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Filcom’s big brother going home with heavy heart

04 September 2018

By Vir B. Lumicao

Filipinos in Hong Kong will surely miss their “big brother” at  the Consulate when he ends his tour of duty in late August.

Hermogenes Cayabyab, Jr.
Hermogenes Cayabyab, Jr., who is known to many as “Kuya Junie,” has endeared himself to the community for his role as the Consulate’s liaison with the Hong Kong police, Immigration, hospitals and other relevant government agencies on concerns of sick and troubled Filipinos.

Fifty-year-old Cayabyab is set to return to the Home Office on Aug 25, exactly six years after coming to Hong Kong in 2012 to join the assistance to nationals section, the Consulate’s office that attend to Filipinos who need help.

His replacement, Arnel de Luna from the Home Office, arrived in Hong Kong on Aug 17 and started going around with Cayabyab to familiarize himself with his prospective duties and meet contacts.

“Siyempre nakakalungkot umalis kasi … community ang trabaho natin,” Cayabyab said in a recent interview.

“Sabi ko nga, napakalaking pribilehiyo, napakalaking blessing kasi yung attachment ko sa community plus yung nature ng trabaho ko dito parang nagkakatulungan na,” he said.

Cayabyab said Filcom groups, in particular his own community, the Couples for Christ, were saddened by the news that he would be returning home soon.

On weekends, he would visit various Filcom groups to bond with them or listen to their problems, and on occasions, comfort Filipinos who are seriously ill in hospitals, or check on the condition of those who are in jail.

“Kapag tinatawagan nila kami sa ospital, alam na nila kasi may direct number ako sa ospital para mapapabilis (ang tulong), lalung-lalo na yung mga hindi kaya ng OWWA,” he said.

He was referring to cases where the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration is unable to extend help, as in the case of overstaying Filipinos who can’t access free medical services.

Among those particularly saddened by his impending departure are long-term Filipino prisoners like Mario delos Reyes, who is serving a life sentence for murder at Stanley Prison. The inmate, who is a prodigious and talented writer, is said to have vowed to write a story about Cayabyab.

Asked for the most memorable case he has handled in Hong Kong, Cayabyab said it was when he had to spend New Year’s Day near the Chinese border with a domestic worker who was searching for the burial site of her sister who had earlier gone missing and then found floating at sea.

“On New Year’s Day, we were in Sandy Ridge Cemetery up on the hills of Lowu. We had requested for police assistance and the officers showed us pictures of those buried there, then drove us to the spot,” Cayabyab said. It was a place where the police buried unclaimed bodies, as they believed the dead was a mainlander, he said.

Once the grave was found, Cayabyab sought the help of local workers to exhume the body, then had it packed and shipped home. To this day, he said the deceased’s sister would visit him regularly and hear mass at the Consulate.

Because of the case, he said he became friendly with the local police and correctional officers, making it easier for him to liaise on cases and obtain access to OFW inmates.

“Kahit na Linggo iyan, (kung) gusto kong pumunta doon, dalhin ko yung mag-ina ko, parang pasyal lang. Kapag may emergency na itinatawag nila, madali lang (puntahan),” he said. He said he had given the police his mobile phone number so they could easily reach him at any time or day.

According to Cayabyab, the most difficult part of his job is breaking bad news to the families of workers. “Kailangang iparating mo nang mahinahon sa kanila, kasi kung minsan merong hahagulgol bigla. Kailangang pakikiramdaman mo muna by phone ang iyong kausap. Kasi minsan, mayroong maysakit, baka ma high blood,” Cayabyab explained.

Whatever assignment he takes on, he heeds the advice of his superiors to act immediately once he gets the details of a particular case.  He says he looks up to his bosses because they had gone through the most difficult selection process, making them experts.

Hong Kong was Cayabyab’s third and first full-term foreign posting since joining the Foreign Service 25 years ago. His first foreign assignment was Doha, Qatar, and then Syria, where he had to help in the rescue and repatriation of workers trapped in factional fighting there.

He says Doha was his most exciting post, as conditions there are far different from here.

“Doon kasi sa Doha, yung mga nakakulong, ang tingin nila pag dumarating ako, parang anghel, eh. Kasi walang dalaw doon kundi ako. Ikaw lang talaga ang maaasahan nilang darating, kaya pag dumating ka talagang tuwang-tuwa ang mga iyan,” he said.

Filipinos there behave better than their kababayans in an “open city” Hong Kong, he said. In the Middle East, they are law-abiding because they are afraid of being thrown into jail in the middle of the desert, “Tatakas ka man, walang kang pupuntahan.”

Cayabyab will be leaving with his wife Merlyn, who also used to work with the Foreign Service, and their Chinese-speaking daughter who is in second year high school at Rosary Hill School.

In Manila, he will be working in the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs, where he said he will remain accessible to Hong Kong OFWs.

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