COVID-19 Watch News

Stranded single mother death sparks public outrage

#JusticeForMichelleSilvertino became a trending topic in social media following the sudden death of stranded single mother Michelle Silvertino on June 5.

By Reuben Pio Martinez

JUSTICE FOR MICHELLE SILVERTINO. (Photo from Michelle Silvertino’s Facebook page)

The 33-year-old, who wanted to go home to her four children in Calabanga, Camarines Sur, was found unconscious on a walkbridge in EDSA, Pasay City by a witness who filed a report to the police.

Due to strict quarantine guidelines that prohibit provincial buses from operating, Silvertino waited for a total of five days for a bus home until she was taken to Pasay General Hospital due to her high fever and inconsistent breathing. It was there that she was declared dead on arrival.

Pasay City police explained that while they have reported the matter to officials in Barangay 159, the administration allegedly ignored it. However, conflicting reports from the police stated that she supposedly refused to seek help.

Field recruitment officer and Silvertino’s friend Nathanael Alim Alviso heavily criticized the local government unit’s (LGU) slow response in tending to Silvertino. In a Facebook post, Alviso said that “local [barangay] officials ignored [the case] probably because she is not a resident. Ang galing ng emergency response [of the LGU]. NO RESPONSE.”

A mother’s way home

Alviso explained that she was in Manila since September 9, 2019, leaving her parents and siblings to take care of Silvertino’s children, aged 3-11, while she attempted to be a household worker overseas. Unfortunately, consistent failed medical examinations revealed that she had pulmonary tuberculosis, forcing her to stay in the city longer. Silvertino worked for three months in Antipolo, Rizal as a domestic helper to help pay her dues.

According to Silvertino’s unnamed employer, who escorted her to Cubao’s bus terminals, she and her husband supposedly gave Silvertino her remaining P6,000 wage and other necessities such as food and safety gear. The employer explained that Silvertino wanted to go home to care for her children during the pandemic, after Silvertino’s mother, Marlyn, texted her about the situation. They were also under the impression that Silvertino’s sister, Josie, had picked her up already.

When Silvertino found the terminals in Cubao closed, she walked for three hours in an attempt to find a bus in Pasay, where she stayed at the nearby footbridge that she was found in on June 5. Alviso added that members of the Pasay City City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) tried to convince her to leave, but decided to let her be after realizing that she was a stranded passenger.

Alviso again criticized the cleaning team’s decision to leave her there instead of escorting her to a much safer place. “[Silvertino] has P6,000 savings she will bring home yet [the CENRO cleaners] left her there among the wolves. Hindi [niyo] man ang hinatid sa terminal kung saan may mga guards, maliwang at disenteng upuan,” Alviso wrote.

Her official death certificate stated that her cause of death was a possible severe COVID-19 case. She was buried beneath concrete in Pasay City Public Cemetery, where her name is etched next to the marker signifying the grave’s place in the cemetery’s twelfth section.

Too little, too late

In response to Silvertino’s death, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) handed over a subsidy of P15,400 to Marlyn Silvertino. The Silvertino family would also be receiving access to DSWD’s Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP), for Silvertino’s brother and sister, now the children’s legal guardians to find work. The children would be receiving educational assistance while they are in elementary school, and food assistance for ten days. The eldest child also received a scholarship.

The Silvertinos will have to wait three to five years in order to reclaim her remains. This is in accordance to Presidential Decree 856, the Sanitation Code of the Philippines section 5 (a), which states that the family can only exhume the body at a minimum of three years after burial. Alviso and the Silvertinos’ close friends, as well as Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Gabriel Bordado and other partners are now working to have her remains cremated.

DSWD’s belated aid was met with further ire from netizens, highlighting how the small amount of about P15,000 gave the impression that this is the financial equivalent to a human life. Some have pointed that this is further evidence that the national government has grown increasingly apathetic to the Filipino people, and the administration’s faulty handling of the pandemic.

In an online statement, the Pambansang Pederasyon ng Kababaihang Magbubukd (Amihan) explained how Silvertino’s case was an example of how the national government showcased the divide between the privileged and the underprivileged. “Silvertino is a concrete example of the risk rural women takes to provide the needs of their families. Her family is a victim of poverty, lack of job and livelihood opportunities, and social services in rural areas which pushed her to work away from home and her family,” the alliance wrote. 

Displaced workers and other overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have returned to the country continue to face hardship due to the lack of public transportation that would take them home. While OFWs were seen waiting under the Ninoy Aquino International (NAIA) Expressway following the cancellation of their flights, several affected laborers and other social amelioration program (SAP) availers struggled with DSWD’s inconsistent distribution of their financial aids (READ: DSWD miscommunication frustrates quarantined residents & Stranded UPLB studes still await DSWD financial aid). [P]

Photos from Philippine Daily Inquirer and Michelle Silvertino’s Facebook page

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