No mother wants to leave her child — but in the Philippines, it can feel like there’s no other choice. Unable to earn enough money at home, an estimated 2.2 million Filipinos worked overseas last year, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. The majority were women, many hoping to give their child a better future.
They work as nurses, hospitality staff, nannies and cleaners. Last year, they sent $33.5 billion back to the Philippines in personal remittances — a record high, according to the country’s central bank.
More than 2.2 million Filipinos worked overseas in 2019The top five destinations were in Asia and the Middle East
Source: Philippines Statistics Authority
But their income comes at a high personal cost. Mothers can miss out on entire childhoods. Sometimes their relationship with their children remains damaged and distant, years after they return. Other times, their children’s lives can veer off course without a parent at home.
In Hong Kong, the vast majority of Filipino migrants are domestic workers, often raising other people’s children. CNN spoke with several of these women, and adults who grew up in the Philippines without their mothers, about the emotional toll of being separated for years.
Dolores can count on one hand the number of times she has seen her seven-year-old son.
She left him with his grandmother in the Philippines when he was six months old — she needed to return to work in Hong Kong to earn income to support them, as well as her niece and other family members. Her husband worked overseas, too.
Without much annual leave or the funds to travel, Dolores, who asked to be identified only by her first name for privacy reasons, didn’t see her son again until he was two-and-a-half years old.
“It’s really hard to leave. You don’t want to leave, actually … (but) I don’t have really a choice.”
“It’s difficult — you left your son not knowing you,” she said. “He doesn’t know anything about you. Then you come back, and he can talk, he can run, but he doesn’t recognize you.”
Those first years were heartbreaking. Dolores could only afford two long-distance phone calls a week, because her family didn’t have internet access at home. She would call late at night after finishing work, just to listen to her son babble.
Dolores shows a picture of her son, who lives in the Philippines. Credit: Jessie Yeung
Things have gotten easier over the years. Now, her family has internet access and they make video calls three times a day. But she still worries it isn’t enough. “How can I nurture my child, considering that he’s in the Philippines?” she said. “When he comes home from school, I can’t teach him his homework.”
She felt the distance most two years ago, when her son was hospitalized for an ear blockage. Neither Dolores nor her husband were able to return home, and could only talk to their son over the phone after his operation was finished.
“I had a heavy heart that I was not there (while) he had to undergo the operation,” she said. “We were crying, because your son is telling you it’s painful, and you can’t comfort him. Of course, we are calling (on the phone), but it’s different if you’re beside (him).”
The reasons they leave
In the Philippines, high birth rates have created a labor force that’s growing faster than the economy can create jobs. Unemployment has pushed many to go abroad to find work.
In Hong Kong, there are almost 400,000 domestic workers, the majority of whom are women from the Philippines. They get paid at least $600 (29,500 pesos) a month – far higher than the average nominal wage in the Philippines of about $213 (10,460 pesos) a month, according to the International Labour Organization.
These conditions, which have persisted for decades, push more than a million Filipinos to leave the country every year for work abroad, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The additional income provides much-needed security — not just for children’s education, but for other crucial needs like medical costs or recovery from natural disasters.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte praised these workers for their economic contribution at a 2019 event. But the migration of Filipino workers has also left millions of children without a parent at home.
“Now, more than ever, we need you, the (overseas Filipino workers) and your families, to take part in our nation-building efforts. I thus call on you to … continue to make our country proud.”
Rodrigo Duterte President of the Philippines
Francis Tumpalan doesn’t remember his mother leaving home; he was only four years old at the time. What he does remember is being raised by his grandparents and wearing wrinkled uniforms to school.
His mother’s visits, which came once every two years, were bittersweet, he said — it always felt like “living in a fantasy” that he knew wouldn’t last long.
His mother’s sacrifices did provide him with opportunities. He went to college, though he says he spent more time hanging out with his friends and girlfriend than studying, and regrets dropping out before graduating.
Tumpalan is now 22, and his mother still works in Hong Kong. They talk every night, swapping stories about their days and about his young daughter, Phoebe. These long conversations have brought them closer, and help him understand why she left so many years ago.
Francis Tumpalan with his wife and daughter at home in Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines. Credit: Xyza Cruz Bacani
“Mama’s sacrifices are worth it because she provided (for) my needs, but I dream of her to come home for good and hope that I can also give her a better life someday,” he said.
His mother declined to speak with CNN due to a busy work schedule.
Francis hopes his job at an automobile shop, along with the small store his wife runs, will earn enough for both of them to stay in the Philippines — and allow his mother to save money for her own return, now that she no longer has to support him.
“It’s difficult to grow up without a mother … I want Phoebe to grow up in a complete family,” he said. “A simple life is okay as long as we are complete.”
The dream of education
TED ALJIBE/AFP via Getty Images
JAY DIRECTO/AFP via Getty Images
Despite the high unemployment rates for graduates, many Filipinos still believe higher education could help lift their children out of poverty. But it’s an expensive dream.
