Dubai: Recto Esmeralda, a 54-year-old Filipino, once had a great career going for him. As the human resources manager of a leading Dubai hotel, following previous stints in other five-star properties, he recruited and interviewed hundreds of staff from various countries to fill hotel jobs in several Gulf cities.
His job and generosity earned him countless friends, who heaped praise upon him.
Now an illegal, virtually alone and partly paralysed following a massive stroke, Esmeralda has been stuck in Dubai for 13 years, cowering in fear and also longing for the love of his family.
Friends slowly faded away and visits became few and far between following his bout with aneurysm (abnormal widening or ballooning of a portion of an artery).
Esmeralda lives off the charity of Oscar, his 45-year-old nephew, and spends most of the time by himself in a room on a villa rooftop in Rashidiya. Casper, a five-year-old pomeranian, keeps him company on morning walks around the villa compound.
Esmeralda’s troubles started in 1998 when he took a Dh86,000 loan from a UAE bank to help a close friend whose ailing mother was fighting cancer.
“My friend promised he would repay the loan in instalments of Dh2,200 a month,” he told XPRESS, recalling how the friend disappeared without paying a single dirham.
Esmeralda’s misfortune was made worse when he lost his job later in 1999. Unable to pay three months’ amortisation, Esmeralda was jailed for four months following a case lodged by the bank over payment default.
Upon release, he did odd jobs, still hoping to raise the money to pay the bank and get his passport, which he surrendered to authorities for his temporary freedom. But by 2000 his visa expired and he has since been an illegal.
He later learnt his friend had skipped Dubai and gone to Bahrain where the friend died in a car crash. Petrified by fear of jail, he never talked to his bank again.
On December 23, 2008, tortured by a life of uncertainty that robbed him of sleep for days on end, Esmeralda was rushed to the Iranian Hospital following a ‘ruptured cerebral artery aneurysm’, that left a seven-inch C-shaped scar running from his right forehead to the back of the right ear.
He was discharged on January 7, 2009. His neurosurgeon, Dr Alireza Taghikhani, prescribed that besides managing the hypertension and brain injury after the operation, Esmeralda also needed psychological support and long-term intensive physical therapy and rehabilitation – something Esmeralda has stopped getting in February 2009 after his insurance coverage lapsed.
Unable to go home, he is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
“I had tried to apply for the amnesty (which ended on February 3), but it won’t work, according to Philippine officials I had approached, as I still have an unpaid loan. It’s been 13 years since I last saw my family. This should be enough punishment for me. I want to go home. I want to get proper treatment,” Esmeralda told XPRESS.
Esmeralda’s situation has improved much: he was wheelchair bound for over six months after the surgery, but now is able to walk on his own.
“When you’re my situation, friends will abandon you. People who owe you money will forget you. I don’t keep a list of debts. At the start, I fell into self pity. But I stopped pitying myself. I’m lucky to have survived this ordeal. My only hope is mercy from the people – the bank – I owed money to,” he said.