God was in the room

Nanay Edith Langamin forwarded a text she got from Atty. Ira Pozon of the Office of the Vice-President to my mobile phone. It said that the Vice-President would like to meet with her regarding the case of her son, Jonard, who is on Saudi Arabia’s death row. The meeting was to be held Wednesday, January 4 at the Coconut Palace.

“Ma’am Toots, pakisamahan po ako,” Nanay Edith said. The Blas F. Ople Center, a nonprofit organization, which I head, has been helping Nanay Edith follow-up on her son’s case since April 2011. At that time, news reporter Jeff Canoy was doing a documentary on the lives of OFWs. Jeff’’s able researcher, Cherrie Ongtengco, fetched Nanay Edith at her home in Caloocan City for that eventful morning meeting.

It was 10.30 am, Wednesday. We motored from the Ople Center to the spacious Coconut Palace by the bay. Nanay Edith brought along her sister, Rina. At the entrance of the Vice-President’s wooden palace was Atty. Ira Pozon, the person tasked with looking after sensitive OFW cases. His handshake was warm, as was his smile. Nanay Edith’s heart fluttered with anticipation.

We were shown into a room. Already seated were Vice-President Jejomar Binay, his adviser, former Ambassador Jun Lozada, OWWA Administrator Carmelita Dimzon, and Robert Mendoza, the father of Robertson Mendoza, who was killed by Jonard Langamin during an altercation on May 5, 2008. Both the Mendoza and Langamin families were unaware that the meeting would involve both parties. However, Nanay Edith and Ka Bert have met twice before. Ka Bert is a softspoken man with a good heart who had told me once before that he bore no grudge against Jonard.

The entire group moved to the Vice-President’s office where there was a comfortable set of sofas facing each other, and three chairs commanding the front. On those three chairs sat Administrator Dimzon, Ambassador Lozada and with the Vice-President right in the middle. The Mendoza family sat to his left and Nanay Edith, her sister, Rina, DFA’s Ambassador Eric Endaya of the Office of Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA) and I were seated opposite them.

For three years, Nanay Edith had been following up her son’s case. Blood money has been set at the equivalent of Php5 million. Edith and her husband sell fishball and sweet corn at the Baliuag Bus Terminal in Caloocan City. Prior to that meeting, the Langamins were able to raise just Php 30,000, from money chipped in by OFW families and a few anonymous donors. During that Wednesday morning, we learned that Jonard was to be executed on March 2012.

Vice-President Jejomar Binay spoke with a soft voice, and every word he uttered was measured with tact and diplomacy especially towards the aggrieved family. He opened the meeting with an appeal to not dwell on the past and instead focus on how both families could move on. He briefed us about the process regarding blood money cases. He assured Robert Mendoza that the government has taken cognizance of his family’s grief and loss. The Vice-President steered the conversation to the plight of Jonard Langamin and the urgent need for a solution prior to March. He asked Ka Bert in the softest and most gentle manner possible, whether he would be able to forgive Jonard and to put such act of forgiveness in writing. After a few quiet heartbeats, Ka Bert, who was looking down at that time, nodded yes.

The intensity of that moment shall stay with me forever. While the Vice-President and Ambassador Endaya of the DFA were discussing procedures, Nanay Edith leaped out of the sofa and crossed over to Ka Bert’s side and knelt before him. Her body shook with tears, emotions etched on her face like a glass sculpture. The room itself was suffused with joy pouring out from Edith’s grateful heart. Three years, that case was unresolved. It took ten minutes on that fateful Wednesday morning, for Jonard Langamin’s life to be spared. God was in the room.

Later that day, I watched the news and saw Bert Mendoza explaining why he decided to formally forgive Jonard. “I asked my son for a sign. I said that if I woke up early on Wednesday with a light feeling, that would be a sign from Robertson that all must be forgiven.” And yes, he did.

What now remains is for the Department of Foreign Affairs to send the letter of forgiveness signed by Robert Mendoza, as the patriarch of the family, to the Philippine Embassy which shall then formallly present this to the Saudi court. What is important is that Jonard’s life has been spared. What is inspiring was how Ka Bert found freedom in forgiveness. I wish the Langamin and Mendoza families the best of luck in their new lives and I thank Vice-President Binay and the DFA for resolving this case. (Send comments to toots.ople@yahoo.com. Follow me on Twitter, www.twitter.com/susanople.)

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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