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Ex-Syria OFW reunited with rescuer in HK

22 June 2016

Pure joy as Arlyn bumps into ATN officer Junie Cayabyab on the Chater Garden walkway on June 12.

By Vir B. Lumicao

It was just part of a diplomatic staff’s job, an act that gets buried under numerous day-to-day assignments until it is forgotten in time.
Yet, memories of a good deed last for its recipient, as Hermogenes Cayabyab Jr., officer of the Consulate’s assistance to nationals section, realized on June 12.
The driving rain that Sunday morning, when the Filipino community in Hong Kong was gearing up for the annual Independence Day celebration on Chater Road, forced Cayabyab and some friends to take shelter on a covered walkway in Chater Garden.
Cayabyab or “Junie” to colleagues, had just come from the breakfast reception at the Consulate and was on his way to set up the makeshift altar for the holy mass that would usher in the day-long celebration on Chater Road.
“Mukhang hindi matutuloy dahil sa ulan, ah,” Cayabyab told The SUN.
Just then, a petite woman approached Cayabyab and said, “Sir, nagkita na tayo noon, natatandaan nyo?” she told the surprised ATN officer.
Then his memory returned. “Oo, sa Syria,” Cayabyab replied. He was as excited as the woman.
“Ako yung ni-rescue ninyo noon. Akalain nyo, magkikita tayo rito!” she said, grabbing Cayabyab’s hand.
“Oh, yes, it was in Damascus,” he said.
The woman was on her way to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office for some transaction and also sought shelter from the rain under the covered walkway.
“Ano na uli ang pangalan mo?” asked Cayabyab, who meets scores of people everyday as part of his work that their names just get lost in his mind.
“Arlyn po! Arlyn Muñez,” she replied almost inaudibly as she hurried away.
Cayabyab recalled that in April 2012, Arlyn was working for a Syrian family in a zone where government forces were battling rebels who were trying to topple President Bashar Assad, as the infamous Arab Spring crept into the Middle Eastern country.
“Nakipag-negotiate ako sa amo niya para makuha namin siya. Ang ibang amo kasi, ayaw nilang pauwiin ang mga katulong nila, gusto nilang isama hanggang sa pupuntahan nila,” he said.
Cayabyab was one of those assigned to a multi-agency task force formed by the Philippine government to evacuate OFWs trapped in conflict zones.
From Manila, he and his team flew to Syria and operated out of the Philippine embassy in Damascus.
His job was to contact all employers of OFWs in known addresses around the embattled country. Once an employer agreed to release his helper, the embassy would send a team to extricate the worker and take her home.
President Benigno S. Aquino III ordered the evacuation of about 17,000 Filipinos from Syria when the tension there escalated sometime in August 2011.
Arlyn was among those evacuated in line with the directive.
Four years on, and she still remembers Junie for his good deed even as she now savors peace in this part of the globe.

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