An American Husband in Filipino Court

In the Philippines you meet couples consisting of a white man and a Filipina who clearly love each other. I’m not sure how common this is. It’s hard to miss ads and websites urging the western man of retirement age to come to the Philippines and find a pretty, sweet young thing who’ll love him and look after him for the rest of his life. As a resident of the Philippines you see lots of white men trying to outdo each other with their trophy wives or girlfriends. You meet a woman who seems to be primarily a nurse for her aging husband.  You hear Filipinas explain to each other that the man was just for survival, a way to get out of poverty. 

 Exploitation also works the other way. Over a period of about two months, three white men told me their troubles. One said his wife left him after he put her children through college. Then he discovered they’d never been legally married because she was still married to the father. She’d continued seeing him all along. Another man said he’d made a bundle as a currency trader in Singapore and had come to the Philippines to buy property, get married and settle down. His wife’s relatives took everything from him. Then there was Owen’s story.

Owen’s story

I first came to the Philippines in 1983, when I was thirty-five. That year I met Mary. We were married four years later and moved to the States, where Anne was born. Our marriage was tumultuous and caused me a lot of embarrassment with my extended family, my community and my employees—I was in a business developing small-scale hydroelectric generation facilities. The year our daughter was born, I decided to return to the Philippines.I was 49 years old and wanted to pursue business opportunities there.  Asia appealed to me. I moved in December 1996. Mary and Anne joined me a few months later.

Then it became apparent that we couldn’t continue the way we were living. I’d found out that she was married to someone else before me, so our marriage wasn’t legal. We separated. Eventually I married another woman, Carmen, and we had two children—more on that later. Mary got involved with another guy and then lived with a woman named Jade until she killed her.

Mary called me—I’ll never I’ll never forget this, about two o’clock in the morning on All Saint’s weekend 2001. She said, “There was a shot.” – I was just waking up. “What do you mean, Mary, there was a shot? You mean from that gun I told you to get rid of?” “Yes.” —  “Where is Anne?” – “She’s with Jade’s mom.” “Was anybody hit?”—“Yes.” “Who?” – “Jade.” – “Where was Jade shot?” – “In the house.” “No, Mary, where in the body was she shot?” “Under the chin. She’s bleeding.” – “Can she talk?” – “No.”

Mary was arrested immediately. The 22-caliber bullet went from her chin right out the top of her head. She was brain dead immediately, and then she bled out. By the time I got there, they were in the hospital, and Jade was been wheeled out on a blood-soaked gurney. Mary was screaming, “I didn’t mean it. I didn’t want this to happen.”

Mary and Jade had been high on shabu [methamphetamine].  They got into an argument about whose gun it was.  Mary got it from her cupboard from behind some soup cans. Mary said, “Jade told me she wasn’t afraid to die.” — “Why was she saying that?”, I asked.  – “Well, I asked her if she was afraid to die, and then she asked me if I was afraid to die, and I said I didn’t want to die because I had a daughter. Then Jade tried to grab the gun from me. It discharged, and it killed her.”

Mary was arrested and charged with homicide, but the charge was reduced to manslaughter. Fifteen days later she posted bond and was released from jail to await trial. At a pretrial hearing the public defender and the prosecutor for the state moved for dismissal because there were no witnesses and the statements Mary made to various people before the arrest were inadmissible.

Jade hadn’t been that well liked. She had a very long jail record for robbery and shabu.  Her uncle, a policeman, came to me and said, “Sometimes God works in mysterious ways. Maybe Jade was supposed to die because she’s brought so much heartache to her mother.” Jade’s mother was then in her eighties.Mary gave Jade’s mother her motorcycle, the money she had in a bank account and the furniture in her house. That satisfied the mother, and she “withdrew her evidence,” which was only that Mary and Jade often had fights. Under Filipino law murder is a capital offense against the state–on paper. But if you satisfy the relatives of the victim then the perpetrator can go free. The judge thought it would be nice if we could redeem Mary and make her a good citizen.

