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Deceased ex-DH’s ordeal began with hocked passport

17 February 2017

A priest blesses the remains  of Thelma before these were shipped to the Philippines.

By Vir B. Lumicao

Former domestic helper Thelma Lomohan returned to her homeland in a box on Feb 9, ending a 20-year stay in Hong Kong spent mostly as an asylum-seeker because she lost her passport to a friend from whom she had borrowed money.

Lomohan’s remains were accompanied on the Philippine Airlines flight to Manila by her younger sister Cleofe L. Alvarez, herself a domestic worker in Hong Kong.  They were met at the airport by one of Lomohan’s two sons and staff from a funeral parlor in Sison, Pangasinan, that took to them back to their hometown.

The 55-year-old Lomohan died on Jan 26 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kowloon following two major brain surgeries after suffering a massive stroke 11 days earlier at her boarding house in Clearwater Bay, Saikung.

“She was a very kind sister, the eldest of five girls among eight siblings,” Alvarez told The SUN in an interview on Feb 9 at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, where she went to secure an overseas employment certificate for her return to Hong Kong after the funeral.

Alvarez said Lomohan came to Hong Kong in 1996 to support her family, leaving behind two daughters and two sons, the youngest of whom was just a year old. Since then she had not seen her children, Alvarez said.

Cleofe Alvarez paying a courtesy call on Labatt 
Jolly a day before escorting her deceased 
sister Thelma's remains back to the Philippines on Feb 9.

“Kaya ang sabi ng mga anak niya, iuwi ko raw nang buo ang nanay nila para makita nila. Ayaw nilang ipa-cremate,” the sister said, explaining why she turned down suggestions of cremation for Lomohan’s remains as a cheaper option to repatriating her body.

A Hong Kong-based group called the Alliance of Overseas Filipinos for Change started an online appeal for financial help for Lomohan, posting her picture taken after her surgery, accompanied by her heart-rending life story.

By the evening of April 8, Alvarez said enough money was raised for the repatriation of Lomohan’s remains from donations by Good Samaritans coursed through the group or collected from drop boxes at POLO, along with money sent by their United States-based sister, Marilou Wagner.

Lomohan worked for four years for an employer who hired her in 1996, Alvarez said.

But the deceased was unable to process her third contract and renew her working visa since her friend who held her passport as collateral for a loan had disappeared.

After her visa expired, making her an illegal immigrant, Lomohan decided to overstay and live and work in the shadows.

“Minsan nga, nahuli siya dahil overstaying na, at nakulong siya nang tatlong buwan,” Alvarez said of Lomohan, who reportedly took on odd jobs just to be able to send money for her children’s food and studies.

To make things worse, her husband reportedly left their children in 2000 to shack up with another woman.

“Simula noon, sila-sila na lang magkakapatid ang tumingin sa isa’t isa,” said Alvarez. She said it was tough for the children, as they had to live on their own at a very young age, and at the same time, take care of their youngest sibling who is a special child.

At the time, Lomohan’s parents had already died, and the children managed to get by only with some help from the aunties in the neighborhood.

To avert deportation, Lomohan filed for asylum as a torture claimant. As such, she became entitled to some meager help from the government for her upkeep and monthly rent.

After Lomohan became seriously ill, her sister sought the Consulate’s help in sending her back home. Alvarez was advised to first go to the Castle Peak Immigration Centre to report her sister’s immigration status.

After the online appeal for help for Lomohan went viral, thousands of Filipinos, mostly based in Hong Kong, reportedly took notice of her plight.

The author of the appeal wrote: “While Thelma committed mistakes, just like any ordinary mortal, the battles that she fought to support her children on her own in spite of great adversities clearly reflects her unquestionable love for her children – a quality that should inspire all OFWs and is certainly worth emulation.”

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