[Title translation: “Patay” – "dead;" “Huli” – "caught." Full: "I'm dead. I'm caught."]
The day I dreaded had finally come. After nearly two decades of overstaying in Japan, I was finally arrested. Within two weeks I was deported back to Manila. From the airport, I went straight to Quiapo Church - as I promised myself that that would be the first thing I'd do when I got back. I knelt at the front pew, closed my eyes and began to pray.
I became acutely aware of my surroundings. The heat inside the Church was bearable as the peak of Japanese summers easily rival those of Manila. But the sounds outside - street vendors and buyers bargaining, children playing, jeepney horns honking - were music to my ears. They were sounds I hadn't heard for a very long time. They were sounds of my countrymen. Truly, I was home.
I was arrested on a Tuesday, just after 1pm. I was selling some items in the street market. Just about anyone with anything to sell would bring their stuff to this particular street in this particular part of the city. Starting as early as 4:30am, vendors start positioning themselves along the sides, bringing out their items and displaying them for passers-by to see and easily touch and inspect.
As I made my way out of the market area, I remember that I was not my usual self. I remember that I was worried about whether I'd be called in for work the following day -- and this affected my alertness. Instead of taking the side streets which is normally safer, I took the shorter, faster route through the main street. I was careless.
I was not at work that day because some trouble was brewing with my co-workers and I was told to take a few days off. A new Japanese official had been assigned to my work team, and for some reason this new guy was always scolding the foreign workers. I had 12 Chinese and 4 Indonesian co-workers. I was the only Filipino. All of us were illegal workers.
Then, someone tapped me on the shoulder. My wandering mind was brought back instantly to the present.
Man: Sumamisen, gaijin desu ka? (Excuse me, are you a foreigner?)
Me: Hai, gaijin desu. (Yes, I am.)
Man: Doko no kuni? (From what country are you?)
Me: Phiripin desu. (Philippines)
Man: Pasopoto motteru? (Do you have a passport?)
Me: Hai, pasopoto mottemasu. Isshu heya ni ikimasu. (Yes, I have. Let's go to my room together [to get it].)
This wasn't the first time I had been stopped. In the past the police officer would just let me go when I invited him to come with me to my room to check my passport. And by this time I had sort of gotten to know the faces of the local police officers.
But this time was different. The man that stopped me was not in a police uniform, but in plain clothes. When I invited him to come and go with me to my room to check my passport, he agreed. His face was also an unfamiliar one. And he was carrying a radio, which he used to quickly call two more of his companions, also in plain clothes. As we walked back to my Doya room, I was surrounded by three men.
Frantic thoughts were now quickly racing through my mind. I tried to walk as slowly as possible to buy myself some time to think. Should I make a run for it? Could I call anyone? Did I have money on me? Where were my important documents? Could I talk them out of arresting me? I realized that I wasn't prepared for what was happening. I had heard of stories of how other Bilogs were arrested, but I couldn't recall learning anything about what to do while I was being arrested. I was beginning to panic.
I decided against making a run for it. I was surrounded, and even if I could get away initially from the three men guarding me, I knew I wouldn't get far. They could easily radio in for reinforcements from among the others also doing spot checks in that area - and I'd be cornered in no time.
After around 20 minutes of walking, we then reached my Doya. The front desk person didn't seem surprised at all that I was coming in, and going up, with three Japanese men. Our rooms could only fit a maximum of 1 person, and tenants never had guests. I realized that he must have assumed that the three men were Japanese authorities coming to arrest me. Though I never discussed with him that I was an overstayer, I now realize that he must have known all along but was keeping quiet as long as I paid the rent.
I opened the door to my room. The man that had stopped me put his foot on the door, keeping it open. The other two men were still on their way up, as the building's elevator could only fit two people at a time. At that point, I decided I'd make a run for it. I told the man that I was going to the toilet. As I had calculated, he didn't follow and just waited in front of my room. I knew I only had a few seconds before the elevator door would open, and out of it would come the other two men. My room was on the 5th floor, so sneaking out through the fire escape was not an option. I could make a faster run for it using the stairs.
I walked past the elevator door and saw that the number indicator had a light at "4." It was now or never, I remember thinking. I stole a quick glance at the man in front of my room to check if he was looking at me. Seeing that he wasn't looking, I quickly turned for the stairs. I heard the sound of the elevator doors swinging open. I then started jumping two then three flights of stairs at a time. "Thug-ug, thug-ug," I could hear my heartbeat bouncing against the narrow staircase walls.
