In the Philippines, overseas foreign workers (OFWs) are hailed as the new heroes of the country, and rightly so, given that their remittances contribute to over 10% of the economy. They sacrifice time with their loved ones and spend the prime of their lives in countries where they're often treated like second-class citizens.
Allan Rafael was one of these 10 million new heroes, working as a chef in Jeddah. He was the son of poor farmers in Leyte, whose livelihood was destroyed by typhoon Haiyan in 2013. He was determined to help his parents by working hard in Saudi Arabia, but was sadly diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and forced to return home.
You would think that in a country that relies so heavily on OFWs, a seriously ill OFW like Allan would have received some form of support from the government. But here's the thing: To the people running the government, OFWs are only honoured as heroes when everything's going well for them and their remittances are steadily lining the government's coffers. Once something goes wrong—if an employer turns out to be abusive, a war breaks out or they become ill—they're on their own.
Allan ended up spending his earnings on surgery and chemotherapy, which he received at the Eastern Visayas Region Medical Center in Leyte and the Philippine General Hospital in Manila. The chemotherapy took its toll on Allan's body—he lost his hair and a lot of weight—but he seemed to be responding well to the treatment. A year after he was diagnosed, Allan and his family barely had any money left.
But Allan was an optimist. His hair was starting to grow back, and he felt that he was getting stronger. He and his girlfriend of eight years were planning on getting married, and once he got a clean bill of health, he would return to being an OFW.
Here's another thing: OFWs are honoured as heroes only while they're toiling away in other countries. Once they go home, they, like everybody else who isn't rich or powerful, become easy targets for cops engaged in Duterte's fake war on drugs.
On 2 August, 2018, Allan was stopped at a checkpoint along Recto in Manila. The cops zeroed in on him because he was gaunt. He was also wearing a fairly expensive watch that they quickly took off him. Before they took him to the Barbarosa police station in Quiapo, they forced him to take out some cash which they also pocketed.
His family managed to visit him on 5 August. He told them that he had explained to the cops that he had cancer, but the cops refused to believe him and insisted that he was a drug addict. They slapped him and hit him on the chest, right where he had undergone surgery.
Desperate to get him out of jail, Allan's family scrambled to put together his bail money. However, just a day after their visit, they found out that Allan had been rushed to the hospital but died on the way.
This time, the police acknowledged his illness and used it as an excuse for his death. 'Shortness of breath' was noted as the cause of death. The police had no explanation for why Allan's clothes were soaking wet, as if someone had drowned him. They also couldn't say why they had his body embalmed straight away instead of sending it to the coroner.
Yet another thing: Like many other OFWs, Allan and his family voted for Duterte. To them, he represented the change that the country needed. How could they have known that they had voted a butcher, not a saviour, into power, and that they would be among the thousands of people to pay the price for it?
Allan was 35 years old.