At a wedding, it is the exchanging of vows between the bride and groom that is the most emotional part of the ceremony. As if they still didn’t know how much they love one another, they further profess their love, promising life together through thick and thin “til death do us part.” However, for one Filipina, this was prematurely fulfilled as it was her way out of a horrid, loveless marriage wherein she was physically abused and sexually exploited.
Cathy Bonesa Mae Deocades was a 24-year-old woman from General Santos City. In January 2011, she was found dead at her home in Gongju, South Chungcheong Province in South Korea. According to Korean reports, she committed suicide by hanging herself due to allegedly suffering abuse and forced prostitution by her Korean husband.
However, due to Cathy's family and friends' concerns over her welfare prior to her death, they suspected that foul play may have been involved in her death.
Escape from Poverty
Cathy Bonesa Mae Deocades came to Manila looking for better opportunities as a way to escape poverty. She eventually landed a job at a department store where she worked hard to provide for her family. However, she thought of another way to have a better life—a gamble that would change her life forever.
A friend of Cathy’s wanted to hook her up with someone that can get her to marry a foreign man that can provide her a better life as that would be far more achievable than landing a decent paying job. For Cathy, marriage with a foreigner could be her ticket way out of not just the Philippines, but also poverty.
For Filipina women struggling to make ends meet, going abroad and/or meeting then marrying a foreigner would eventually mean a good life; for staying in the Philippines does not seem to do them any good. Because of the high number of Filipinas who want out of the Philippines, it is able to meet the rising demand for mail-order brides.
Such brides are famous among men from developed countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and Germany. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of men seeking Filipino mail-order brides from Japan and South Korea—the latter with a much higher demand especially for rural, middle-aged men looking to secure a partner.
Marriage brokers are the link in mail-order bride syndicates. In the Philippines, there was an Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law in 1990 wherein it would make illegal the transactions of marriage brokers. However, some brokers manage to get away with it as they were able to circumvent the law. Such brokers are able to continue working in the thriving industry as there are still Filipinas who want to get out of the Philippines. Filipino mail-order brides are subservient, obedient, and put themselves at the authority of men; making them a popular choice for foreigners looking for a partner.
These women are just forms and signatures away from greener pastures in the hopes of a better life.
Park and Cathy
Park, a 42-year-old farmer, was looking for his potential partner when he came across a photograph of Cathy. He was instantly smitten. It won’t be long before a marriage broker was able to link Park and Cathy together in 2009. Cathay was Park’s type as she was docile and submissive.
Cathy did not know much about Park as she was not told of anything regarding where he lived or what he did for a living. Even if there was information exchanged, it was all for naught due to the broker’s erroneous translations.
Cathy and Park went on a few dates before sealing the deal by legally committing to each other as man and wife. Cathy was prepared to leave her home for a life of prosperity in another country… or so she thought.
Concern over Cathy
It did not take long before Cathy’s hopes and dreams of a good life were shattered while residing at a distant and foreign household. Cathy, now knowing that Park was a farmer, realized that he was not her ticket out of poverty.
Just within hours of her arrival in South Korea, Cathy was met by a resentful and ill-tempered mother-in-law. Park's mother was never fond of Cathy from the beginning, and after the couple's move to South Korea, she would give Cathy a hard time. After settling in her new home, Cathy claimed that she was maltreated by not just her husband but by her mother-in-law as well.
"Mother, this is Cathy."
Prior to moving to South Korea, Park was able to meet Cathy’s family. According to her father, he had trouble communicating with Park as he could not speak English. They would use sign language to communicate instead. He was informed about how Cathy and her mother-in-law were not on good terms because Cathy would often tell his family about the maltreatment she experienced
Cathy and her mother-in-law also had trouble communicating with one another. According to Cathy’s father, it was the mother-in-law who first started to abuse his daughter. Despite telling her father about the abuse she experienced, she still believed that Park really loves her.
Mail-order brides experience firsthand the trouble that comes with moving to an entirely new country as cultural differences and language barriers will be apparent. For Cathy, this led her to be further isolated from her so-called new family, making her an easy target of abuse.
