled. But I just played tough and worked surreptitiously as an engineer. From 2007 until 2015 when the case was finished, I went back and forth to the court and did my own work.
RA 9262 was a new law. Most laws take two or three years to be used in court and to get teeth–the rules written for procedures and so forth. After we finally got Anne on the witness stand, my attorney questioned her for an hour: Did your father do what he’s been accused of? Are you afraid of your father? Did he ever embarrass you in public? Are you embarrassed about being of mixed race?
Like most people on drugs, Mary said the most inane things., like claiming there was a stigma against Anne because her father was an American. But then she was asked, “What were you thinking when you conceived her?” All the while, the judge and the prosecutors were approaching my attorney offering to settle.
There were allegations of nonsupport. As soon as the court was satisfied that Mary wasn’t married to me, I wasn’t obliged to support her, but I did have to support Anne. I had every bank deposit slip to prove that I gave Mary 60,000 pesos [$1200] a month. I had the rental contract. I proved I’d always paid Anne’s tuition. Mary could produce nothing to show that she’d ever even been employed.
My employee Ron testified that he paid the bills for the electricity, water and phone in Mary’s house for me. He was challenged and asked why he was doing all this. He said, “Look at the history. After all this I’m not supposed to not keep a record? Besides, he’s my boss. I’ve worked for him since 1996 in construction activities and engineering activities. I’m his bookkeeper and driver, so I know a lot.”
Now, this was January 2010. The case against me had been going on for three years, and it had begun to unravel. My son Thomas, by my first wife, was about to get married in Cebu. He and Anne were close. They were brother and sister even though they were eighteen years apart, and they looked like kids with the same mother and father. Thomas showed up in court. Slowly it dawned on the judge that this is for real.
At that time Anne was in a Department of Social Welfare and Development shelter—alone—because the judge felt he needed professional help to get the situation figured out. Mary had petitioned to get into the shelter also because the child needed her mother. The judge let Mary in, but Anne said she was happier without her. DSWD claimed a mother needs her child. [This is the Asian perspective.]
I blew up at that. I said, “This is upside down.” It’s children who need their parents.” They insisted Mary needed Anne with her in order to recover. I was not allowed to go into the shelter and see her.
So now Anne wanted to go to the wedding. My attorney put tremendous pressure on the judge, who quizzed her in open court. Anne was now twelve years old and could stand up for herself. The judge asked her why she wanted to go to the wedding. She said, “He’s my brother.”
Mary was screaming that if Anne went to the wedding she should be allowed to go to the wedding. Thomas was ready to come out of his skin because he couldn’t stand Mary anymore. After listening to her go berserk, the judge said, “Ma’am you’ve sort of undone yourself here. You’ve proved you don’t belong at this wedding.” So then Mary said that someone from the DSWD had to go along. She claimed Anne had said her father would kidnap her otherwise.
The judge called everyone from the local DSWD into court. About eight people showed up. Most of them said it was too short notice. There were two women left, including Anne’s case worker, who after three years had become good friends with Mary. The judge told her she was going. As soon as we got out of the courtroom and into the hall, she wanted money from me. Like 500 pesos [$10] to get home that night, when she presumably was going anyway. The other things I was already planning to provide. like her own hotel room and a first-class airplane ticket,–although that flight to Cebu had only one class. She wanted complete independence from me and her own driver. It totaled about 40,000 pesos [$800].
Then we bought the tickets, and Ron delivered hers. The case worker met him outside the courtroom, where she demanded another 20,000 pesos or she wouldn’t go. She wouldn’t take the tickets. We still have them because she never used them.
Ron didn’t know what to do. He had no standing in the court, but court was still in session. He walked into the courtroom and stood there, waiting. The judge knew him from the three years he’d been coming there. When the judge asked him why he was still there, he said the case worker wouldn’t go without more money. Then she told the judge she wasn’t feeling well. He said he didn’t believe her and was going to charge her with contempt. She protested that she wasn’t well.
That’s when the judge got wound up and called Ron into chambers. He asked, “Why would you work for a foreigner?” Ron was very polite. “Sir, Your Honor, I’ve been working for him for more than ten years. He’s never done anything that wasn’t decent, and I’m thankful I have a job with him.”
So then the judge calmed down, called the woman in and told her she wasn’t going. He called in the alternate, who said she couldn’t go. He finally phoned me and said, “We have a problem. The case worker can’t go. I believe what Thomas is saying, that you’re not going to run away with Anne. I’m going to ask you to do something I have no right to ask you. Will you give me your passport and Anne’s passport to hold until after the wedding?”
So Anne went to the wedding. Two days later we walked into the courtroom, and he gave us our passports. From then on all the nonsense ended.
