Searching in the Philippines
It was a Sunday evening in 1998 when I was listening to my adoptive father’s old time favourite song by Elton John, Daniel (1970s). The song was about a Daniel who was catching a plane one night, the tail lights flashing behind. That song, one I had no real interest in, clicked a few weeks later, when I watched a television documentary about a Vietnamese adoptee who decided to return to Vietnam to see their cultural roots from their birth country. I thought of myself in an airplane, with my adoptive parents, flying out of Manila ’s Ninoy Acquino International Airport, late at night with the plane’s tail lights flashing across the Manila city lights.
When I was born, I was abandoned in the Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital , located in a place near Tondo, in Metro Manila. My birthmother, being single from a previous de-facto relationship was too poor to take care of me due to a medical problem, so she decided to call on my grandmother and aunt to care for me. All was good until 6 days later, when my uncle came to collect me. Upon his arrival at the hospital, my birthmother’s former employer decided to hold me at bay and sell me to my mother for a cost of over 30 000 pesos – money my mother could not afford since she was paid a poor wage to clean out a makeshift restaurant. Yes, human lives are up for sale it seems!
My mother could not afford it, so allowed me to remain separated from my relatives from that day onwards. My birth papers were secretly altered and a male hospital employee was asked to pretend to be my birthfather and make the birth legitimate under Philippine Law. A true birth registration file was sent to the Department of Social Welfare in Quezon City. I was subsequently placed in a child research institution. I became a Ward of the State simply because babies are on the market. The institution was for children from broken or abusive families. Later, I was placed in an orphanage.
I was adopted by Australian parents and came to Australia at the age of 4 years. All throughout my life, until the September 2000, I always questioned my adoption. People in school asked me why my parents were ‘white’ and I was ‘brown’. I felt a sense of loss of identity. I was and continue to this very day to be stuck between two cultures, Filo and Oz.
In September 2000, I decided to travel to the Philippines for a 3 week vacation simply to search for my birth parents and take in the Philippine culture. I spent 3 weeks making phone calls and visiting the Department of Social Welfare. In the end I was unsuccessful. The only documentation I had was an old exit passport and a paper showing my original name and the orphanage I stayed at. The only help I got from the Department was a simple quote “Seems your files are to be kept closed and information on my routes were to be concealed”. That was under President Marcos’ policy. I returned to Australiawith an unsuccessful search. I decided it was not worth trying to find my birth parents amongst a population of 70 million.
February 2004 – Roller Coaster Ride
In February 2004, I travelled to the Philippines to visit friends of my adoptive parent’s close friends. They live in the Philippines 6 months of each year. This time I was not going to the Philippines to bother looking for my birth family, but to visit friends and hang out.
For some reason, despite knowing I would never find my birth parents, I decided to pack my adoption papers showing the orphanage and my original name “Enrique Paclita” of the RSCC study orphanage, Quezon City Metro Manila. I only took it to show my friends that this was my original Filo name. On the first day after my arrival in the Philippines, I and my friends mother decided it would be worth seeing the place and town where the orphanage was. With still no interest in bothering to search my birth mother or father, I went along with the idea. I thought to myself, “wouldn’t the orphanage be demolished by now, and the site now covered under a shopping mall”? First I travelled to the Department of Social Welfare’s main office and they were good enough to give me name of the orphanage doctor and the address of the orphanage. The roller coaster ride only gets more fun from here on. What I was about to go through would become the miracle of my life!!
This will be interesting, like going for an architectural history tour of the Philippine’s capital city, Manila. Just to see a place, that could be a shopping mall, KFC or Jolibee. I rode the typical Philippine Jeepney, a tin of sardines on wheels, then a tricycle down a narrow road leading to the gates of this rather ordinary building. Amazingly, it was the orphanage, still standing. Upon entry, I was greeted by the doctor, and the records officer. I walked along a corridor with orphans in rooms each side. I handed my documents over, and she went down to the basement to an old filing cabinet. The cabinet was under lock and key from any adoptees until a change of policy by recent Philippine Governments. She took me to the office and opened up this brown dusty manila folder with my original name on the front. The 10 pages within that folder disclosed the vital information I needed to at least begin a search. This folder was kept closed under the Marcos Regime but thanks to Ramos’ and current President Arroya’s policies, access to my file was allowed. That file revealed the information about how I came to be put up for adoption and also the likely where abouts of my relatives. A town called Tutubigan appeared in the right hand corner of the page. No indication of my birth mother’s likely where abouts were in the file.
It only gets more exciting.
The local Television Station was starting a program called “Lukso ng Dugo” which means ‘Leap of Blood’ in Tagalog. The program is a reality TV show whereby adoptees or lost loved ones are re-united with their birth families. It just so happened that I was in the Philippines at the time of this program. The doctor called the TV station, and within 30 minutes, the office was packed with TV cameras, lights, microphones and TV crews, as well as a story reporter. They interviewed me about my experience of being adopted. The most emotional question they asked me was “What would you say if I ever met my Birth Mother.” I replied “I forgive her for what had happened and I am thankful for my adoptive parents for their love and care”.
