Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Helen de Ocampo led his 33-year-old son John Eric to their new home in Fort Washington, Maryland over the weekend – a world away from the virtual cages and beatings he grew up with in the Philippines.

John Eric is severely disabled. A bout with meningitis left him mentally damaged and retarded as a child. Half his body paralyzed, he can barely speak or hear. But his physical defects were the least of his ordeal.

Helen’s troubled marriage finally disintegrated when John Eric was only 14. She decided to try rebuilding her life in America, where her five siblings lived. She entrusted the boy to her estranged husband in Loang, Northern Samar, promising to send money to help support him.

Deprived of a mother’s nurturing care, John Eric’s life quickly spiraled into a hellish world of deprivation and abuse.

Because she kept sending money to her ex-husband, Helen believed John Eric was being cared for. After all, she told us, he was living with his father.

“For years, I asked his father if I could take John with me, and he always said no,” Helen explained.

In 2007, her brother’s wife in Florida vacationed in the Philippines and offered to look into John Eric. She found him in a half-abandoned padlocked shack no larger than a 5x5 cubicle with no toilet and a floor made of dirt.

Helen quickly organized a rescue and through her in-law’s help brought John Eric to the Calamba Medical Center in Laguna. The doctors quickly became suspicious of his bloated abdomen and operated on his intestines which, they discovered in horror, was filled with dirt and even pieces of plastic straw and cellophane.

Helen by then had acquired US citizenship and filed a petition to bring John Eric to the US. But the average wait for a child older than 18 years old currently stands at 13 years. She became even more distressed after learning that the cousin she had entrusted John Eric to after the surgery was also beating him up.

“When we first filed the petition, John Eric still had all his teeth,” lawyer Arnedo Valera, executive director of the Virginia-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), told us. “Now, he’s lost most of them.”

Perhaps by a stroke of luck, Kenneth Lutbecker, chief of the humanitarian branch of the Office of Refugees, Asylum and International Operations at the State Department, took an interest in John Eric’s case. They initially denied Valera’s pleadings but the family (Helen has since remarried to Albert de Ocampo) filed an appeal.

“We didn’t even know that John Eric’s case has significant public benefit, but that was the reason cited by the US government to grant our appeal and give John Eric a humanitarian parole,” Valera explained.

It was so unusual that the US Embassy in Manila initially rejected the humanitarian parole papers that Helen hand-carried there.

According to Valera, the humanitarian parole has to be approved by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Nepolitano herself. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) apologized for the mix-up and transmitted the documents that allowed Helen to get a “boarding pass” for her son.

“It wasn’t even a visa,” Valera averred, “but had the force of clearly demonstrating the great compassion of the United States for people like Helen and her son who was a victim of a severe injustice.”

Helen, who earned a nursing degree from the Columbia Union College, is now looking forward to a future with John Eric and her husband Albert.

The pain may have stopped but it could take years for John Eric to overcome the trauma of nearly two decades of physical and mental torture. It's going to be process for him as well as for Helen and Albert, but at least now he’s got a chance.

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