However, when Cathy got pregnant a year later, things were beginning to take a turn for the better. Cathy’s mother-in-law was initially pleased about the news of Cathy’s pregnancy as it meant that the Park family lineage will continue. However, it was all just a facade, and the friendly treatment towards Cathy would be short-lived.
Cathy underwent a C-section in order to deliver her baby due to complications. This led to a pretty hefty bill because of the complicated procedure and extended stays in the hospital—amounting to as much as $3,000. For a farmer like Park, it was extremely difficult to earn that large sum of money; forcing him to seek the help of his mother, which further strained the relationship (if there really was any) between his mother and Cathy.
"I expect her to pay back every cent."
The tension between Cathy and her mother-in-law continued to worsen especially whenever the latter would demand her son to pay her back. The constant pressure and demands made Park reach his breaking point. Eventually, out of anger, he turned to physically hurting Cathy.
Cathy, who had a five-month-old baby girl, allegedly suffered from postnatal depression and was admitted to the psychiatric ward in October 2010.
"Cathy called her parents to say that she was very sad and wanted to leave. She asked them to send her money so she could go home," said a Filipino community leader in Gongju.
Cathy never got to go home as her family could not afford the plane ticket.
Unlike marriages done out of love, a marriage with a mail-order bride’s essence is money—a business transaction. For some couples, their union has become an involuntary servitude, or in extreme cases, prostitution.
"Use her for what she’s good for."
The succeeding moments in Cathy’s life were a far cry from what she had hoped and dreamt for herself. She wanted Park to spare her from being exploited and sold to other men, but it proved futile. She was forced to perform sexual activities for other men in exchange for money—the payment is given to Park.
It was during these moments that their marriage was non-existent.
According to Cathy's family and friends in the Philippines, her husband had repeatedly abused her and even tried to exploit her by selling her to other men for sex.
If Cathy went against Park’s orders, she would be subjected to more and different kinds of abuse such as not being given food, not given the freedom to do what she wanted, and being isolated from other people.
Cathy pleaded to her dad about how badly she needed their help and much she wanted to get out of South Korea. Her parents were deeply worried about her, that's why they sought the help of an official at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in October 2010. During this time, Cathy was hospitalised.
The family kept requesting the DFA to check on their daughter in South Korea. They would visit the official in Manila multiple times, but they were just reassured that Cathy was fine and that the reason for her stay at the hospital was because she had just given birth.
Cathy was made a prostitute by her very own husband in order to make ends meet. She was only given one meal a day. All of these led her to suffer from depression. Cathy confided to her older sister about all the hardships she went through. Both sisters, initially, did not tell their parents the details as they did not want to upset them.
The daily abuse that Cathy experienced took a toll on her physical and mental well-being. Her parents received a final call from her in November 2010. Her family in the Philippines was at a hospital because her younger sister was about to give birth. Cathy, on the other line, could not speak clearly as she was crying so hard. Her parents asked her what’s wrong, but the line got cut off.
Wives from among mail-order brides find it extremely difficult to reach out and seek the help that they desperately need as they are in a place full of unfamiliarity. They had no sense of support and language barriers made it difficult to communicate with others. Eventually, they become indifferent as they continuously face discrimination—in extreme cases, sexual abuse.
A month prior to her death, Cathy's friends were also worried about her since they were not able to see her or talk to her. The messages stopped coming and phone calls were not answered or made.
Cathy’s lifeless body was found in her home with ligature marks around her neck. The true cause behind her death remains a mystery. A Korean report stated that Cathy had hung herself due to depression.
However, a Philippine autopsy report suggested that she died from strangulation. Her family could notB believe that their daughter was murdered.
Cathy’s family has been in constant talks with Philippine officials, urging them to discover more about Cathy’s case so that they could have some form of closure regarding her death. However, there has been little to no progress.
Her family still hopes that justice will prevail. They hope that the Philippine government will help them in attaining the justice that their daughter deserves. Park, Cathy's husband, had reportedly given 1.5 million Won to Cathy's family.
Several measures have been put in place regarding the marriages between Filipino girls and foreign men. These measures include a jail term of up to 8 years for illegal marriage brokers. However, the marriage brokering industry continues to thrive, ignoring the saying, “marriage without love is immoral.”
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