Four months later, Mary was arrested for possession of shabu. That judge offered her a chance to go to rehab, saying, “It would be good for her daughter if her life were put in order.” After over a year in rehab she lived in a halfway house for another year. When she got out, our daughter was ten and had been living with me for the three years her mother was away.

Then Mary wanted me to support her and Anne in their own place. At first I did that because social workers were pleading that mothers needed to be with their daughters. I rented a house next to the school Anne had been attending. Anne was miserable living with her mother, but she was going to school every day. Mary was cutting my time with Anne down to almost nothing until the weekend when she refused to let me see her at all unless I got a court order.

I went to the police and said, “Please come with me.” We went to the subdivision, where Mary already had a bad reputation. The police asked, “Ma’am, who’s paying the rent here?” No answer. “Sir, are you paying the rent?”—“Yes, sir.” – “Ma’am, do you dispute that he’s paying the rent?” Silence. The whole thing went like that. The policeman said, “Look, ma’am, I’m not a judge. I don’t write orders, but it seems like he’s being reasonable and you’re not. Your daughter says she wants to go home with her dad right now. All I can do is write a report.”

His report was not admissible in court, but very useful. Then I went to court for a custody order. Immediately Mary got a public attorney to file a case accusing me of psychological abuse, nonsupport and violence, the key words of the 2004 Republic Act9262, also known as The Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act.   That stopped everything. My case was civil, and hers was criminal. So her case took precedence. She also claimed that I was an atheist and that I was in control of a lot of property. She had access to the titles with my name on the back of them as an adverse claimant. This made the prosecutors and the judge very interested. They asked for money quite blatantly: “You can make this go away if you….” I said, “If you think that’s all mine you’re crazy.” There were adverse claims which I didn’t have access to because they were with corporations in the United States.

Under RA 9262, a Hold Departure Order is automatic. It’s nothing to a Filipino who has a job here, but it destroys a foreigner who depends on international travel to earn his living. It means you can’t leave the country and you can’t get a work visa. My work visa was cancelled.  But I just played tough, worked surreptitiously as an engineer and on my own book manuscript.  From 2007 until 2015 when the case was finished, I went back and forth to the court and did my own work.

RA 9262 was a new law. Most laws take two or three years to get teeth–the rules written for procedures and so forth–and to be used in the court. After three years we got Anne on the witness stand. For an hour my attorney asked her many questions: “Did your father ever do this?” – “No.” – “Are you afraid of your father?”–  “No.” – “Did your father ever embarrass you in public? Are you embarrassed about being of mixed race?”

People on drugs say the most inane things. Mary claimed there was a stigma against Anne because her father was an American, but then she was asked, “What were you thinking when you conceived her?” All the while, the judge and the prosecutors were approaching my attorney offering to settle.

There were allegations of nonsupport. As soon as the court was satisfied that Mary wasn’t married to me, I wasn’t obliged to support her, but I did have to support Anne. I had every bank deposit slip to prove that I gave Mary 60,000 pesos [$1200] a month. I had the rental contract in my name. I proved I’d always paid Anne’s tuition. Mary could produce nothing to show that she’d ever been employed. My former employee testified that he paid the bills at Miralco [the electric company] and the water company and the phone company.

Then they challenged him, “Why were you running around helping a foreigner like this?”

He said, “Look at the history. After all this I’m not supposed to not keep a record? Besides, he was my boss. I worked for him since 1996 in construction activities and engineering activities, and was his bookkeeper/driver, so I know a lot.”

Now, this was January 2010. The case against me had been going on for three years, and Mary’s stories and allegations had begun to unravel. My son Thomas, by my first wife, was about to get married in Cebu. He and Anne were close. They were brother and sister even though they were eighteen years apart, and they looked like kids with the same mother and father. Thomas showed up in court. Slowly it dawned on the judge that he was telling the truth.

At that time Anne was in a Department of Social Welfare and Development shelter—alone—because the judge felt he needed professional help to get the situation figured out. She’d been there since she was nine years old. At that time Mary had petitioned to get into the shelter also because the child needed her mother. The judge let Mary in, but Anne said she was happier without her. DSWD claimed a mother needed her child. [This is the Asian perspective.]

