Women of Courage

Women of Courage

By Leila Castro

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.
Proverbs 31:25

PART 2

Mary

Mary Mallari is the Mama M across Papa Dee at Ayos! Fb Live. The social media show airs twice a week, every Wednesday and Saturday at 8pm.She is also visible at community gatherings and social events where she endorses shows, businesses and sponsors. But according to Mary, her life was very different in the past, “My life was not like this before. In the past, my husband and I just would just go to work then back to house, it was our routine. And we were quite happy with it.”

It has been more than 20 years since Mary and her family came to Canada. Just like any new immigrant, it was a struggle at first. “I initially worked as clerk through staffing agencies. Then I studied programming and was hired at Health Science for the Y2K project. Then I had the opportunity to go back to my line of specialization which is supply chain and logistics.” The rough journey of settling down lasted for two years, then what followed was years of stable and good life. It was Mary’s great teamwork with her husband to thank for. Having Song Mallari as a husband is a great blessing to her. Song never gave Mary any problem. He was a good provider, an ideal husband and father to their children. Mary could not relate to domestic issues experienced by other women. Hers was a blissful married life.

Then in June of 2015, Mary said her husband started showing symptoms of an illness, “Song had bad coughing and was diagnosed with pneumonia. He had chest x-ray and took antibiotics, but he was not getting well. Most of the time he was catching his breath, and he felt that something was blocking his throat. He decided to take a medical leave. After a few days he saw the doctor again to complain. He was prescribed a puffer, and since he was not getting well, he underwent another chest x-ray. The following day, we received a call from the doctor and Song was advised to go to the hospital emergency. We were told that something wrong was seen on the x-ray, a 5 centimeter lump was detected. We were surprised, because just 3 weeks back the diagnosis was pneumonia. Song was sent to Misericordia for CT-Scan to confirm if it was a tumor or positive for cancer. While going through the procedure, the CT-Scan technician asked if Song was a smoker. My husband already sensed that something was wrong. The biopsy result came out, still his attending specialist could not tell if it was cancer or not.

There was another round of biopsy test done. It confirmed a stage 3 cancer. It was treatable because the cancer had not spread, we were told.”

Song was referred to Cancer Care for treatment. However, it took 3 weeks before the first appointment was scheduled. In the meeting with the oncologist for the treatment plan, Mary and Song were told that something was wrong, that there was a mistake. “The doctor suspected that the cancer had metastasized. My husband cried really hard. He could not believe that he would be hit with such illness. He was not a drinker. He smoked but only for short time. He was health conscious. Though his work for 8 years involved handling fiber glass materials, but he was protected. I felt like I was floating or just dreaming. I could not cry. My husband asked, why him? What wrong had he done? While hearing those, I composed herself and tried to remain calm. I was thinking that I had to be strong for my husband. It was a stage 4 cancer. Even chemotherapy was no longer considered for his case. The only thing recommended was radiation treatment, just to ease his breathing. But it was clear to us that my husband’s days were numbered.”

Song was confined at Health Science Hospital. As days passed, his breathing became worse. His mobility was also affected because the cancer had spread to his bones. Then he started feeling severe pain. Despite strong medication, the pain always kept him awake. Mary attended to Song round the clock and also had just 1 or 2 hours sleep per night. One day, Song told Mary that he wanted to go out of the Health Science Hospital. He said he wanted to go home. Song felt that if he would continue to stay at the hospital, he would only last for a week. Song told Mary his wish to return to the Philippines, while he could still travel. He instructed her to buy plane tickets. Mary discouraged her husband because traveling could make his condition worse, but he insisted. Because they had to travel soon, Mary had no choice but to buy expensive tickets for her entire family.

