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Two HK-born sisters sent to Phl after living in shadows for 30 years

22 December 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

The sisters at HK airport shortly before departing for the Philippines

Two Hong Kong-born Filipino sisters, aged 29 and 30, who spent their entire lives with no legal identity and never went to school, are now in the Philippines, their parents’ homeland, after being removed from the city.

Dawn and Kaye flew to Manila on Saturday, Dec 19, with their mother Feli, a former domestic helper who had overstayed her visa, on the first leg of their voyage to the northern Philippines to be with relatives they never met.

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Not much is known about their father, although some media reports said he was a Filipino musician living in Hong Kong.

It was a quiet departure for the mother and her daughters, who were escorted up to planeside by Immigration officers from the Castle Peak Immigration Centre in Tuen Mun and seen off by staff from PathFinders, a Hong Kong charity that has helped them since they decided to surface.

PINDUTIN PARA SA DETALYE

PathFinders helped them surrender to the Immigration’s general investigation office at Skyline Tower in Kowloon Bay on Oct 16, 2019, according to reports. 

The sisters obtained their birth certificates only on Oct 22 this year, enabling them to apply at the Consulate for travel documents they needed to travel to the Philippines.

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The departure of Dawn, Kaye and their mother, Feli, whose real family names were not disclosed to protect their privacy, was confirmed by both the Consulate and PathFinders.

Consul Paulo Saret, head of the assistance to nationals section of the Consulate, said it was he who signed the travel documents of the three about a month ago. Reports said that was on Nov 26.

PINDUTIN PARA SA DETALYE

“The Immigration brought them here and we gave them travel documents. If you’re with the Immigration, that means they’d usher you out of their territory shortly,” said Saret.

The sisters were reportedly excited to see their mother’s hometown but were sad to be leaving Hong Kong, where they were born, but grew up moving from place to place every two years and not going to school.


Pindutin para sa detalye

Reports said Dawn and Kaye were born at Queen Elizabeth Hospital but their father did not bother to register their births. The mother claimed she tried to do so but eventually gave up.

Feli came to Hong Kong to work as a domestic helper and overstayed after her contract was terminated prematurely. That kept her from pursuing her daughters’ registration.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love

For the same reason, Feli did not bother to apply for the right of abode for both her daughters, and decided instead to take them with her to the Philippines where they could lead normal lives, after three decades in hiding.

Catherine Gurtin, chief executive of PathFinders, said the possibility of obtaining the right of abode was raised in initial meetings of the sisters with the NGO’s lawyer.

“But [this was] discussed as being slim given the girls may be considered an ‘unlawful stay’ – meaning they did not have a visa/any documents allowing them to enter or be in HK in the first instance,” Gurtin said.

“Additionally, once the girls turned 18 … they would be considered as adults, further complicating the case. Regardless, this was not an area we explored further, due to a preference by the family to return to the Philippines,” she said.

Growing up, the sisters never went to school as they had no identity documents of any kind. Feli made up for that by patiently teaching them English and Tagalog, and using a friend’s library card to borrow books from the public library that the sisters could read.

She must have been an excellent teacher as the sisters grew up so articulate that Gurtin was left amazed.

“These sisters are quite simply the most resilient, articulate and confident girls we have ever met! Thank you so much Dawn and Kaye for your incredible bravery and desire to share your story to help and encourage anyone else in a similar situation to come forward and seek our help,” she said on PathFinders’ website yearender.

“On Saturday, the family finally flew ‘home’ to celebrate Christmas in the Philippines with their Grandmother and extended family. We wish them all the best and a bright future as they embark on a bold new chapter!” Gurtin said. 

Before Dawn and Kaye’s ordeal became public, two similar cases were uncovered in Hong Kong four and five years ago, one triggered by tragedy that stemmed from a child’s frustration over her living in the shadows.

The girl, then aged 15, jumped off a bathroom building in the luxury flat in Repulse Bay she shared with her mother, former helper Herminia Garcia; father, insurance executive Nick Cousins; and a younger sister.

After the girl’s parents were arrested it emerged that Garcia had overstayed for more than 20 years after her DH contract was terminated. She was jailed for 12 months, while Cousins got eight months in jail, suspended for two years, for failing to register the birth of his daughters.


Cousins and Garcia during happier times

Both girls never went to regular schools and were privately tutored while forced to hide their parents’ dark secret.

The same thing happened in the case of two other girls, aged 18 and 19, whose lack of personal identity was discovered only during a routine check of their house in Aberdeen by police, following a report about a suspected crime.

Their mother, Ma Lorena Escanillas, 43, and Reynaldo Pangan, 58, both FDWs, both pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to register the birth of their children following their arrest on Apr 27, 2016.

Both girls said they never went to school as they had no birth certificates, and were only taught at home by their parents.

 

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