I blew up at that. I said, “Parents don’t need their children. Children need their parents. This is upside down.” – “No,” they said, “her mother needs her to in order to recover.” I was not allowed to go into the shelter and see Anne.

So now Anne wanted to go to the wedding. My attorney put tremendous pressure on the judge, who quizzed Anne in open court. Anne was now 14 years old and could stand up for herself. The judge asked her why she wanted to go to the wedding. “He’s my brother.”

Mary was screaming, “If she goes to the wedding, I go to the wedding.” Thomas was ready to come out of his skin because he couldn’t stand Mary anymore. After listening to Mary go berserk, the judge said, “Ma’am you’ve sort of undone yourself here. You’ve proved you don’t belong at this wedding.” So then Mary said that someone from the DSWD had to go along. She claimed Anne had said her father would kidnap her otherwise.

The judge called the court assigned DSWD social workers into court. About eight people showed up. Most of them said it was too short notice. There are two women left, including Anne’s case worker, who after three years had become good friends with Mary. The judge told her she was going. As soon as we got out of the courtroom and into the hall, she wanted money from me. Like 500 pesos [$10] to get home that night, when she presumably was going anyway. She demanded her own hotel room and a first-class airplane ticket, although that flight to Cebu had only one class. She wanted complete independence from me and her own driver. It totaled about 40,000 pesos [$800].

Then we bought the tickets, and George delivered hers. The case worker met him outside the courtroom, where she demanded another 20,000 pesos or she wouldn’t go. She wouldn’t take the tickets. We still have them because she never used them.

George didn’t know what to do. He had no standing in the court, but court was still in session. He walked into the courtroom and stood there, waiting. The judge knew him from the three years he’d been coming there. When the judge asked him why he was still there, he said the case worker wouldn’t go without more money. Then she told the judge she wasn’t feeling well. He said he didn’t believe her and was going to charge her with contempt. She protested that she wasn’t well.

That’s when the judge got wound up and called George into chambers. He asked, “Why would you work for a foreigner?” George was very polite. “Sir, your honor, I worked for him for more than ten years. He never did anything that wasn’t decent, and I’m thankful I had a job with him.”

So then the judge calmed down and called the woman in. “You’re not going.” – “I’m not?” He called in the alternate, who said she couldn’t go. He finally called me and said, “We have a problem. The case worker can’t go. I believe what Thomas is saying, that you’re not going to run away with Anne. I’m going to ask you to do something I have no right to ask you. Will you give me your passport and Anne’s passport to hold until after the wedding?”

So Anne went to the wedding. Two days later we walked into the courtroom, and he gave us our passports. From then on all the nonsense ended.

Later there was an interruption in the court because Anne wanted out of this, as you can imagine. She came into court, and my attorney told the judge she had something to say. Anne stood up and said, “I want to go to the States. I want to live with my uncle, my father’s brother, who lives in Florida. I have a letter here from him inviting me. There’s a good school system. I’ll be going with my brother Harry.” The judge agreed that it would be in Anne’s best interest to go to the States for two years.

Now Mary and the DSWD were going berserk again. Mary was screaming she had to go. I explained that I couldn’t get Mary a visa because she wasn’t my wife. Finally they relented. The case worker volunteered to live with Anne and my brother in the States. The judge said, “Are you kidding me? You wouldn’t go to Cebu overnight, and now you’re going to the States for two years? No, she can go alone. She went to the wedding with her father, and her father brought her back. I believe he’ll do the same thing.” He suspended the case for two years. When she came back,I was able to present my witnesses, and Mary never came to anymore hearings. It was over after  eight years. By that time Anne was seventeen.

Now, there was another case involving Carmen, the woman I’d married after Mary and I split up. We had two children. In 2004 arrest warrants were issued for Carmen for estafa (swindling). She fled to southwestern Mindanao but then returned to Manila, took our son Harry out of school, returned to Mindanao and sent me written demands for money. I refused to pay, partly because she provided no proof that the boy was alive and with her.