“It was the longest and hardest travel of my life. Song could not walk, not even two steps, I had to push his wheel chair. In Vancouver, we had an 8 hour our lay over. From time to time, Song’s pain was recurring. He was badly suffering. Good thing there were friends who came to see us at Vancouver airport. They were crying and asking why it had to be their friend, as Song is a kind and good person.” To Mary, witnessing her husband’s suffering while at the same time hiding her pain and fear, and doing everything to fulfill Song’s wish of going to the Philippines, it was all a torture emotionally, mentally and physically. “ I was not prepared for it. Yet I had to show that I was strong, and that I was emotionally present for my husband. It was expensive financially. I had to pay for a vacant seat so that my husband could lie down. When we arrived in Manila, Song was very happy to see his siblings and parents. He never thought that he would still have that chance. For a month, he ate well and always requested for his favorite food. But his seemingly improved health condition did not last long. It was diagnosed that the lump that previously underwent radiation has grown back. Song was confined at St Luke’s Hospital. He became weaker, then he had to feed through tube. I had to start accepting that my husband was slowly saying goodbye. Song told me to be prepared. He told me that when the time comes, I should be ready to let go. One time out of despair, I just asked him why such had to happen to him. In our 24 years of marriage, he was a very responsible husband, father and good provider.”

Then doctor told us that my husband had only two weeks to live. Song requested to leave the hospital and go home. “One evening he woke up, he played our favorite Arnel Pineda songs. We both listened, we were crying. One time he opened a luggage. Inside were my photos that he compiled to an album. I knew he had them but I did not know he would put them together to create sort of a book of my life. He also showed to me all the sweaters I owned. I did not know he collected and treasured all of them. I asked myself, how would I be ready to let go of someone who loves me deeply.”

After a few days, Song went into coma. When his hour came, Mary stayed by his side and watched him until his last breath, “I told him to rest. I told him he has nothing to worry about. I watched him until his eyes closed, until his breathing stopped, and until his colour turned pale. His face looked free from pain, he was in peace.”

While grieving, she still took charge of managing a lot of things – settling the hospital bills, insurance claims, funeral service arrangement including choosing the casket, attending to the visitors who went to the wake. She ensured that everything was in order. After the funeral, Mary travelled back to Winnipeg. “It was again a very sad travel. I was thinking that just 3 months before that, I pushed my husband’s wheelchair at the airport, to bring him to the Philippines where he wanted to die. Then on my way back to Winnipeg, I carried his ash. Looking back at his dying days, I do not know where I found the strength, I do not know how I was able to do those things. But I fulfilled his wish. When I arrived home and entered the house I shared with Song for many years, I gave out a loud cry. I unloaded everything that I hid inside me – the exhaustion, the deep sorrow, the longing, the burden of pretending that I was strong.”

Mary took a break from work for a year and devoted her time to her children. She said that having a pet dog also helped her bounce back fast. Her life now is different from what it was with Song. Now a known social media personality, Mary is contributing well to the Filipino community. I am sure her husband is also happy with what’s happening now with this new chapter of her life.

Julie

She is fearless. Don’t mess with her, she is smart and knowledgeable. In my three years work experience here in Canada, many Filipinos I’ve met at the work place are passive and anxious of their actions fearing that a simple wrong move might cause them their job . My interview with Julie Panergo for this article was delightful and liberating. Even when she was just a new employee, she bravely fought for her rights and those of other workers. At first she thought such gestures would anger her employer and would cause her termination from work. Instead her employer listened to her pleas and implemented positive changes to the work place. The company union noticed her courage and wit, she was invited to join and eventually she became an officer and served as its president for 9 years.

Julie arrived in Winnipeg as immigrant in 1986. She started working in 1989, she was 24 years old at that time. Her job in the automotive industry was an eye opener for her. “I saw that many Filipinos, particulary women, were always crying. I became curious, what was happening to them? Then I witnessed how the Filipino employees were being mistreated by their supervisors. I bravely faced the supervisors and talked to them. I also went to the president’s office to complain. I was new in the company at that time, I was not aware that it had a workers union. When I’d see irregularities at the work place, I’d write my appeals on my timecard, it was my way of communicating to the management. After the officer read what I wrote, there were improvements implemented on the following day. Sometimes the problem is not really discrimination against Filipino workers. There’s the other possibility that the management just have to be made aware that there are improvements needed. If no one would air those to them, there is no way they will know about it.”

