WA Filipino doctor Cesar Sofocado continues fight

The wife of Dr Cesar Sofocado, the Filipino doctor in Western Australia who 10 months ago was told by authorities to divorce his wife to remain permanently in Australia, passed away last Friday, December 9 after almost two years of courageous fight against breast cancer.

The story of Dr Sofocado, known in Perth circle as Dr Cesar, is a story of immigration administrative errors, of love for the family and a man’s fight to uphold Filipino family values and to help others in situations similar to his.

Dr Sofocado’s story started early this year when he was told by Department of Immigration and Citizenship officers that for him to be granted residency, he had to divorce, or legally separate from, his wife, Mary who was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.

They have two daughters, Sofia Lorraine and Kyla Maris.

Without any legal ties to her husband, Mrs Sofocado would be forced to leave Australia and return to the Philippines to die without her family.

The Filipino doctor who moved with his family to rural Western Australia six years ago to help fill medical skills shortage appealed for compassion and fought for his case.

Last April, his story was exposed by The West Australian newspaper and Channel 7’s Today Tonight. His cause had also rallied the Filipino Australian community in WA behind him.

‘I married my wife for richer and poorer and in sickness and health – that is the vow I took,’ Dr Sofocado was quoted as saying, adding that he wanted to show his daughters that they ‘are a family and we don’t leave each other for any reason’.

That was on April 25.

A couple of days later, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen granted permanent residency visas to Dr Sofocado and his family.

In granting PR visas to the Sofocado family, a spokesperson of Mr Bowen was quoted as saying ‘The minister thinks there are compelling circumstances in the case of Dr Cesar Sofocado and believes he and his family should be helped.’

The “compelling circumstances”, according to Dr Sofocado, related to his wife, Stella, being terminally ill and, significantly, to an error of DIAC’s first case officer ‘advising them (Sofocados) to change their application from visa subclass 175 to 176 on learning of his wife’s cancer.’

A 176 visa category did not allow the right to appeal against a rejection related to health matters.

Romy Cayabyab with Dr Sofocado in Perth during a Damayang Filipino function last May 21
Romy Cayabyab with Dr Sofocado in Perth during a Damayang Filipino function last May 21

Last May this year, in a business trip to Western Australia, I met Dr Sofocado one evening in a Damayang Filipino social event in Perth. There, the good doctor narrated to me his family’s residency case. He was very grateful, he said, that with the residency visas granted them, his daughters who came with him when they were still small girls, can stay in Australia.

Back in Sydney, a few days later I received an email from Dr Sofocado with advice from DIAC that conferral of Australian citizenship on his family will take into account any period prior to lodgement of application if applicant was an “unlawful non-citizen” during the four-year general residence requirement.

“In order for the Minister to use his intervention powers under section 195A of the Migration Act 1958 to grant you a permanent visa, you consented to your visa being cancelled. This meant that prior to you being granted a permanent resident visa you had a period of unlawfulness”, the DIAC advice stated.

Although Dr Sofocado and his family members will be eligible to apply for citizenship after April 28 next year, he thinks that he and his family being considered “unlawful non-citizens” is unfair.

“That may be the law,” Dr Sofocado said, “but we have become ‘unlawful’ due to an administrative error by DIAC and we have not been fully informed of the consequences of our visas being cancelled to be granted permanent residencies.”

“Never have we stayed in Australia illegally,” he added.

Fearing that being considered “unlawful” might work against his family in the future, he sought on May 27 the help of WA Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration, to obtain an official letter from DIAC clearing their names.

Last June 1, Dr Sofocado received a letter from Senator Cash stating that the Policy section of DIAC had confirmed that “… it would be open to a decision maker to apply the discretion if they wished to on the basis that there was an administrative error because the Department may have failed to fully inform Dr Sofocado of the consequences of requesting to have his visa cancelled”.

Dr Sofocado is unsure how that “administrative error discretion” will apply next year when he lodges his application for conferral of Australian citizenship.

He said that he could only hope that DIAC officers will decide in his favour. At worst, of course, is that Dr Sofocado and family will have to wait for a longer period to make up for the period of “unlawfulness” – a scenario which would add bitterness to the trauma that Dr Sofocado and his family have already suffered through no fault of theirs.

Yesterday morning, I received an email from Dr Sofocado about the sad news of the demise of Mrs Sofocado.

Part of his email reads:

“After a courageous 2 year battle with cancer, Mary Maris Stella passed away peacefully, surrounded by all those who loved her deeply, on the 9th of December 2011, at Kalgoorie Regional Hospital, Western Australia.
….
“Friends and family are invited to attend a simple memorial service on Tuesday, 1:30pm December 13th, 2011, at Goldfields Crematorium Chapel, Memorial Drive Kalgoorie, WA.”

Together with his email is a link to a news report that “Dr Sofocado claimed the system had failed again because of poor palliative care on two occasions at Kalgoorie hospital” and Dr Sofocado had “lodged a report with the WA Country Health Service”.

As we extend our deepest condolences to the Sofocado family, The Filipino Australian also wishes Dr Cesar Sofocado success as he seeks equitable resolution of his petitions ~ for the sake of his daughters, and for others including international medical graduates who may find themselves in similar situations.

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11 Responses to "WA Filipino doctor Cesar Sofocado continues fight"

  1. Maria Nilda Carpo   December 13, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    Romy

    Thanks for sharing. My heart bleeds for the family…

    Nilda

    Reply
    • Romy C   December 14, 2011 at 8:44 am

      Hi Nilda

      Thanks too for sharing this story with others. Dr Sofocado’s story is indeed a very inspiring one.

