TALK OF THE TOWN
By SUSAN PALMES-DENNIS
Are Filipinos working in the US embassy cruel? Are they acting on specific instructions from the US embassy to treat their clients shabbily, even ignore them?
These questions were raised by an American veteran who sought assistance from those working in the US embassy who happen to be Filipino.
Here is the story shared to me by 81-year-old Army veteran Bill Watt of Cheraw, South Carolina who had been staying in the Philippines, specifically Cagayan de Oro for six years now with his wife Nora.
But first a little backdrop. As you readers know by now, I arrived in Cagayan de Oro sometime this year for an extended vacation and had been hanging out in the city with my American husband Ronnie Dennis.
My latest hangout is this Krispy Kreme outlet in SM Uptown where a lot of foreigners meet to talk about issues Stateside over cups of coffee and donuts.a
Topics of interest include US President Donald Trump, US Supreme Court justice nominee Kavanaugh, the economy and North Korea. Most of the foreigners were Americans but there was a smattering of Britons, Australians and Europeans as well.
The group is getting bigger everyday and I think it’s a healthy outlet for these visitors to trade news and views in malls in order to reconnect with each other and their homeland.
One such visitor is Watts who once sat in the board of directors of the American Association of Cost Engineers (AACE) and was elected a grade fellow, the highest accolade given by the group to its members.
He met Nora when he put out an ad for a caregiver six years ago. Nora passed the requisite interview and other requirements and along the way won Bill’s heart as well as she reminded him of his wife who passed away in 2005.
Two years after they met, they fell in love and began making arrangements for marriage. Acting on a lawyer’s advice they got married after Nora converted to Islam before the Shariah court.
Days after their marriage Bill started processing the paperwork for a marriage visa and a scheduled interview at the US embassy. At the embassy, Bill described the Filipina interviewer as behaving like she was pissed off with the world around her. “She was mean,” Bill said.
Nora described the interviewer as “masungit (grouchy, testy). Their petition was denied last year and they again applied for a visa only to be rejected anew.
Bill admitted that they made a mistake when they heeded the lawyer’s advice for Nora to convert to Islam but said it should not be taken against them.
Nora applied for annulment of her previous marriage. I guessed that was the reason why the US embassy denied their petition. But this year they applied for a medical visa since Bill needed treatment and they were not allowed to explain their side.
“I showed them medical records but they never looked at it,” Bill said. “We are applying for a visa, any visa that would apply to my case,” he told me.
“Since I needed a caregiver 24/7 they should have looked at my medical records or at least advised me what to do to secure a visa. That’s not how we treat Americans...what happened to American values?,” Bill said.
Bill served in the army and was assigned in Germany in 1954-1958 and was awarded a medal for his service there. He said he voted for former US president George Bush since he saw him espousing an “America first” outlook.
“But it seems it is now Americans last,” he said. After spending one week in a hospital recovering from a heart attack, Bill is leery about returning to the US Embassy to apply for a visa.
“It is a waste of time. I need 24-hour care what am I supposed to do I cannot leave here (anytime) I am confined here,” Bill said.
When asked what his message to the US Embassy was, Bill said they should prioritize the care of Americans especially veterans and they should cut down on their bureaucratic red tape.
“I can’t walk farther than 20 feet. I need a wheelchair and I need someone to push that wheelchair for me. What hurt me was that they didn’t give a damn about me,” he said.
Bill ranted on about the Filipina embassy worker whom he said had talked to them for only a few seconds and never once looked at his medical records.
“I have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and Parkinson’s disease,” he said. Bill also told me that the US Embassy should treat elderly Americans like him with respect and dignity and that their petitions should be approved immediately.
“I admit we made mistakes. But if there were instructions from their superiors not to approve spouse visa then they should advise people like me with respect and care. The problem is the attitude and the personality of the Filipino employees at the embassy,” Billl said.
His story reminded me of my own experience a decade ago when one of these Filipino workers at the US Embassy looked at me suspiciousluy and asked “you mean you are going to the US to marry a man you haven’t met?.”
She was wrong of course because Ronnie visited me in the Philippines years before we filed for a fiancee visa and our marriage had been going strong ever since.
See it happened to me and it happened to Bill and Nora and it could happen to any couple applying for a marriage or fiancee visa at the US embassy.
I echo Bill’s call for US Embassy personnel to change their attitude and approach towards those applying for a visa to them. Please drop the arrogance and show some compassion to Filipinos and Americans applying for a visa at their office.
In the meantime, for humanitarian reasons, can anyone at the US embassy look at Bill Watt’s papers and facilitate approval of his visa so he can return to his native land with his wife to care for him? (For comments and questions email me at Susanap.firstname.lastname@example.org)
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