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Out-Sourcing the Wife: The Chase

By NEWSBREAK

Out-Sourcing the Wife: The Chase


Mail-order brides lie and memorize fantasy love stories to pass immigration


(last in a three-part series)

To join her husband in Korea,
Aileen needed only a passport and a visa. Just a few days ago, she was
married off to Ji-Wong, a Korean more than twice her age, only a day
after she was picked among five women in a show-up tour arranged by a
marriage broker.

To get a passport, she had to convince
government officials that love for her husband was the only reason why
she wanted to permanently settle in Korea.

Under the Department
of Foreign Affairs Department Orders 28-94 and 11-97, Filipino spouses
and other partners of foreign nationals are required to attend a
guidance and counseling program—known as the Pre-Departure Orientation
Seminar (PDOS), a prerequisite in the issuance of passports.

“PDOS
is aimed to prepare Filipinos for the realities of cross-cultural
marriages,” Regina Galias, head of the Commission on Filipino Overseas
(CFO) Migrant Integration and Education Division, told Newsbreak.

The
PDOS had been devolved from the CFO to St. Mary Euphrasia
Foundation—Center for Overseas Workers and the People’s Reform
Inititiative for Social Mobilization Inc (PRISM). After completing the
counseling seminar, CFO issues the guidance and counseling certificate
that will allow the applicants to get their passports. Then they can
apply for a visa. After getting their visa, they need to return to the
CFO again to be registered before they exit the country.

PDOS has
proven to be a big thorn in the throat of marriage brokers, allowing
the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) to catch violators of
Republic Act 6995 or the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law and Republic Act
9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.

Republic Act 6955
prohibits matching Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals on
mail-order basis or personal introduction.  To go around the law,
recruitment agencies take time to coach the brides on what to say
during the counseling.

To get the PDOS certificate, Aileen
could not reveal that she auditioned to become Ji-Wong’s wife and
married him only a day after they met. She also could not say that
Ji-Wong promised to send financial support to her family in the
Philippines.

Aileen remembers her script. “They told me, if I go
to the CFO for interview, I should change my answers. I should tell
them I’ve known him for a long time. I was asked to memorize the
marriage contract—the address and everything there. (Sinabihan nila
ako, pag punta ka ng CFO, iinterviewhin ka. Ibahin mo. Sabihin mo sa
kanila matagal mo na kilala. Kabisaduhin mo yung nasa marriage
contract. Kung anong address mo. Lahat andyan sa marriage contract.)

A
former PDOS counselor herself, Janet Ramos of the CFO anti-human
trafficking task force said that some of the brides were very well
rehearsed. The unknowing counselor may be easily fooled.

But
experienced counselors are able to spot the tell-tale signs. The
Guidance and Counseling Form, which spouses fill out before the PDOS,
could give them away. The applicants may also slip during interviews.

The
application form asks very specific questions on how and where they met
their future spouse, if an agency was involved and if fees were
collected, questions that can easily trip an uncoached applicant.

Below is a copy of the Guidance and Counseling Form.

How did you meet your present spouse?
( ) Place or work?
( ) Personal introduction
( ) pen-pal/phone pal referred by a relative/friend
( ) Pen-pal through periodicals/magazines/pen-pal column
( ) subscribed to pen-pal club
( ) thru marriage bureau
( ) thru internet
( ) thru other entities (e.g. Church groups)
    *If Penpal Club/Marriage bureau/advertisement/Internet/Other Entities, pls specify.
        Name of agency/web site _____________________
        Address ___________________________________
        Amount of fees collected _____________________

Answers in asterisk refer to violations of the anti-Mail Order Bride law

“The
PDOS is like marital counseling. Normally, you would discuss about love
and your responsibilities as a foreigner’s spouse. It’s easy to tell
when the person is truly in love with the spouse. They can tell you
about their first meeting, the first kiss, and even their sex lives,”  
Ramos said.

“Others just sound rehearsed. When you try another
topic, they wouldn’t be able to answer it anymore. Even when the
questions are just basic,” Ramos added.