Affordable public schools are often chronically underfunded, so many parents strive to send their children to expensive but better-resourced private schools.
But there’s no guarantee that a degree can grant success and stability, as so many parents hope. Many workers who go overseas tochase this generational dream had high school diplomas and college degrees themselves, that were of little help in the job market.
Even Duterte acknowledged the hardships that pushed workers abroad in his 2019 speech, saying that one of his top priorities was to provide “sustainable work and livelihood opportunities in our country.”
Catalina Magno and her husband both lost their jobs in 2001, and watched their savings drain away over months of unemployment. Struggling to provide for their two sons, Magno found a job in Hong Kong and left the children, one and four years old at the time, with their father.
She had one goal — to earn enough to fund their education through college. It’s what “every mother dreams about,” she said.
But over the years, her children asked why she wasn’t home. When her son was six, he said, “Why do you look after other kids but you can’t look after us?” said Magno, who visited home twice a year — more than many other domestic workers can afford.
“I told him, this is a trade-off. If I look after other kids, I can send you to school, you can have greater education. But usually they don’t understand that.”
Magno declined to be photographed for this piece.
Her sons are 21 and 23 now. Both got into college to study engineering, as she had desperately hoped, but dropped out before graduating. Magno was devastated. “At first, I didn’t believe it,” she said. “It’s tough, it’s very tough.”
One now works at a call center. The other is “working online,” but she isn’t completely sure what that means since “he doesn’t talk about it.” She still doesn’t know why they dropped out. Her relationship with her sons is still marked by a sense of distance and resignation.
When asked if she would have come to Hong Kong all those years ago if she had known her sons wouldn’t finish college, her answer was immediate.
“No, of course not,” she said. “My goal to go abroad was to earn money to send them to school. That was the only goal.”
The tragic reality
In a tragic twist, children whose parents work overseas may actually do worse in school, even if that education is a major reason their parents leave, experts say.
“The absence of mothers is consistently identified as having a more pervasive influence on the lives of their children,” the study added.
The researchers said some of these children end up failing classes or dropping out due to a variety of factors.
They may feel more responsible to care for their siblings in their parents’ absence, drawing attention away from school; they may feel like they don’t belong with peers; or they may simply stray from studies without the structure typically provided by parental presence.
Krizzel Orpilla was on a family holiday when she got her first menstrual period as a young girl.
Most girls turn to their mothers for guidance, but Orpilla didn’t feel like she could tell her mother, Divina Valdez, who had left when she was 10 years old to work in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
“My mother was on vacation with us but I cannot really tell her because I feel like there is a wall between us, because she was not always around,” said Orpilla, who was raised by her grandparents. Instead, she sought out her older sister, who filled the gap and “acted like a mother” as they grew up.
Top: A photo of Divina Valdez, her husband, and their employers’ children in Taiwan. Bottom: Krizzel celebrating a birthday without her parents. Credit: Xyza Cruz Bacani
The feeling of estrangement lingered after Valdez returned to the Philippines permanently in 2003, when Orpilla was about 15. But everything changed a year later, when Valdez was diagnosed with colon cancer.
“I felt cheated because it’s the only time that she is finally with us — then the cancer happened,” said Orpilla, now 32.
“I can never leave my babies, I can never go abroad and be apart from them; I could never do what my mother sacrificed for us.”
They caught the cancer early and Valdez recovered, but the experience made Orpilla realize that she needed to “forgive her and be close to her to make up for the lost time.”
It was difficult for Orpilla to resolve the unfulfilled longing for her mother’s presence during childhood, especially since they aren’t the type to have heart-to-hearts. “We never really talked about it,” she said.
But living together, and having Valdez care for Orpilla’s own children, helped their relationship to heal over time. “When I became a mother, I realized how brave my mother is,” Orpilla said.
Divina Valdez, Krizzel Orpilla’s mother, never planned to work overseas — but as her kids grew older, she worried she wouldn’t have enough money to send them all to school, especially when the family farm flooded and cost the family its income.
So, she left the Philippines when Orpilla was 10 years old, and spent the next six years working in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Her husband left as well, finding work in various countries.
She missed her children all the time. But, unlike Orpilla, Valdez never felt like there was distance between them.
Divina Valdez’s old Hong Kong ID card from when she used to work in the city. Credit: Xyza Cruz Bacani
“I wrote to them weekly and they reply,” she said. “When I come home, they always miss me.”
Her decision to work abroad paid off in some ways. With higher incomes and savings, the family was able to build a bigger home in the Philippines. More importantly, all three kids graduated college; the eldest is now an engineer, the middle child a teacher, and Orpilla is a nurse. Their success, achieved even without their parents by their side, made Valdez “really proud,” she said.
Now that she has settled back home and is cancer-free, Valdez enjoys spending time with her grandchildren — and closing the chasm with Orpilla she never realized was there.
“I make up for the lost time with Krizzel by taking care of her children,” she said.