United Steel Workers Union saw Julie’s courage and leadership potential. “The union saw that I was not afraid to fight for the worker’s rights even if I was not part of the union. I was elected as union treasurer. I attended the Facing Management course and Leadership training. I learned a lot from the union specially from its leaders who had been there for a long time. In my own family, our parents encourage us to speak our minds. I remember our growing years in the Philippines, during dinner time we always had an open forum.”

Julie became the union president for 3 terms or 9 years. She was also actively involved in the Women of Steel, a group formed by the strong women in the union. “I became chairman of the group. I learned a lot about women issues. The purpose of the group is to help women who are not comfortable to speak what they have in mind, to have the venue to express freely. Included in its advocacy is fighting for equality in terms of pay and rights among men and women. Normally women don’t know where to get support for the work issues they face. With Women of Steel, they know there is a group to go to. An example of women issue is discouraging women from applying on a higher paying job by telling them that they cannot do it, and that the job does not fit them because they are women. With the absence of support from women group like Women of Steel, a person will be easily influenced by what she heard, and it would eventually lead to a lower self esteem.”
“I have helped many members who were placed on disciplinary action. One example was the very first case I handled. A worker who worked for the company for 30 years was fired out because he did not report for 5 consecutive days. He failed to notify the company about his absence. When we faced the HR personnel, I defended the employee. I told HR — 30 years in service and you did not even care about what happened to your employee? What kind of company is this, and what are you trying to say to the people around you and to the society? What do you think will they say about you as a company? That you don’t care, you did not even bother to call. You did not even bother to ask, if this person got into accident; and why the employee did it not even bother calling you?” The person reclaimed its position and was paid from the time he was fired out. Most of the time Julie looks at loopholes in the process. Like in the case mentioned, the worker actually called up to notify, however they could not trace it. For Julie, if there is a disciplinary case, it should not be finding who to blame. But it should be looking at fault in the system.
Julie gave advices about filing grievance (due to harassment, unfair labor practice, discrimination, etc.) and about WCB:
Filing Grievance
If you are a union member, if your union representative says that your union cannot do anything on your grievance or case, don’t stop there. Sometimes there are union officers that are lazy to fight for their members. If you encounter such, tell your union, “I will file a grievance because you are not filing my grievance.” Your grievance has certain number of days to file, after that you lose your right to file it. If your union misrepresents you, either you bring your grievance directly to Labor, or you hire your own lawyer because there was a misrepresentation (or your union did not help you). With that, you have the right to hire your own lawyer, and your union will pay for it, just be sure to inform your union first about getting your own lawyer.

If you are not member of the union (sample you are a contractual employee or the company is not unionized), make sure to document everything. Example, say there was harassment that happened, document the date, time, the people involved. Call Employment Standard to submit your report.

WCB

Regarding Workers Compensation Benefit (WCB), that was created for the workers, and not for the employers. It was created because we gave up our rights as workers to sue the employer when we get injured, so instead we go to WCB to claim.

With this scenario, say a person filed claim at WCB after developing tendonitis from his work. After months of treatment and he was healed, he goes back to the employer to report for work. However, the employer tells him that his work is no longer available because a replacement is already assigned to the position, and he is told to call WCB. On calling WCB, the latter instructed the person to file EI. Was it a rightful action on the part of WCB?

According to Julie, it was a return to work so the employer must accommodate the person. It is your right to go back to retain your position. If you cannot perform the same job, then you should be provided by WCB with compensation. If WCB tells you to file EI, you should say, “No, I will go back to my position.”

If WCB insists, then you should write a letter to appeal your case, and give it to WCB Appeal Board. Tell WCB that they have that job because of the workers.

In addition, If you are on WCB, when you see your doctor, tell all your complaints about your injury. Because when you get old and an effect of your injury occurs, you can still file a WCB claim for that. That is a long term injury. Another important thing, WCB can provide training for you. If you return to work and there is no position available for you, it is WCB’s responsibility to retrain you so you can get a work that will pay you the same. If your new job is paying you less, WCB must pay you the difference.

If you have questions for Julie, you may email her at julienery@hotmail.com.