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Helper sacked after failed theft complaint survives emergency operation

22 November 2021

By Daisy CL Mandap 

Manulat posted this picture on Facebook as she appealed for help in paying her $51k hospital bill

A Filipina domestic helper who was terminated after being accused wrongly of theft has been dealt another blow when, just days before she was set to go home to the Philippines, she had to be rushed to hospital because of severe stomach pain.

Marivel Manulat, 42, was told at Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Saturday that she needed emergency surgery to remove cancerous cells from her stomach, but since she no longer had an employment visa, she needed to pay for the treatment.

From her sickbed at the hospital, Manulat posted an appeal for help on Facebook, saying she was being billed $51,000 for the surgery. She asked for donations, saying “Kahit 1 dollar lang po,” so she could raise enough money for her surgery.


Many of her fellow migrant workers immediately shared her appeal on their own social media accounts, not a few of whom also sent money through an Alipay account number she gave, 53089446. Those who wanted to verify the information could also contact her via WhatsApp at 9602 4963.

There were, however, others who asked whether Manulat was for real, as it was unusual for a migrant worker in distress to post a personal appeal for help on social media.

It turned out Manulat, a 42-year-old single mother from Davao City, had already sought help earlier from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Mission for Migrant Workers because of her problems with her former employer.


Mission’s volunteer case officer Josie Pingkihan said that based on their interviews, Manulat’s employer had called the police on Oct. 19, accusing the helper of stealing a pendant. However, after checking her belongings, the police found no evidence of theft and declined to arrest Manulat.

“Still, the employer tried to force her into signing a termination letter. Marivel didn’t sign,” Pingkihan related. “She left the house at 5:20pm, and wasn’t given any salary and other contractual obligations of the employers.”

On Oct. 27, Manulat said she began experiencing severe stomach ache. “Nag-inom ako ng warm water at naglagay ng Vick’s sa tyan pero andyan pa rin ang sakit,” she said in a subsequent post. (I drank warm water and applied Vick’s (vaporub) on my stomach but the pain did not go away).


She said the pain became more intense at night, and would not go away even after she took medicines for constipation.

After three days of putting up with the pain she said she began to worry and asked her boardmates to take her to Queen Elizabeth. 

But when told that she needed to pay for the recommended surgery, Manulat asked to be sent home the next day, little knowing that public hospitals in Hong Kong do not shirk from treating anyone, whatever their visa status, in cases of emergency.


For the next 17 days, Manulat put up again with the recurrent pain, thinking that she just needed to make it until her scheduled departure for the Philippines. But the pain got even more intense that on Nov 20 her boardmates were left with no choice but to call for an ambulance again.

The next day, she posted: “Heto na ngayon, ooperahan na ako sa cervical cancer para matanggal na daw at di na kumalat pa,” she said in her post yesterday. (So here I am now, about to be operated on for cervical cancer, which I was told has to be operated on so it does not spread).

However, it took a few more hours before the surgery got underway at 8am today. Contacted by phone this afternoon, Manulat sounded upbeat, saying the surgery had gone well, but many of her internal organs had to be taken out.


In a voice message to Pingkihan, she said: "Yung bukol ko sa matris ko, yung myoma, tapos yung ovary ko kasi cancerous na, yung appendix ko kasi may tubig na, yung small intestines ko at saka large intestines kasi butas na rin. Kaya ayun, tinanggal nila lahat.”

(The lump in my uterus, the myoma, my ovary, because it was already cancerous, my appendix because it had water and (part of) my small and large intestines because they also had holes in them. So, there, they decided to take all of those out).

Manulat is upbeat despite having 5 internal organs taken out during surgery

Manulat confirmed to The SUN that she first went to OWWA to seek help after being fired, but was advised that if she filed a labour claim, “magtatagal ang kaso.”

Two days later, she reportedly went to the Mission to ask for advice and was told to lodge a complaint with the Hong Kong Labour Department.

As a result of the claim, the employer gave $9,000 to Manulat and an air ticket for Nov. 2, but Pingkihan said it was not enough to cover all of the employer’s statutory obligations which they had computed to be more than $12,000.

As it turned out Manulat could not use the non-rebookable air ticket from her employer as she had to be rushed to hospital on Oct 31.

On the advise of the Mission, she went back to OWWA after her discharge to follow up her request for a new air ticket, but was reportedly told that she would have to wait for about a month to get the fund needed.

She was also advised that it might be better for her to just go home for the surgery.

“Along the way she was following up her application for a new employer,” said Pingkihan.

On Nov 5, Mission’s general manager Cynthia Abdon-Tellez gave Manulat a referral letter to OWWA, asking for funding for the worker’s return air ticket.

She was finally issued one, but the day before her scheduled departure on Nov 21, she was again wracked with severe stomach pain that she had to be sent back to hospital.

“Her flight was supposed to be yesterday but was moved to Nov 25. Welof Dina (Daquigan) has been keeping in touch with her,” said Welfare Officer Virsie Tamayao, when asked for a update on the case.

Tamayao also said her Daquigan will call the hospital social worker to arrange a schedule to visit the patient.

Manulat said the doctor told her she will need to stay in the hospital for about a week after the operation, so it’s not likely that she’ll be able to take her flight home for the third time.

For now, she said she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from her fellow migrants, who have not only sent her messages of comfort and hope, but have also helped in whatever way they can.

One of them, Marites Palma of Social Justice for Migrant Workers, secured the boarding house in Causeway Bay where Manulat has been staying while waiting to get on a flight back to Davao. She also alerted OWWA and the Consulate about her case.

Another migrant leader who came to her rescue was Rodelia Villar, founder of Domestic Workers’ Corner who has reposted her appeal on her group’s Facebook page, allowing members to send help to Manulat directly. She also gleefully posted immediately about the patient’s surgery being successful.

Ang daming nag me message sa akin na nagpapalakas ng loob ko,” Manulat said. “Hindi ko akalain na ang dami palang taong mababait dito.” (So many people have been sending me messages that fortify me. I didn’t realize there were so many kind people around here).

With such good thoughts and kind deeds coming her way, Manulat is hopeful she will recover quickly so she can return to her loved ones soon.

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