As I reached the first floor, I was surprised to find one of the three guys waiting at the staircase exit. That's why I couldn't hear anyone run after me, I remembered thinking. They knew I would try and escape and were ready for it. Only one of them had taken the second trip upward.
When I reached the 5th floor again via the elevator, this time with the 3rd man, the other two men were not a bit surprised. Their facial expressions were blank and all business. They asked me again to show my passport. I had just gotten a new passport a few months back. Inspecting it and not seeing a valid and current visa, they then asked if I had a Gaikoku-jin tōroku shōmei-sho (Alien Registration Card). Not being able to show any, they then asked that I come with them to the police station.
I asked if I could change clothes first, and they let me. What could I bring? What should I not bring? I looked around my room and knew that I'd have to leave all my stuff, save for some clothes. I also left my mobile phone so as to avoid the police calling everyone on my phone contact list, or so I heard from previous stories of arrests of Bilogs. I had two laptop computers, one of which was a borrowed one. I had to leave them also. Some rare coin collections and other electronic gadgets which I was carefully stockpiling for disposal in the street market on weekends, I also had to leave behind. The only thing I decided to bring was one bag containing all the pictures and letters and video tapes sent by my family. I also picked up around ¥70,000 cash from my previous week's salary.
On our way out of the Doya, the front desk person asked what to do with my things. I told him to wait till the week's end as I was already paid up in advance for 1 week. At that point, I was still wishing that I could be lucky and they'd release me after being interrogated at the police station. I had heard stories of some Bilogs still managing to get themselves released even after detention at the police station.
The drive to the police station took about 45 minutes. I remember that I was quite surprised at how far their station was. At that point I realized that the men who arrested me weren't from the locality where I lived. Apparently they were on an "external inspection visit," I gathered from the Japanese they were speaking to each other and to someone on the radio. That explained why I couldn't recognize any of their faces, or why they were so determined to apprehend me.
In the police car, I began writing on a small piece of paper the dates and key events that had happened. This list I continued till the day I was deported (see below).
|My Diary of My Arrest|
I spent two nights at the police station. Life at the Police jail was very regimented. Eating, brushing teeth, sleeping, waking up was all done by the minute. If we didn't fold our bedsheets properly we were scolded. During these two days, the police asked me how I was living, where I worked, who my Japanese employer was, who my Filipino friends were, and if I knew any other Bilogs. This was all conducted in Japanese, and I answered also in Japanese. Thru all their questions, I gave no names, Filipino or foreign.
In the late afternoon of my second day with the police, I showed them my "red ribbon," that is, an authenticated (certified true copy) birth certificate. They hadn't specifically asked for it, but I was showing them all the documents I had brought with me. When they saw it, they were surprised, telling me that if I had shown that document earlier, I would have been transferred to the immigration department immediately. As I learned, my "red ribbon" document established my official identity, thus setting in motion my transfer to the immigration detention center.
|Certified True Copy of Birth Certificate|
|Official Receipt of Birth Certificate Request|
By 10am of the third day since my arrest I was at the Immigration Detention Center. Compared to the police station, the food and the facilities were much better at the Immigration Detention Center. At the time I was there, there were about 30 detainees, mostly of Chinese descent.
By the 4th day, or just 1 day after I arrived at the Immigration Detention Center, I had received a document entitled "Notice of Decision," as shown below.
|Notice of Decision|
This Notice of Decision document declared that I was to be deported out of Japan based on Article 24, Item 6 of the Immigration Control and Refugee-Recognition Act. Since I was arrested by an Immigration Control Officer I was not entitled to the Departure Order System which allows overstayers to voluntarily turn themselves in and leave the country on their own accord, rewarding them with a shortened ban on re-entry to Japan. Deported overstayers are banned for 5 years from re-entering Japan while those leaving via the Departure Order System can return after 1 year.
I was also given another document - written with a translation in Filipino (see below) - that advised that if I wanted to contest this Notice of Decision that it was well within my rights to do so and that I had 3 days from receipt of the Notice of Decision to file an appeal.
|Document Explaining My Right to Appeal the Notice of Decision (in Filipino)|
|Document Explaining My Right to Appeal the Notice of Decision (in Japanese)|
I was given access to information on where I could access free legal consultation services (see below). They gave me free access to both local and international calls.
|Information on Where to Access Legal Services|
By the end of the 4th day, I was mentally exhausted. I had never known my feelings, emotions and disposition to be more conflicted as they were that day.
