Wednesday, September 17, 2008
For Manniecar Dagpin Senillo, marrying "a Western man" was a transaction, a tool to improve her life and that of her family in the Philippines.
And that's what the 25-year-old woman said she and her Canadian husband, businessman George Spiller, had agreed on when they met two years ago on an Internet website popular with Filipinas looking for men in the West.
Senillo said she vowed to look after him as a housewife; Spiller promised he would financially support her and her family back home.
After half a year of phone and email correspondence, the couple wed in November 2006 on Spiller's first visit to the Philippines.
Despite a 32-year age gap and, according to Senillo, disapproval from his Toronto family, Spiller sponsored her. She joined him in Calgary in August 2007. But her dream for a new life was short-lived.
Spiller, 56, died of alcohol poisoning a month later. Although foul play was not suspected, the widow is now being accused by Spiller's family of entering a marriage of convenience and may have her permanent resident status revoked and be sent back to her impoverished homeland.
Senillo says the complaint against her to Immigration Canada stems from her having left Spiller's Calgary home just before his death and not attending his funeral. In addition, she applied for all her Canadian ID in the Toronto area with help of an aunt and uncle, instead of through her residence in Calgary.
In February, months after her husband's sudden death, Citizenship and Immigration Canada told Senillo, who now lives with her aunt in Whitby, that she was under investigation.
At issue is whether she was in a genuine relationship.
The letter from the immigration department said: "It has been alleged that you misrepresented yourself to Mr. Spiller and entered into marriage with no intention of residing with Mr. Spiller."
Immigration Canada cannot comment on the case, but spokesperson Danielle Norris said Canadian sponsors can complain to border security or immigration officials if the sponsored spouses have left them and they feel the other parties have committed fraud. Third parties can also initiate such complaints.
"These are very difficult cases to investigate as it is hard to prove that the sponsoree committed fraud and did not leave the sponsor for another reason," Norris noted.
Spiller's family also declined to comment.
"We cannot comment about anything as immigration is looking into whatever is necessary when circumstances such as these arise," one of Spiller's two sisters, who asked not to be identified, said in an email.
Senillo said she left for Whitby shortly before Spiller's business partner found his body on Sept. 14, 2007, with an empty bottle of Everclear alcohol beside him.
She said she had become afraid of her husband, who turned into a different person after her arrival in Canada, "smoking and being drunk all the time."
"It is not like we married because we were in love. Marriage is something to improve life for my family. I liked him and felt I could rely on him. And I would take care of him as his wife," said Senillo, whose family received monthly remittances from Spiller up until his death. He once wired them $40,000 to buy a new home in the Philippines.
"But I knew little about him," admitted Senillo, who used to be a waitress and now works at a fast-food chain.
She said it wasn't until she saw an obituary by Spiller's family that she learned her husband had two sons from an earlier marriage. A coroner's report later revealed his history of "chronic ethanol abuse, smoking, hypertension and depression," something Senillo said she was not aware of.
Immigration officials called Senillo in for an interview in July. The immigration hearings division is currently reviewing her case. A decision is pending.
A Status of Women Canada report has documented the emerging number of Filipina "mail-order brides" brought to Canada since the 1990s. It is estimated several thousand Filipina brides now live in Canada.
Senillo's aunt, Janeth, and uncle, Tom Werry, insisted their niece entered the marriage in good faith. Werry said he paid for his distraught niece's airfare to come to Whitby after learning of Spiller's drinking problem. The separation was not intended to be permanent, he added.
Werry also reported his niece's reasons for leaving Calgary to the RCMP and to Calgary police; he said he was concerned about her immigration status upon leaving her husband. He said Senillo didn't have the money to fly back to Calgary for Spiller's funeral.
"This is hard for Canadians to understand," said Janeth, 31, who met her 62-year-old Canadian husband on the Internet in 2001 and decided to marry him after a two-week courtship.
"We don't look for romantic love. We only hope we can help our family. And we do keep our promise and do everything we can to serve and respect our husbands."
In Spiller's will, dated March of last year, Senillo was named the beneficiary of the deceased's life insurance policies, registered retirement and pension plans. It is currently being handled by the executor, one of Spiller's friends.