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Beyond grief

06 May 2018

By Daisy Catherine L. Mandap

Coping with grief is not the easiest thing to do, more so if the cause was the untimely demise of a loved one. Things get more tough when the death happens abroad, and the victim is a migrant worker.

Lucky are those who have friends or family members at the worksite who can attend to the numerous tasks that need to be done before the remains of a loved one can be brought home. Beyond coping with the pain, it is the nitty-gritty of attending to the paperwork, dealing with the police and the morgue, and deciding on whether a public viewing should be held, that could prove taxing to whoever has to deal with this unenviable task.

Fortunately, Hong Kong has an efficient system in place that allows even tourists to get through this unsavory part of dealing with a loved one’s death rather quickly, at least in most cases. Complications may arise only if there are matters that need to be addressed first before the body is sent for its final journey home.

Such complications could result if there are suspicious circumstances surrounding the death, or it was the result of an accident.

A recent example of the first was the unfortunate death of Lorain Asuncion, who fell from the house of her employer’s father in Shenzhen in July last year. After three autopsies conducted over four months, her family had to finally come to terms with the fact that she had committed suicide.

Death from an accident, in particular, a traffic accident, could result in even more prolonged mourning for the family. A case in point was the death of Geraldine Betasolo who was hit by van while rushing to deliver a spare car key to her employer in November last year.

Geraldine’s grieving husband and teenage son were lucky in that they got full support from her friends in Hong Kong, including her employers; the mayor in their hometown of Inabanga, Bohol, who paid for their air fare to Hong Kong and ensured they got passports quickly; and staff at the Consulate, particularly Danny Baldon, who took them to nearly all the government offices they had to deal with.

But five months since the tragedy, her family still has to deal with claiming the compensation due them under both Hong Kong and Philippine laws.

In helping them get through the hurdles, we were struck by how seemingly simple the procedures were in filing claims. Immediate members of the family can do all the paperwork, or appoint someone to act in their stead.

It turned out it wasn’t so simple, especially since Geraldine’s next of kin live in a barangay four hours away from the capital of Tagbilaran, and snail mail is even more slow in their part of the country.

Given this, the task of having documents notarized, then authenticated in the nearest Chinese consulate in Cebu, took far longer than usual, and they nearly missed meeting the deadline for filing refunds for funeral expenses.

The requirements for pursuing the bigger claims – for compensation due to death, personal injuries, and from the traffic accident victims assistance scheme - are even more formidable, and will entail them going back to square one with the new documents they need to submit.

But the rewards for putting up with the paper and leg work are real, and within reach. In Geraldine’s case, the compensation alone for death resulting from an accident - which now stands at about $400,000 (Php2.5 million) — is substantial, especially if spent in the Philippines. It should be enough to feed her family for months, and if her husband so wishes, use it to start a business. The money that will go to her son, Kyle, could see him through college, and hopefully, improve on the life they used to have.

It wouldn’t be hard to provide help to families like them if support groups including the Consulate could all sit together and come up with an action plan to address their concerns in the quickest time possible. All we need to do is to draw from our shared experiences and create a blueprint that ensures help is given when it is needed, and who would be in the best position to provide it.

All it takes is a community that cares and works together to ensure the grief does not last longer than necessary.

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