Later there was a big interruption in the court because Anne wanted out of this, as you can imagine. She came into court, and my attorney told the judge she had something to say. Anne stood up and said she wanted to go to the States to live with her uncle, my brother, who lived in Florida, in a place with a good school system. She said her brother Harry would be going along. Then she presented the letter which my brother had written inviting her. The judge agreed that it would be in Anne’s best interest to go to the States for two years.
Now Mary and the DSWD were going berserk again. Mary was screaming she had to go. I explained that I couldn’t get Mary a visa because she wasn’t my wife. Finally they relented. The case worker volunteered to go live with Anne and my brother in the States. The judge said, “Are you kidding me? You wouldn’t go to Cebu overnight, and now you’re going to the States for two years? No, she can go alone. She went to the wedding with her father, and her father brought her back. I believe he’ll do the same thing.” He suspended the case for two years. When she came back, everything happened. It was over, and I won. That’s why it took eight years. By that time Anne was seventeen.
So now we come to the second court case, the one with Carmen.
Carmen was the woman I’d married after Mary and I split up. We had two children. In 2004 arrest warrants were issued for Carmen for estafa, or swindling. She fled to southwestern Mindanao but then returned to Manila, took our son Harry out of school, returned to Mindanao and sent me written demands for money. I refused to pay, partly because she provided no proof that the boy was alive and with her.
Two months later Carmen filed two lawsuits against me that included extraordinary financial demands. One suit was immediately dismissed. The other was the RA 9262 criminal suit. Her attorney successfully delayed the trial for nearly a year while I was pressured to settle. One year into the trial she’d presented only one witness, her sister. When my attorney asked her the standard question, whether she’d prepared the affidavit put into evidence, she said Carmen had prepared it and demanded she sign it.
My attorney began to present witnesses that included Carmen’s brother, father and people she’d she swindled. Her attorney asked Carmen’s father how much I’d paid for his testimony. When the father said I hadn’t paid anything, he was asked why a man would testify against his daughter. He said loved his daughter and he didn’t want to hurt her, but he believed his grandchildren would have a better life without her.
Now, when I’d met Carmen she introduced me to her little brother, Jay, but in court it came out that he was her son. When the judge asked why she hadn’t told me, she said, “Well, you know how it is. Sometimes you’re having a casual conversation, and you don’t tell everything. Then after a while you don’t know how to tell him.”
Jay was fifteen then. The judge had Jay’s birth certificate, which was a fuzzy mess. He asked Jay what his sister’s name was. Jay said he didn’t have a sister. The judge pointed out that according to his birth certificate, which he could hardly read, his mother had given birth to a female child before Jay was born. Jay was flabbergasted. He turned to Carmen. She said, “Oh, the hilyot just wrote that down.”
The hilyot, or midwife, is a formal job. Most are registered, and they follow the rules. The judge said that in his experience it was usually the mother who was asked for information. If she was in no condition to supply it, then somebody in her family would so the birth certificate could be completed. Carmen was silent. The judge continued, “The way it was filled out, it’s clear that she was married when she gave birth.”
This went around and around, and finally Carmen said, “I decided I didn’t want to be married to him anymore.”
“Really. So who’s your husband?”
She pointed at me. “He is.”
“But you can’t just decide you’re divorced and marry someone else.” He was mad. He said they were going to find out who she was married to.
Then Jay spoke up. “I don’t have a sister, but there’s a man that people told me used to be married to my mom.”
The court activities to recover my sons Harry took from December 2004 and ended fairly quickly. The judge threw everything out. In June 2007 a decision and Final Order was issued. The order said Carmen could not be alone with her children for five years and that she could not see her children until she completed one year of counseling, which she didn’t do. She visited her children in my presence five times beginning the year after the order was issued.
A year later she was pregnant by another foreigner. I don’t know if she gave birth. She died of a stroke induced by an overdose of an illicit drug five years after the Order was issued.
At the time of the interview, Owen was living happily with his younger children and another Filipina. They were not married.
A reader writes:
I can’t log in to write a comment!
I just read your new post, and I felt so sad for this guy. That is a common problem with foreigners who marry uneducated Filipinas. I have heard stories similar to his ordeal. When I went to Subic to visit a friend, her American neighbor was accused of molesting his Filipina wife’s eight-year-old niece Then it turned out that the kid’s father only wanted to get some money from this American.
I’ll try to get the log-in problem fixed. Thanks for writing.
Another reader writes:
Wow, Carol, that is really an insane story! Or couple of stories I guess… I have heard many others of really crazy abuse and swindling. Abuse of hard drugs just makes everything worse! And there certainly are some good cases of international union. Am I just really lucky to have gotten such a good Filipina wife, or can I credit good intuitive judgment?
I think the root cause is poverty with a pinch of xenophobia mixed in. Real or perceived income inequality can result in some nasty situations–as well as hard-core drugs, of course.
Yet another reader:
What a story, Carol! Although I think that’s a storyline that may happen anywhere, more so I guess in developing or 3rd world countries. Thanks for the article/story, very well described and written.