The risk of exploitation
As well as their huge emotional sacrifice, Filipino workers in Hong Kong also often face gruelling – and sometimes dangerous – living and working conditions.
Domestic workers are legally required to live in their employers’ homes — a rule that many activists and advocates have decried as trapping women in potentially exploitative or abusive situations.
A domestic worker lost a legal challenge against the live-in requirement in 2016; she appealed, but the court ruled against her this September and upheld the requirement.
A survey of 5,023 domestic workers last year found that 15% had been physically abused during employment and 2% reported being sexually assaulted or harassed. Nearly half said they worked more than 16 hours a day; Hong Kong has no laws around maximum working hours per day or week.
Domestic workers in Hong Kong report high rates of poor working and living conditions
Source: Mission for migrant workers, 2019
Other complaints include not being given enough food to eat, not having a proper bed or privacy at night, and being asked to work on their days off.
But for some, the hardest part of the job is being separated from their children.
As a child, Vivien Leigh Ortiz was always envious of her classmates. They all had mothers at home, who attended school events and bought them nice clothes. Ortiz’s mother left when she was five, and she was raised by her father.
As she grew up, she got used to her mother’s absence — but childhood envy shifted into adolescent rebellion. When her mother sent home money for supplies, Ortiz would often spend it on food and drinks for her friends.
Her mother paid for college, but Ortiz didn’t put much effort into studying — she changed her major four times, dropped out at one point, and took eight years to finish her degree in teaching and education.
Only as she grew older, got married and had three kids did she begin to regret “all the time and money” she “wasted.”
“When I became a mother, I realized her sacrifices. I loved her more because it is hard for a mother to be separated from her children.”
Decades later, her mother — who declined to speak with CNN — is still working in Hong Kong.
Determined not to let her mother’s hardship go to waste, Ortiz is pursuing a master’s degree in education in the Philippines, with financial support from her mother. She hopes it’ll help her find a teaching job overseas and earn enough money to give her children greater opportunities — an echo of her own mother’s dream. Even if she can’t go abroad, the degree could still help her secure a better job in the Philippines.
“I feel that Mama’s sacrifice is still not worth it until I’m done,” she said.
She knows that leaving might be difficult for her children — but says “the situation is different” because she separated from her husband last year. “I have three kids, I’m a single mother and I need to support them … I want to give my children a better life.”
Allyn Alcala Frades found herself heavily in debt after graduating college. She’d wanted to be a teacher, but was unable to find a well-paying job in her Philippines hometown, and couldn’t afford to raise two children as a single mother.
So, two years ago, she followed in her cousins’ footsteps and found employment hundreds of miles away in Hong Kong as a domestic worker — a job that combines housekeeping, cooking and childcare. As she works, she thinks of her children.
“When I planned for their education, I (thought), what if they take higher-cost education? What can I give them if I don’t have money?” said Frades, 35. Her twin sons are only 10, but she wants them to have options — unlike herself, her cousins, and her sister, who also left to work in Hong Kong.
She sends home at least 10,000 Philippine pesos (about $204) each month — about a third of her monthly minimum wage salary.
Allyn Alcala Frades shows a photo of her children in the Philippines. Credit: Jessie Yeung
“Maybe if I can save up enough for their future, they won’t need to go to other countries to work,” she said. “If they have families, they can take care of their families.”
She tries to be there for them from afar. During weekly video calls, she tells them to brush their teeth and eat their vegetables, mindful that their father died of diabetes. Still, she’s sometimes hit with guilt that she can’t take them to school or cook their meals — all the things a mother traditionally does in the Philippines.
“But then I think, this is for them,” she said.
Israel Manuel was two years old when his mother left, first to work in Singapore then in Hong Kong.
He was raised by his father and grandparents — but despite the distance, he always felt closer to his mother. He was an only child, and loved spending time with her during her annual visits home. Once social media became widely accessible, they called each other every day.
Manuel’s mother played an active role in his life, gently steering him towards his studies instead of video games in high school. It paid off — he got into college, and is now a criminology student.
He also felt her presence through gifts. Throughout his childhood, she would send games, new clothes and toys like soldier figurines and miniature car models. This year, she bought him a real vehicle — a motorbike, as a gift “for being a good son,” he said. He loves the bike, rides it every day and often spends time diligently cleaning it.
“I feel that it’s a way for my mother to make me feel her love,” said Manuel, now 20.
But, he added, he hopes she will return home once her current job contract ends.
Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump
“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.
The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.
“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”
But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.
On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.
Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.
A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.
The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.
Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.
Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.
Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.
A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.
But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.
The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.
Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.
A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.
Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.
The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.
Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.
Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout
5 min read
Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.
It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.
The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.
Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.
“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.
In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.
“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.
“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”
Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.
He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same.
“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”
Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.
The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.
But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.
Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.
Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.
Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”
The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”
The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.
“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided.
“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”
Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.
“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”
The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.
He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”
But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.
He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.
“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.
“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.
“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”
Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”
How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers
Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.
The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.
After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.
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