Counselor: Ano trabaho ng asawa mo?

Applicant: Salary man po.

Counselor: Ano yung salary man?

Applicant: Basta po may salary sya.

“Others
don’t even know their husband’s surnames, where they live, and his
phone number. It means they haven’t really known each other that long.
It doesn’t really tell us that she is a mail order bride right away. It
tells us that we need to spend more time on her,” Ramos said.

There are also the buzzwords that slip up during interviews—“manager,” “broker,” “show-up”, and “recruiter,” among others.

Sometimes, the family has to be called to the counseling session.

“We
encounter cases where parents don’t know about their daughter’s
marriage to foreign nationals. We witness their confrontations. Others
parents are obviously in cahoots with the marriage brokers. They admit
that they have been paid,” said Galias.

“They say, ‘Okay na po
yun kesa naman nandito lang sa Pilipinas.’ We know their rights. It’s a
personal choice. But we have to make them understand the realities.
What can happen to them? Even when the parents or the mail order bride
say they are willing to risk it, our responsibilities don’t stop there.
We cannot just grant you the certificate if we still don’t believe you
are ready to settle abroad,” added Galias.

For denying spouses
these certificates, CFO officials had been threatened many times. Cops
had been brought to their office. They have been threatened with legal
cases, too. Once, Galias and Ramos said they were accused of extorting
P150,000 from an applicant.

It can get frustrating, they said. “We cannot help them if they don’t want us to help them,” Galias said.

When they cannot get around the CFO, marriage brokers present fake certificates to the DFA to get the passports.

“It’s been done. We were able to catch one,” said Ramos.

Reluctant
from the beginning, Aileen got worried when she saw that they falsified
her information in the marriage certificate. “I wondered why I needed
to memorize my own address. I knew where I lived. When I looked at the
marriage contract, it said I lived in San Juan. But I didn’t live
there. Even Ji-Wong’s address was wrong,” said Aileen. (Sabi ko, bakit?
Alam ko naman address ko. Yung address ko saka address ng koreano e
pagtingin ko sa marriage contract, iba pala. San Juan daw. Hindi naman
ako nakatira dun.)

“I got scared. If something happened to me in
Korea, my relatives wouldn’t know how to help me (Nung nakita ko yung
marriage contract ko na iba, sabi ko, nakakatakot to a. Naisip ko,
kapag may nangyari sa akin sa ibang bansa, walang habol mga kamag-anak
ko dito)
,” she added.

Regretting her decision to marry Ji-Wong,
Aileen confessed to her counselors that she is a mail order bride. She
was immediately referred to Ramos.

With the help of the National
Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Aileen’s recruiters were arrested in an
entrapment operation in May 2008.

CFO wanted to file
trafficking cases against the recruiters for operating a show-up tour,
a clear case of exploitation with the intent eventually to commit
trafficking but the NBI downgraded it to a mail order bride case.

“There
is no exploitation yet. She was able to escape before she was brought
abroad and any exploitation was committed against her,” said agent
Roland Demetria of the NBI’s Anti-Human Trafficking Division. But
Demetria said they have a strong case against her recruiters for
violating the anti-Mail Order Bride Law.

Aileen has been
approached by the marriage brokers to settle the case. She told
Newsbreak she has no plans to give up but her CFO handler, Ivy
Miravales, is worried as the case continues to drag at the regional
trial court.

Over a year since the case was filed, there have
been three scheduled hearings on Aileen’s case. All of them have been
postponed for various reasons. The suspects have yet to be arraigned.
They are also trying to talk to Aileen to agree to settle the case.

To
this day, Aileen’s case is the only case undergoing trial in Philippine
courts on the Anti-Mail Order Bride Law and none against mail-order
bride operators on RA 9208. Even as matching websites and “show up”
tours continue to operate with impunity, the Philippines still has no
known conviction under R.A. 6995.

As long as matching remains
legal in other countries, it is almost impossible to get these web
sites shut down. Laws governing cyberspace remain muddy. Local marriage
brokers can use a web host based abroad and argue that Philippine laws
do not cover them.