The adventure get more exciting.
The file reveals that my Birth Mother once lived in Western Samar, an island to the south of the main Philippine island of Luzon. The TV reporter thought that may be my relatives could may well be there. I thought this would be impossible to find them, since it was over 20 years ago. The very next day, I was ushered on to a plane with TV crew and all, and flown to Samar Island. From the airport, it was a 4 hour jeepney ride to the town of Catbalogan, a remote village.
We missed the turn-off to the village, since roads diverged in the midst of the tall forests. With no map to gain our bearings we went around in circles. The roads were endless. Then, a man on the side of the road carrying bags of bananas tapped on the jeep and asked the driver for a ride back to his house. Upon me asking his name, he mentioned a surname that seemed all too familiar in my adoption papers, the name Paclita. I said, “Oh!! I think there’s a link here. This man’s surname is Paclita”. I got the driver to offer him a lift and then I through a translator tried to show him my documents. Immediately he told the driver to turn around and drive to another turn-off for another village called Tutubigan. This was the village which appeared in the file back at the orphanage. The man then said he knew my birthmother many years ago.
It only gets more interesting.
I got out of the jeep and walked into this remote village. Houses were simple and everyone was living a simple but seemingly happy life. I was led into a small wooden house. I was told that this was where my Birthmother once lived. It was small and very simple. Then the man said he was my second cousin. Wow!!!
Soon after the whole village, young and old, converged outside the front of the house of my mom. Standing amongst the crowd was my aunt and uncles and cousins who I never knew I had. Later that night I met my brother – a brother I never knew existed. And for him, a brother who he knew existed, but never found until this very day. Step by step, upon meeting one relative, he or she introduced me to another. A union it was!!
With my aunt, brother and TV crew together we flew back to Manila. Apparently my aunt told me that mom remained in Manila but was not sure where in the city.
The search for my birth mother began in Manila the next day. My aunt tracked down my uncle who in turn knew my birth mother’s close friend. It was about 8pm in the evening and the search would continue. My uncle had the phone number of my birth mom’s friend. That person would be the make or break in the chain or quest to meet my birthmother. Only she knew where my birth mom would be living.
The first call to that number there was no answer. Twenty minutes later, still no answer. An hour later yet still no answer. Perseverance, but it was tense. Two hours later, an answer finally. It was 10pm. The person then was kind enough to tell me the whereabouts of my mom. It was an urgent rush across Metro Manila to the railway slum area off the main Highway. Due to the depressed area, the local police were asked to escort us into the area. I was led along a railway track lined with poverty stricken shanty homes. With only a torch light to see with, I climbed up a ladder and onto this wooden board, shielded over with wrought iron sheet metal. A lady lay lying over a cardboard box fast asleep. A shock, but was she really my birthmother.
As the TV crew stepped onto the ladder this lady woke up and looked towards us. Immediately she recognized my aunt, uncle and my brother. I looked into her face and she resembled much of my own face, eyes, mouth and jaws. It must be her. The TV reporter asked mom her name. She replied the same name as exactly appears in my birth papers. Then the reporter asked mom what had happened to the baby that was taken from her. The information she gave was exactly as was documented in the file back at the orphanage.
An interview was held and we returned to the TV station for a celebration. A sister I never knew I had was contacted by my aunt and she was summoned to the studio for the interview. I was to return to Australia, leaving the people I never knew existed, behind. What I missed in life was now found. A miracle! My father was not to be found. Apparently he was from Palawan and returned there shortly after my birth before going to Saudi Arabia to find work.
February 2005 – The re-union
As I boarded the Qantas 747 at Sydney Airport, I had mixed emotions. The flight was 7 hours 40 minutes. I looked out the window of the plane, 34000 feet above the Philippine coastline. Then upon descent, I began to see rice fields and lush green hills. The urban sprawl of Manila came into view. I just left Australia, a country I spent most of my life in and now I feel as though I am also going home, but to a second home – to a family I never really knew existed, except on paper!
The Qantas 747 crossed over the airport perimeter fence and touched down on Manila’s Ninoy Acquino International Airport’s Runway 06/24. I was greeted at the airport by Filo friends and whisked away to a few days of relaxation on Boracay Island. Afterwards the moment had come to meet my mom and siblings whom I met for the very first time one year earlier. I was taken to a new place in the province north of Manila. This place was where my cousin stayed. My mom was living there. It was an emotional re-union, simply getting to know my birth family. Mom cooked a meal for me for the very first time and even powdered me over. For the first time she spoke limited English and a clutch of the hand.
The rest of the vacation was spent in shopping malls. Mom got the experience of riding elevators, escalators, and using the Comfort Room/Toilet since all of these amenities she never seen before. Although she lived by a train line she never actually caught one. Going to Jollibee with mom was like being served a 3 course meal in 5 star hotel!!
My brother and sister spent the time with me singing karaoke and shooting basketball.
It all came to an end too quickly and I had to leave. My family saw me off at the airport – and yes Daniel my Brother is on that plane that night with the ticking flashing lights!!!