Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thanks FB: Braganza helps rescue detained OFW abroad

Alaminos City Mayor Hernani Braganza (Extreme Left)

Thanks to the social network Facebook, Philippine embassy officials have successfully rescued a 32-year-old Filipina domestic helper from Pangasinan who was locked up for 19 days without food by her employers in their Amman residence.
Lalane Fontanilla Balcorta, a native of Alaminos City, said she barely survived the ordeal by asking scraps of food from neighbors who took pity of her situation. Alaminos City Mayor Hernani Braganza, who tipped off embassy officials of Balcorta’s plight, said he was informed of the domestic helper’s predicament through an appeal for help posted in the Facebook page “Taga Alaminos Pangasinan Ka Kung...” before noon last Monday. Braganza said he was able to open a line of communication with Balcorta through her Facebook account and he advised her to download the Yahoo Messenger“chat” application in her ward’s computer so they can communicate lengthily.
Bolcarta, who was in panic at the time, showed Braganza her situation through video chat and even panned the laptop computer to convince him of the futility of an escape try from her employers’ residence. “Ipinakita niya sa akin ang mga steel bars na nakapaligid sa mga bintana ng amo niya kaya naniwala ako na imposible siyang makatakas sa ganoong sitwasyon,”the mayor said. Balcorta, a mother to twin daughters, informed Braganza that she arrived in Jordan four months ago to work as a domestic helper. Aside from doing household chores, Balcorta was also instructed to serve as a nanny to her employers’ child.
Balcorta recalled that her ordeal began 19 days ago when her employers’ family members left for Iraq, leaving her under the care of her employer’s brother. “Hindi po niya ako pinapakain at ikinakandado ang bahay kapag umaalis siya.
Mabuti po at may mababait na kapitbahay na inaabutan ako ng ilang piraso ng pagkain kapag wala ang kapatid ng amo ko,” she said. Balcorta said she found the courage to appeal for help last Monday and posted a message in the “Taga Alaminos Pangasinan Ka Kung...” Facebook page.
Two concerned members of that Facebook page, both natives of Alaminos City but now residing in Hongkong and in San Diego, U.S.A., immediately forwarded Balcorta’s post through private messages in Braganza’s own Facebook account to inform him of Balcorta’s predicament. Braganza said he was able to see the messages during lunch break at the mayor’s office and he immediately found a way on how to initiate contact with Balcorta with the help of his fellow Alaminians in Facebook. Braganza also called Balcorta’s relatives to the mayor’s office to let them communicate with the overseas worker and be apprised of her situation.
he relatives appealed to the mayor to exhaust all efforts to rescue Balcorta and bring her home. During their video chat, Braganza tried to elicit information from Balcorta on how Philippine authorities in Jordan can help rescue her since the domestic helper did not know her employers’ home address. “I asked Lalane to look outside the window and describe to me the buildings and other possible landmarks in the area that could help Philippine authorities locate her whereabouts,” Braganza said. “I also advised her to tie a white towel in a floor mop and hoist it outside the window so that rescuers would know her exact location,” the mayor added. With those tidbits of information, Braganza called up the Philippine embassy in Amman and was able to talk to Consul General Emmanuel Fernandez. Consul Fernandez then formed a team from the Philippine embassy that coordinated with Amman authorities for the rescue operation. Balcorta was rescued around 11 p.m. last Monday (Philippine time) and subsequently turned over to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO)for safekeeping. She is now staying in a shelter pending return to the Philippines.

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