The women are not too willing to file cases
against their brokers either. "If we are able to convince them, it’s
also difficult to prove that a profit was made by marriage brokers
unless you hold an entrapment operation," said Galias.

Getting
Filipino mail order brides to understand their predicament and
cooperate with the government to arrest their recruiters has proven to
be an uphill battle for law enforcers.

“These are innocent girls.
They don’t understand what they are putting themselves in. It’s not
easy telling them how many mail order brides have been exploited. They
thought they can get themselves out of poverty,” Galias said.

In
the Philippine context, the mail order bride phenomenon cannot be
discussed without touching on the Filipinos’ inclination to equate
marrying a foreigner with economic salvation.

"Their desire for
economic improvement at all costs leads to the erosion of values
regarding marriage and family including the self worth of women. This
is exacerbated by the colonial mentality among Filipinos which make
them regard foreign lands as the center of golden opportunities,"
Renato Luz of the Stop Trafficking of Pilipinos (STOP) said.

Then
and now, Filipino mail-order brides would try to convince CFO
counselors that they are marrying for love. But in the counseling, they
will often admit that it is pure and simple economics.

“When you
ask them why they married the foreigners, they’d tell you they want to
be able to send back money to their families. Most of them are
breadwinners," Galias said.

Relationships expert Margie Holmes
has words of caution for prospective mail-order brides. "Going to an
agent who may not really know the girl and whose only business is to
try to facilitate as many relationships as possible is not the way to
go," said Holmes.

"Mutual respect is important in a marriage. I
think the respect is lost if the man feels that all he has to do is
give money and the woman will be his. The woman should not be too
desperate. She should also look at his qualities first before she says
yes," Holmes said.

Interracial marriages, no matter how long the
man and the woman have known each other, are difficult as they already
are, she added. The language barrier is usually the initial challenge
but later on other racial, cultural and religious disparities becomes
issues, too.

“There is always a big potential that our women
are abused. The families of the brides are paid, too. That is why they
are treated like commodities," she added.

Nevertheless, Holmes
acknowledges that that there are happy stories. "The men may be
genuinely lonely. Some may also have a friend who had a very happy
relationship with a Filipina. I’m sure it’s possible that they fall in
love when they come here. I mean most of us are very charming,
attractive, and nice. It’s perfectly understandable that in addition to
the more suspicious motives, there are actually ideal motives based on
love, loneliness, wanting to have a good life and partner," Holmes said.

Understanding
and capitalizing on the appeal of the Filipino woman is the main reason
many local marriage brokers are able to lure many a hundred foreign men
to small Philippine towns to look for future partners.

To the
lucky couples, the money was well spent and the risks were worth it. "I
think if your intention is right, you can find a good match," said
Galias.

“Unfortunately, no matter what scary stories you hear,
the story that you believe most is the story that you have personal
knowledge of. No matter what stories are in the papers, or what you see
on TV, but if you have a friend who’s very happy in a foreign marriage,
you tend to believe that more. And it works vice versa. If you have a
friend who had a very unpleasant experience that’s what you tend to
believe more than the advertisements or whatever that you see in the
papers," Holmes explained.

Reports on the success of mail order
marriages in the US are varied. According to the 1997 report of the US
Immigration and Naturalization Office, "marriages arranged through
these services would appear to have a lower divorce rate than the
nation as a whole, fully 80 percent of these marriages having lasted
over the years."

The percentage was based on data provided by the agencies.

The
Purple Rose Campaign paints a different picture. According to its web
site, 70 percent of the mail order marriages involving Filipinas in the
US resulted in divorce. (Newsbreak)

This article was made possible with the generous support of the
American people through the United States Department of State Office to
Monitor and Combat trafficking in Persons and The Asia Foundation. The
contents are the responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily
reflect the views of Department of State of the United States or The
Asia Foundation.

RELATED STORIES
• Out-Sourcing the Wife: Dreams turned Sour

• Out-Sourcing the Wife

For more stories on trafficking in persons, log on to www.humantraffickinginasia.net.

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