Leticia’s life was extolled by many including Darla Tomeldan who befriended her during her trial as a legal advocate. (Photo: Philippinecanadiannews.com (PCN)
Life of woman who blazed the trail celebrated
By Ted Alcuitas
Editor & Pubisher
Linking the Filipino Diaspora
She was one among millions of Filipinos who fanned themselves in almost every country on earth to eek out a living in order to support families back home.
From the Middle East to Hong Kong and finally to Canada, where she became embroiled in a high-stakes game of judicial one-upmanship, Leticia Sarmiento’s word, a poor woman thrust into the confusing, complicated world of Canada’s judicial system, was pitted against the word of his employers, rich and able to afford the services of caregivers like her.
It was her word and their word.
In the end, the jury acquitted the employer’s wife but convicted the husband for human trafficking under Canada’s Immigration Act – a first for British Columbia and sentenced to 18-months in jail. It was a unprecedented case, heralded across the country as a victory for human rights.
But it was a short-lived victory.
On appeal, Franco Orr was convicted only on the lesser crime of employing a foreigner without proper documentation and sentenced to three months conditional sentence.
The shy, frail and soft-spoken Sarmiento,was thrust into the vortex of a media frenzy that hounded her every move throughout the month-long trial.
Leticia’s partner, Taufig, carry flowers to honour her during Celebration of Life. (Photo: PCN)
How can a poor village woman from the Philippines withstand the relentless questioning of lawyers who tried their best to discredit her credibility and ultimately her humanity – as a woman and a human being.
Add to this, the glare of TV lights, questions from reporters hungry to get a sound bite for the next 6 o’clock news.
You get a confused woman, lost in the den of competing interests – both accused and plaintiff were racial minorities.
She a Filipina. Orr a Hongkong Chinese.
One can imagine reporters jockeying for the first quote. Practically all the major mainstream media, from radio to TV and the Chinese media were all there, almost everyday.
And the Filipino media?
I was alone, was there all throughout the gruelling one-month trial.
It took sometime before Leticia trusted me. She did not know me but without so many words she and I understood each other.
We were of kindred spirits – two Filipinos fighting an unjust system and giving voice to the voiceless.
At one time, I shielded her from TV reporters running after her during court breaks. With another Filipina, the three of us dodged them. We succeeded by going under the basement of the court house through the parking lot until we got to a cafe to catch something to eat.
We had a good laugh at that.
I watched her being transformed from the shy witness, almost inaudible at times, to a strong, courageous woman telling her story as best she could.
It was emotional listening to her and she herself broke down a couple of times if I recall.
When the verdict was handed down, she was not in court to hear it.
I broke the news to her by phone.
She was speechless.
“It is not only a victory for me but for all Filipino workers!”, she finally found the words.
(Leticia Sarmiento died on June 5, 2018. Her life was celebrated with a simple ceremony on June 17, 2018 with a few hundred friends at St. Barnabas Anglican Church in New Westminster)