Two months later Carmen filed two law suits against me that included extraordinary financial demands.One suit was immediately dismissed.  The other was the RA 9262 criminal suit. Her attorney successfully delayed the trial for nearly one year while I was pressured to settle. One year into the trial she’d presented only one witness, her sister.  When my attorney asked her the standard question, whether she’d she prepared the affidavit put into evidence, she said Carmen had prepared it and demanded she sign it.

My attorney began to present witnesses that included Carmen’s brother, father and people she’d she swindled.  Her attorney asked Carmen’s father how much I’d paid for his testimony. When her father said I hadn’t paid anything, he asked why the man would testify against his daughter.  Her father said, he said loved his daughter and he didn’t want to hurt her, but he believed his grandchildren would have a better life without her.

Now, when I’d met Carmen I didn’t know she was married. She introduced me to her little brother, Jay, but in court it came out that he was her son. The judge said, “Why didn’t you tell him it was your son?” – “Well, you know how it is. Sometimes you’re having a casual conversation, and you don’t tell everything. Then after a while I didn’t know how to tell him.”

So now, idiot that I am, that was twice I believed what I was told.

The judge had Jay’s birth certificate, which was a fuzzy mess. Jay was fifteen then. “Jay, what’s your sister’s name?” – “I don’t have a sister.” – “It says here on your birth certificate, I can hardly read it, but your mother gave birth to a female child before you. Where is she?” Jay was flabbergasted. He turned to Carmen. “What’s that? You have another child?”—“Oh, the hilyot just wrote that down.”

The hilyot, or midwife, is a formal job. Most are registered, and they follow the rules. The judge said “In my experience, usually it’s the mother who’s asked for information. If she’s in no condition to supply it, somebody in her family will so the birth certificate can be completed.” Carmen was silent. The judge continued, “The way it was filled out, it’s clear that she was married when she gave birth.”

This went around and around, and finally Carmen said, “I decided I didn’t want to be married to him anymore.” – The judge said, “Really. So who’s your husband?” She pointed at me. “He is.” – “But you can’t just decide you’re divorced and marry someone else.” He was mad. He said they were going to find out who she was married to. Then Jay spoke up. “I don’t have a sister, but there’s a man that people told me used to be married to my mom.” Thank goodness.

The trial did not really begin until Late 2005. In January 2007 Carmen’s attorney asked to present additional witnesses.  They were never produced. In June 2007 a decision and Final Order was issued.  The order said Carmen could not be alone with her children for five years and that she could not see her children until she completed one year of counseling, which she didn’t do. She visited her children in my presence five times beginning the year after the order was issued.  A year later she was pregnant by another foreigner.  I don’t know if she gave birth.   Five years after the Order was issued, she died of a stroke induced by an overdose of an illicit drug.

Since 2014 I’ve have a tranquil life with my children.

A reader writes:

I can’t log in to write a comment!

I just read your new post, and I felt so sad for this guy. That is a common problem with foreigners who marry uneducated Filipinas. I have heard stories similar to his ordeal. When I went to Subic to visit a friend, her American neighbor was accused of molesting his Filipina wife’s eight-year-old niece Then it turned out that the kid’s father only wanted to get some money from this American.


I’ll try to get the log-in problem fixed. Thanks for writing.

Another reader writes:

Wow, Carol, that is really an insane story! Or couple of stories I guess… I have heard many others of really crazy abuse and swindling. Abuse of hard drugs just makes everything worse! And there certainly are some good cases of international union. Am I just really lucky to have gotten such a good Filipina wife, or can I credit good intuitive judgment?


I think the root cause is poverty with a pinch of xenophobia mixed in. Real or perceived income inequality can result in some nasty situations–as well as hard-core drugs, of course.

Yet another reader:

What a story,Carol! Although I think that’s a storyline that may happen anywhere, more so I guess in developing or 3rd world countries. Thanks for the article/story, very well described and written.



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