Manila, Philippines – LIFE is totally different when you lose the option of looking up. When the ground you walk on is all that you see, and the blueness of the sky is but a residue of the things you know to be true.
Alfredo Salmos lost this option when his chin became fused with his neck, his underarms fused to his body, and his fingers fused and deformed by an accident that involved 14,000-volts penetrating the whole of him.
The accident happened in October 2010 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
He was doing part-time work as an electrician. When he tried to shut down a breaker, the electrocution was swift and set his body on fire. He woke up 27 days later from being comatose in a hospital bed.
I asked him about the 27 days. He said he saw Hawaii while in a coma. Hawaii is where his eldest son, long estranged, works as a US navy officer. Alfredo saw paradise. He was on a long road, a road that seemed endless. He was walking on that road and everything was just lovely the green grass, the flowers, and a road paved with gold. He woke up all alone, disfigured, and helpless.
Who cared for him, I asked. It must be rough for an electrician used to working with his hands to suddenly be so physically incapable of doing the simplest things, like sending a text message to his family. Mang Fred, as I call him, said two Indonesians stood by him, and became his family throughout the two-year ordeal.
These two Indonesians were undocumented workers in Saudi Arabia. When he was healthy and employed, Mang Fred took them in and gave them a vacant room in the flat he was renting. He took the risk on them and they paid him back big-time by taking care of him after the accident. They gave him baths and fed him, they cleaned after him and cheered him up. They call him playfully as “Sunog”. When it was time for him to come home, the Indonesian pair surprised him with clothes and a gift to give to his mother.
Fred spent 19 years of his life in Saudi Arabia. His company, Siemens, agreed to let him go upon his request in 2010 because he thought it was time to come home. The accident happened when Siemens was no longer his sponsor. Still, the company came to his aid and even bought his ticket home. It is necessary to stress this point – he was not a victim of a neglectful, uncaring employer. Getting a no objection certificate from Siemens was not the problem. It never was.
Why then was Mang Fred forced to stay two years in Jeddah, cared for by two undocumented Indonesians, if his employer was willing to send him home immediately after the accident?
During those two years, he had been going to the Philippine Consulate to seek help. A Filipino senior citizen in Jeddah came to his aid. That friend referred him to several NGOs and OFWs including GMA7 correspondent Bong Concha, who did their best to help Alfred. Speciﬁcally, Mang Fred told me to convey his gratitude to Frank Resma of Balitang Middle East, as well as to Charles and Kenji Solis.
What really was the problem that barred his departure? In 1998, Fred and his sister, Epifania, who was also working in Jeddah at that time as a domestic worker, were in a car accident. The car was towed and impounded and the paperwork somehow got lost. More than a decade later, when he ﬁnally tried to apply for an exit clearance with the immigration, this tiny footnote barred him from leaving.
When his case became a story shared on Facebook and magniﬁed on our TV screens, efforts were made to bring him home. The Philippine Consulate did its best, but it was really Joseph Espiritu of Patnubay Riyadh, a non-proﬁt organization in Saudi Arabia that came up with the right advice.
Patnubay Riyadh drafted a letter that Alfredo Salmos signed addressed to Saudi Prince Mishaal requesting that fees with the Mooror (equivalent of our own LTO) be waived on humanitarian grounds. Romy Carbonel of Patnubay brought the letter to the Governor’s Office on May 1, 2012. They advised Mr. Salmos to stay home and for Romy to come back after five days. The decision to waive all fees on the impounded car was granted and the necessary paperwork was processed within one week.Last May 22, Fred came home.
With the help of the Villar Foundation, the Office of the Vice-President, OWWA, and Senator Koko Pimentel as well as the good doctors of the Plastic Surgery Unit of the Philippine General Hospital, plus so many others, Alfredo Salmos shall soon be able to look up to the heavens and give thanks. The Salmos family wishes to thank everyone who helped them out, on Facebook, with prayers, and through donations. Special thanks to Tita Cynthia Villar and PureGold for enabling the family to put up a sari-sari store.
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