By Ruth Bayang
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Our legal system failed me.”
Elisha Edwin, 40, is living a nightmare.
His only child, 3-year-old Rachel, was taken out of the country to the Philippines by her mother, Katrina Jean Lacdao, for what was supposedly a two-week trip to see Lacdao’s ailing father.
“I waited for an hour [at Sea-Tac Airport on April 5],” said Edwin of the day Rachel and her mother were supposed to return. Then I went to [Lacdao’s] house and waited four more hours.
Lacdao, a native of the Philippines, and Edwin never married, but they had shared custody of Rachel.
When he realized on April 5 that his worst fears had come true, Edwin started investigating.
He went back to Lacdao’s house in Tukwila two days after they were supposed to have returned, and discovered a realtor’s lockbox on the front door, indicating the house was for sale. Further digging revealed the house had been up for sale since February. Edwin believes Lacdao was planning to leave the country, and never return, the whole time.
In September 2015, Lacdao hired a lawyer who pushed for a court order granting her permission to travel outside the country with Rachel.
“The whole ‘my father is sick’ thing was a gimmick. If he was truly sick, why didn’t she travel [in September]? Why wait [till March]? This was never going to be a vacation. She never [intended] on coming back,” said Edwin.
“I cried and I pleaded in court. Do not let my daughter out,” Edwin told King County Family Law Court Commissioner Mark Hillman. But his plea fell on deaf ears. Hillman approved the order giving Lacdao permission to travel with Rachel abroad for 14 days.
“I was shocked,” said Edwin. “I couldn’t believe it. [Hillman] was going to let [Lacdao] take my daughter against my will.” He said he would have faced jail time if he didn’t comply. Now, Edwin says he wished he had done just that.
When asked for a comment for this article, Hillman responded via email, “I cannot comment on this case because it is the subject of a pending criminal matter as well as an active civil matter in our court.”
According to the court order, Lacdao was supposed to call and check in with Edwin three times a week while they were in the Philippines. But he never got a single phone call.
When Edwin tried to call the phone numbers provided by Lacdao, nobody ever answered on the other end.
“My job is to protect my daughter,” said Edwin. “The court took that away from me … I knew it was coming. It’s like I had no choice.”
Days after Rachel’s scheduled return, Edwin called Lacdao’s workplace to ask if she was still employed there. The human resources official at Horizon House told Edwin that Lacdao no longer worked there — she had given notice that she was quitting.
Immediately after that, Edwin filed a report with the Tukwila police department.
The FBI and State Department are now involved. Edwin said he has also contacted his congressman and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. Thus far, they have all referred him to the State Department.
“We are aware of the Edwin case, and we are providing all appropriate consular assistance to the family,” said Nicole Thompson with the State Department press office. “The welfare of children who are involved in international parental child abduction is among the department’s top priorities.”
For now, Edwin is hoping that the diplomatic channels will work. “But if I have to go over [to the Philippines] myself to get her back … I’m not ruling that out.”
“She’s my everything,” said Edwin of his daughter, whom he calls ‘RayRay.’ “We go to Chuck E. Cheese’s every Friday and Saturday … she goes on all the rides, she loves pizza.”
“She’s very [well] known in Kent. The Chase bank [near] where I live, they’ve known Rachel since she was a baby. I take her everywhere I go. A lot of people have watched her grow up.”
Edwin said he prays for Rachel’s safety. “She has medical issues. I don’t know what the medical system is like over there. She has multiple allergies. Even here in America [when we’re careful], she would still get sick every now and then.”
The Philippines is not a party to the international Hague Convention agreement, which makes it illegal to remove a child permanently from her native country.
But a law passed in July 2014 is giving Edwin hope.
The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act authorizes the State Department to take increasingly forceful measures against any country that does not help return an American child not illegally held there. And it requires U.S. diplomatic and consular missions to work out agreements with countries that are unlikely to join the Hague Convention.
“I haven’t lost hope yet,” said Edwin. “[The feds] say they are very optimistic that [Rachel will be returned]. They said they have a good working relationship with the authorities in the Philippines.”
“I’m not ruling out lawsuits,” Edwin said, of holding Hillman accountable for ignoring his pleas.
“I’m not going to rest. I’m not going to sit back.”
Ultimately, Edwin said he doesn’t care if the authorities never catch Lacdao.
“Just bring Rachel back,” said Edwin. “Drop her off at the U.S. embassy and they will fly her back.”
“She’s a smart 3-year-old,” said Edwin. “She won’t forget who her father is.”
Ruth Bayang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.