The reality of my impending expulsion from the country that had been my home for nearly two decades finally sunk in. Just a week earlier I had been earning ¥13,000 a day doing construction and demolition work. Now I was faced with the prospect of becoming and staying unemployed in the Philippines. Missing my family was a daily struggle for me and going home meant that this would end. Yet I would cringe at the thought of my wife and kids holding me accountable for my indiscretion and irresponsibility during my time in Japan. Would I appeal the deportation order, and extend my life of denial, or did the time finally come for me to face the consequences of my actions and decisions?
And if I were to suddenly show up back in Manila, what would I have to show for it? I was essentially broke. I had not been able to accumulate any savings that could kick start my life back in the Philippines. I felt that I had squandered my priceless opportunity of being in Japan and having access to work. Truly, regret always comes at the very end. I slept with a very heavy heart that 4th night.
When I woke up (5th day), both my legs were burning with pain. I had long suspected that I had developed diabetes and as I had no choice on what food to eat in the last four days in detention, I knew that my legs were complaining. I requested for some medical attention, which the immigration officers said they would arrange immediately. The fifth day ended and no doctor had come. The 6th day passed and still no doctor. At that point, I was already bedridden as the pain was so overwhelming. The 7th day came and went, and all I had to fight the pain were my tears. This wasn't the first time this kind of pain in my legs paralyzed me, and each time, a quick visit to the neighborhood drug store for some over-the-counter drugs got me back working in no time.
Finally, a doctor showed up on the 8th day, and I was given a number of medicines to take (see below).
|Prescription for My Leg Pain|
As a result of my 3 days of being in pain, I missed the chance to appeal the deportation decision, not that I had made the decision to do so. Still, I had crossed the point-of-no-return. My deportation was final. The only question at that point was when it would be implemented.
I spent most of my 9th day in detention resting and recovering from my leg pain. Slowly, depression was getting to me. I had no visitors. I made little or no contact with any of the other detainees. Since I had left my phone at my doya room I didn't have any contact with any of my local friends.
My 10th day in detention I spent alone in my cell, waiting for nothing.
On my 11th day, I was able to contact another friend. I asked him to help me get some uncollected salary at the construction company where I worked. I needed that money so that I could buy a plane ticket home.
My 12th and 13th days in detention were spent alone in my room.
On my 14th day, the friend I had called on my 11th day visited me, bringing with him my uncollected salary. The following day, my 15th day in detention, I bought myself a one-way plane ticket to Manila.
On my 16th day of detention, I was escorted to the airport and finally deported back to Manila.
Arrest and Deportation DOs and DON'Ts (By Eljoma)
When you get arrested, here are some important DOs and DONTs.
1. Have enough money to buy your ticket home.
If you want to go back home fast, then it is better to buy your own plane ticket. While immigration procedures specify that the Japanese government may, in certain instances, pay for your return flight, this is more the exception rather than the rule. If you don't have money to buy your own plane ticket, you may get stuck indefinitely at the detention center.
2. Have your Authenticated Birth Certificate
The first task of the police or immigration authorities is to verify your identity. Some overstayers give false names when being interrogated thinking that doing so will enable them to re-enter Japan immediately on another name, their true one or another assumed name. Interviews with current and past overstayers established that this tactic was doable only before 2007 after which Japan started collecting biometric information at airports. If you have no current/valid passport, the Philippine Consulate will also require you to provide an Authenticated Birth Certificate and/or other proof of identification before it issues a Travel Affidavit, as explained in this August 2010 Travel Document Advisory.
3. Have written on paper phone numbers of people who need to know you were arrested.
If for some reason, you lose access to your phone contact list, having important telephone numbers written on a piece of paper (and kept in your wallet) ensures that you can still contact people who need to know you were arrested.
4. If possible, have someone you trust gather the things you left behind.
Once your advanced rent runs out, items left inside your room will be thrown out by your landlord. If you want any of these preserved (and given to someone or sent via ship to the Philippines), you must have someone you trust who can pick up your items for you.
5. Access free legal assistance to exhaust all legal remedies available to you.
The immigration authorities follow a strict procedure that ensures due process is afforded all detainees. They give access to contact information and calling facilities and it would be wise to access all available support from legal or non-government organizations.
1. Don't try to escape.
Inspection teams always operate in teams, and are well equipped with radios and fast transportation. Making a run for it is thus virtually hopeless, and may even negate any chances at lenient treatment by the Japanese authorities.
2. Don't give a fake name.
Please refer to DOs #2 above.