By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
Two weeks ago, he finally put his child’s car seat away. Elisha Edwin had kept it in the car for three years, although it had remained empty. His daughter was 3 years old when she was abducted. Now, after another three years, she is 6 years old.
“It’s always been me and my daughter,” said Edwin, 43, a nurse who works in a retirement home. “I left the car seat there because that was where she was sitting when I dropped her off.”
The last time he saw his daughter, Rachel, was March 17, 2016, when he left her with her mother at a movie theater in Kent Station.
“I kissed my daughter and she kissed me back, and she said, ‘See you soon, daddy,’ and that was it,” said Edwin, a tall man with an air of bafflement.
“She was going to turn 4 in September,” he said. “She didn’t know what was coming.”
After three years of constant legal struggles, Edwin’s former girlfriend, Katrina Lacdao, had obtained the right to take their daughter on a two-week trip to the Philippines, claiming that her father was ill, according to Edwin.
For three years, Lacdao and her mother had been threatening to take the child out of the country, he said. But King County Superior Court family law commissioner Mark Hillman granted the right for her to travel with Rachel six months in advance of the trip.
Hillman, in his court order of Sept. 16, 2015, stipulated that upon their return, the child’s passport be handed over to Edwin.
“After the mother returns from the Philippines, mother shall hand over the passport of the child to the father and he shall maintain the passport pending further court order,” read the order.
But they never returned. Edwin soon came to believe the abduction had been carefully planned. He found Lacdao had quit her job sometime in advance. Her house was up for sale. And all her things were moved out. He suspects relatives assisted her.
Edwin immediately reported the abduction to the police, the National Center for Missing Children and the FBI. And he soon found an organization of other parents whose children had been abducted by spouses or partners.
He learned that there are over 1,000 similar child abductions reported in the United States each year. Usually such abductions take place in the midst of divorces, said Edwin, where one party doesn’t want to pay child support or simply wants to steal the kids.
Edwin claims he paid child and medical support from the beginning, even ceding his overtime hours to Lacdao, so she could have an extended maternity leave.
But he says the problems started with Lacdao’s mother, who exerted tremendous influence over her daughter. Mother and daughter had been living together until the mother learned Lacdao was pregnant, said Edwin.
When the mother, Catalina, learned her daughter had gotten pregnant with a Black man, said Edwin, the mother was furious, called the unborn child “the n-word,” moved out, and abandoned her daughter.
Three months after the birth, however, they reconciled. And Catalina persuaded her daughter to break up with Edwin, he said.
Catalina had brought Lacdao to the United States from the Philippines when she was a minor. Now she would persuade her to return to the Philippines with her young daughter, said Edwin.
The Philippines was not a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction of 1980, so that traditional U.S. law enforcement held no sway there.
By this time, having failed to return after two weeks with their daughter, Lacdao was already a fugitive, having violated Hillman’s court order.
But there seemed nothing Edwin could do.
A network tries to help
Eventually, he found the organization, iStand Parent Network, which was founded by parents in similar situations. The organization introduced Edwin to Sen. Maria Cantwell, who wrote a letter on his behalf to the ambassador of the Philippines.
With the help of iStand, Edwin also met with an official at the embassy who listened to his story, but promised nothing. Finally, in May of this year, he held a protest outside the embassy holding a picture of Rachel.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department, also contacted by Edwin, has been seeking to establish the welfare of Rachel in the Philippines.
U.S. embassy officials in Manila tried to reach out to Lacdao in May, after having obtained her whereabouts. But Lacdao, a U.S. citizen, has the right to refuse contact, said Edwin.
“Following several unsuccessful attempts on May 2, 3, and 6 to contact U.S. citizen minor Rachel Edwin and her mother Katrina Jean Lacdao, Consular staff formally requested the assistance of DSWD to establish contact,” said a welfare report dated May 8 from the U.S. embassy in Manila.
DSWD refers to the Philippines’ Department of Social Welfare and Development.
On May 8, a social worker from DSWD reached Katrina’s mother, Catalina, who said that Rachel was “physically healthy, enrolled in swimming and Taekwondo lessons, and goes to church every Sunday. She is given nutritious foods and has complete vitamins. Rachel plays and reads books with her neighbors.”
“When the DSWD social worker requested to speak with Rachel’s mother, the maternal grandmother declined and shared the mother’s wish to refuse all contact from Elisha Edwin, including sharing a current picture of Rachel,” said the report.
A new strategy
Edwin was, however, able to obtain a photo of Rachel—as she is now—to share with the State Department, he said.
After three years of not seeing her, he hired a shipping company that regularly sends packages to the Philippines to send a box of school clothes, books, and other supplies to his daughter.
He had previously sent one by DHL. But this company, Atlas, distinguishes itself by guaranteeing it will take a photo of the recipient of the package and send that photo back to the sender as proof of delivery.
Edwin made out the package to his daughter, who could not sign for it as a minor, in the care of her mother, he said.
When they received the package, the company snapped the photo and sent it to Edwin.
It showed Rachel standing in front of her mother. Her mother appeared to be holding Rachel’s head from either side with her hands while the girl grimaced.
“I see the changes that she is going through, between the pictures I took before she left and the picture now, there is a big change, a really big change,” said Edwin.
But he was optimistic.
“Well, she’s still got her smile,” he said. “She’s still got her smile. She’s just a happy child.”
As of press time, Rachel’s mother was unreachable for comment.
An uncertain future
Edwin worries that growing up in the Philippines, Rachel faces ongoing discrimination because of her darker skin color.
But Vicente L. Rafael, a history professor at the University of Washington who studies the Philippines, wrote in an email that Rachel would face “no more discrimination than any small town or major city in the U.S.”
“Dark skinned people face discrimination, but not as intensely as [in] the U.S. or Europe. The Philippines does not have a history of slavery and Jim Crow, nor state-sanctioned segregation nor white supremacist groups seeking to expel immigrants. In short, conditions are dramatically different for dark skinned people in the Philippines as compared to the U.S.,” wrote Rafael.
In the end, though, Edwin believes Rachel still has a much better future in the United States than in the Philippines, where one in 10 women head to other places, such as Singapore or the Middle East to work as domestic helpers and are often abused, according to scholars and news reports.
“It hasn’t been easy, knowing that your child is somewhere in a country where she has no future. And you’re here. She could have a better life,” said Edwin.
Asked about himself, he said, “What I’m going through is very hurting and saddening, this whole thing has swallowed my life.”
“But I’m trying to be open-minded and live my life one day at a time and hoping that I’ll get that phone call from my daughter or from the Philippines telling me we have your daughter here on the phone.”
Mahlon can be reached at email@example.com.