      It might interest you to know that recently the immigration department had rejected the application for permanent residency by an Egyptian GP working in remote WA because his daughter has cerebral palsy. But when Dr Rafik Mansour, who has worked in Fitzroy Crossing in the WA Kimberley region for the past three years, cited the case of Dr Cesar Sofocado, DIAC approved last month Dr Mansour’s application and “he had been granted with a health waiver which took into account the Mansour family’s contribution to the Australian community and their role in providing health services to regional WA.” (Mark O’Brien /Medical Observer)

      Such is the impact of the case of Dr Cesar Sofocado.

      Romy

      Reply
  2. Cen Amores   December 14, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Hi Romy,

    Thanks for sharing this very touching story about the continuing fight of the Sofocado family. On behalf of APCO and KCL, please extend our sincere condolences to Dr Cesar Sofocado and his family. We join all justice-loving friends and family of the late Mary Maris Stella to pray for the repose of her soul.

    This is the time for us to unite and endeavour to get to the bottom of this case. Ruben and I would like to make contact with Dr Cesar so we would appreciate if you can share with us the doctor’s contact details asap.

    Thanks, Romy and more power to the Filipino Australian!

    Regards,

    Cen & Ruben

    Reply
    • Romy C   December 15, 2011 at 6:25 am

      Hi Cen > Please see our email sent to your private address. ~ Romy

      Reply
  3. nilda carpo   December 14, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Nothing happens by accident. We all live a purpose-driven life, as the case of Dr Cesar Sofocado, to check, balance and correct system re: immigration, medical, palliative. ” Such is life! ” – Ned Kelly.

    Indeed Romy Cayabyab’s Filipino Australian is one of the contributing links to power community service. Way to Go! Make waves…

    Nilda Carpo

    Reply
  4. Neria Soliman   December 14, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Horrendous!

    I can’t fathom these IMMIGRATION ADMINISTRATIVE ERRORS!

    I admire Dr. Cesar in upholding Filo family values and in helping others in situations similar to his.

    Neria of Hassall Grove NSW

    Reply
  5. Dr Cesar Sofocado   December 15, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Thanks to all.

    I filed an official complaint to HaDSCO (Health and Disability Service Complaint Office) that is handling our “Nursing Negligence at Kalgoorlie Hospital, WA” case. I will continue the fight to give justice to what they did to my beloved wife! I will continue the fight to give justice to my two daughters and my family.

    That the sad part, my wife died and suffered MUCH, not because of her advanced metastatic breast cancer, but because of NURSING NEGLIGENCE!

    I’d like to request your prayers to enlighten the minds of the nurses who did the HORRIBLE, UNACCEPTABLE, INCOMPETENT, IGNORANT, DISCRIMINATORY, UNCARING, UNCOMPASSIONATE nursing management to my already suffering wife and family during her initial days of hospital admission.

    My beloved wife Stella has advanced metastatic breast cancer which spread to her brain, lungs, and ribs. She should be and must be receiving quality palliative care from supposed to be “High Class Australian Nursing Services” here in Kalgoorlie Regional Hospital. But unfortunately, those “supposed to be High Caliber, World-Class Nurses”, instead of taking care of my dying wife, made Stella suffer! Instead of my wife spending her remaining hours/days comfortably as a palliative care patient, these nurses made her miserable and in agony for many hours, in front of my shocked, scared, distressed, crying family!!!

    I’m just praying and hoping that what the nurses did to my wife will not happen to them or their loved ones, or to anybody else, especially on palliative care.

    For me, justice to my wife will be justice to all other patients who experienced the same situations like ours!

    This is a “wake-up call” to better improve the health services.

    Mula po sa aking mga anak (Sofia 14y/o, Kyla 11y/o), tangggapin po ninyo ang aming taus-pusong pasasalamat.

    Nagpapakumbaba at humihingi ng katarungan,

    Dr Cesar

    * Salamat Ka Romy 🙂

    Reply
  6. Cathy v V   December 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Hi Romy,

    Thanks for your mail.. It’s sad but it’s a very touching story and what an inspiration to others…

    The support of the Filipino Australian community here in Perth for the family was overwhelming…

    It’s good to see that there are some new changes in our immigration system…I hope these positive changes will continue to happen…

    I wish you all the best for all your good work especially for this coming year 2012 and also for your unending support to the Filipino Australian community..

    Just curious to know are you related to Ryan Cayabyab? I saw his show here in Perth and he was a legend…An Icon… He is such a humble man.. Bless him and his group….

    God bless and Merry Christmas…

    Cathy

    Reply
  7. Bless   December 21, 2011 at 7:23 am

    Most stories feature villains, characters and/or lessons: here, we can assume that someone in the Immigration did not do his/her job very well affecting a family who remained united until the end. I loved how this family showed us that (spite of the trials) it’s hard to lose if you embrace love, unity and commitment.

    Reply
  8. ofelia   December 23, 2011 at 11:06 am

    As I read Cesar story,i cried. I know Stella she was my friend and when I heard she was taken by God, I thought she will be in peace now. I have the same situation in immigration I applied just to let my sister come. She lost her sons and I invited her to come im not asking anything from the immigration,my application was not granted because she might work,that is really wrong first as an applicant you sign a declaration,they ask the applicant all sort of evidence which i provided,then they told you to go a review which cost you another 1700 plus,i think those case officers think they are in power,They forgot we have rights too.

    Reply
  9. sue-anne brown :ex Karratha, Dampier   March 28, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Dear Cesar and family, I simpathise with you and your family very deeply in regards to your lovely wife and her shocking treatment in palliative care. My mother was treated very shabbily at Shenton Park hospital. I can”t bear to think about how badly she was treated, it just grieves me so….makes my blood boil. Lets hope that there is heaven. Kind Regards, Sue-anne Brown 28th March 2012

    Reply

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