reunites with daughter after 30 years
reunites with her daughter Jennifer at the Correctional
Institution for Women (CIW) in Mandaluyong City, Philippines.
(Photo by CIW)
October 20, 2022
MANILA – "Nasaan
ang anak ko? (Where is my daughter),” asked Anne* looking straight
at Jennifer*, who was introduced to her by a staff of the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Smiling,
36-year-old Jennifer pointed to herself. They had last seen each
other over 30 years ago. Continuing to look at the younger woman
with some disbelief, Anne recalled that her daughter had a birthmark
somewhere around the nape of her neck. As she spotted it on
Jennifer, they were both overcome with emotions and embraced
Jennifer was only six
years old when Anne was offered a job as a saleslady in Malaysia.
Like many Filipinos in search of a better life, she accepted it. “I
did not tell my mother that I wanted to work abroad because she
would have refused to let me go. So, I just left without a trace. I
was sure I would come back and my family would understand me because
I did it for them,” said Anne.
But the job in Malaysia
turned out to be a scam. Anne was tricked into becoming an
entertainer with a measly salary. When she was released from that
job, Anne became a domestic help and then toiled as a construction
After her contract ended,
Anne returned to the Philippines in 2006. However, she did not go
back to her family because she was afraid to see her mother. “I
thought she would reproach me for what I had done. I convinced
myself to pretend as if I were dead to my family,” she said, adding
that she chose to settle in another village in Mindanao and started
Detained in the
In 2017, Anne was arrested
in relation to armed conflict. The ICRC visited her at Taguig City
Jail a few months after her arrest as part of its humanitarian
mandate and activities in the Philippines. “We have been helping
detainees all over the world for more than 150 years, focusing on
people deprived of their liberty in relation to armed conflicts and
other violence. We look into how detainees are treated during their
arrest and detention and monitor their health and living conditions.
We also help to restore and maintain communication between detainees
and their family members,” explained Alvin Loyola, the ICRC staff
who accompanied Jennifer to meet Anne.
Anne learned about the
ICRC’s Family Visit Programme (FVP), under the Restoring Family
Links (RFL) initiative, to help detainees separated from their loved
ones because of armed conflicts. The RFL initiative involves tracing
detainees’ family members, re-establishing and maintaining contact,
reuniting families and seeking to clarify the fate and whereabouts
of those who remain missing. Through the FVP, families of detainees
can travel from their hometowns to visit their detained loved ones.
“It is very important because it allows detainees to re-establish or
maintain contact with their families and improves their
psychological well-being,” said Mariegen Balo, ICRC staff.
Anne also desired to meet
her daughter when she found out her whereabouts through relatives.
But the programme was suspended in 2020 because of the COVID-19
global pandemic. When the travel restrictions were eased in 2022 and
family visits resumed, the ICRC scheduled Anne’s long-awaited
reunion with her daughter.
Together at last
In July, an ICRC team
accompanied Jennifer to visit her mother, who is now detained at the
Correctional Institution for Women (CIW) in Mandaluyong City. Anne
said she did not know how she would approach her daughter, whom she
had last seen three decades ago. “I wondered, should I ask for
forgiveness first, or do I just hug her?”
But Jennifer, who had
managed to beat the odds and graduate from college with her
grandmother’s help, said her mother did not need to worry at all.
Even though they had not been in contact for 30 years, Jennifer said
she did not harbour any resentment against her mother. In fact,
every year on 30 January – Anne’s birthday – Jennifer would put a
post on social media in her honour. “The only photo I had of my
mother was destroyed in a flood so I used photos of my siblings and
me for the posts. I used to pray hard for the day that I would see
her again,” said Jennifer.
The mother and daughter’s
reunion happened just a few days after Jennifer’s 36th birthday, so
the ICRC team asked Anne about her wish for Jennifer. “I wish her
more happiness in life and that she may be given more
opportunities,” said Anne.
As part of the FVP, Anne’s
family will make two ICRC-supported visits every year to meet her.
Now that she has been reunited with Jennifer, Anne said she looks
forward to making up for lost time.
*Names have been changed to protect identity.