By Marivir R. Montebon
(Our Christmas special feature is Grace Grande, a fitting Christmas celebration of the victory of a brave woman rising from her own miserable condition. Thank you, Grace for the immense inspiration from your strength. Merry Christmas, dear readers! – Ed.)
Independence is happiness.
– Susan B. Anthony, American suffragist
New York City — Grace Grande must be the first Filipino to have opened to the world about her hellish life as a mistress to a congressman, how she defied domestic violence by escaping to America with her two sons, and eventually winning her freedom from a dreadfully powerful abuser who had earlier charged her with theft and tried to use extradition to pin her down.
She stood with grace.
In November this year, the US rescinded the Philippine government’s application for extradition to have her sent back to the Philippines. Now Grace is bent to pursue her political asylum petition to ensure her protection and safety.
At a press conference in Los Angeles a few months ago, Grace told reporters that she wasn’t some girl that dreamed of using her face to get famous. But because of necessity, she had to get into modeling right after high school. “I started to have responsibilities more than myself,” she said.
“It is not easy what I and my boys are going through emotionally and financially until now and telling my story every time, remembering details brings back pain, but I am willing to share it to you tonight to help others that are trapped in an abusive relationship who does not have a voice and let them know that there is hope if you will just make a stand.” she told reporters.
Grace had to care for her younger sisters, send them to school, pay for the bills and live on her own. She was born in Makati City, the 6th of 10 children, and graduated high school in Los Banos Science High School. Having an absentee mom most of the time while growing up, life was hard but they all managed.
Comes now who seems to be the knight in a shining armor, Patricio Antonio, an affluent congressman and businessman, who wooed her to be his mistress. Thinking that it would bail her out from the horrendous financial constraints, she agreed to the proposal. She was 25 years old then, raising an adoptive child Darrelle and her younger siblings. “I felt I had no other choice.”
The choice meant she was on her way to hell. How she got out of it is definitely one telling story.
Excerpts of the interview with OSM!:
1. How did you become involved with Congressman Antonio?
My abuser is a wealthy and powerful congressman in the Philippines. He was 22 years older than me. I was still working (as a model) but with all my economic burdens, my house was in danger of being foreclosed, my sister’s tuition needed payment, and I had a child, I was in deep financial need. He asked me to be his “querida” or mistress. He was married to another woman and had children. Even so, he asked me to be his mistress. I agreed, feeling I had no choice.
We have two boys, who are now 15 and 13 years old. They were to be the only thing that was good in that situation.
2. What triggered you to decide to leave your life with him? How long have you stayed with him for?
I could not take living in fear and abuse anymore. It was a 10 year relationship.
3. How was he abusing you?
I was controlled and trapped – literally. He monitored my daily activities and made clear what I was permitted to do and not do.
The boys were not allowed to call him dad in public, much less seen with him. My abuser never acknowledged my children – he didn’t even sign their birth certificates and he was not around to really see them grow up, and most of all, he did not give them his surname.
About a year after my youngest was born, my abuser forced me to give up Darrelle, my adoptive son, because he only wants his real children in the house. He did not hide it as a choice, it was not up to discussion or for argument. He forced me to do it.
A year later, I learned that Patricio had several other mistresses with children. I wanted to leave the relationship, but it took time to find the courage to be able to do so. When I told Patricio that I wanted to leave, he ridiculed me. He threatened to have my children taken from me, and threatened my life.
4. Did you seek the help and advice of friends and family for that decision?
They gave me advice but it was my own decision. Most of my friends betrayed only my family really supported me.
5. Your victory is awesome and admirable. This is domestic violence won against a powerful man that has gone global. Where do you gather such strength to be relentless and steadfast?
My strength and courage come from God. It’s my faith in Him that kept me going.
6. How did you manage to leave the country and fly to the US?
My boys and I had visas valid for five years. They are illegitimate children so I am the only one who has rights to take them. Living was not easy but thank God I was able to.
7. Upon entry to the US, the congressman was already making it hard for you. How did you get through all these?
I want to thank the groups Affirm and Mariposa and all its allies for all their help, for standing with me as I continue to fight for our freedom.
In May of 2007, I left the Philippines with my children. When we arrived in Hawaii, I was detained and interrogated for five hours because of malicious and false allegations. I was permitted to leave for one week, but I was interrogated a second time for four hours upon returning to ICE custody.
After the second interrogation, the next day I flew with my sons to Los Angeles where my sister lives. I hired an immigration lawyer and filed petition for asylum. I spent the few savings that I had on attorney’s fees. What I thought only happens in the movies actually happened to me, because two months later, in July, I was arrested in front of my sister’s house. This was a terrifying experience that until now is painful to me and my boys.
I was placed in ICE custody in San Pedro for three and a half months. My sons could only see me through the glass window and could not touch me or hug me.
I was then transferred to Tacoma, Washington where I remained in custody until January 10 of 2008. While I was in Tacoma, my boys could not visit me at all. I had never before been separated from them for this long. It was so hard and difficult but by the grace of God, I endured 6 months and 10 days in detention.
When I was arrested, the next day my abuser filed a child custody case in the California Superior Court. My sister hired a family law attorney, despite the great financial difficulty this placed us under. I was able to testify in court by telephone when I was in the immigration detention. The court found that my abuser does not acknowledge my boys and has not given them his name.
The court also found that, if my boys were sent back to the Philippines, my abuser did not plan to take care of them, but planned instead to send them to a surrogate sister’s home. The court said that my boys were obviously very close to me and missed me, and found that it was in their best interest to be with me. I was awarded sole custody in January of 2011.
This was a blessing for me. The court also awarded me child support. My abuser currently owes more than $1,000,000 in unpaid support. He has not paid me a single cent, despite the court’s order.
September 24, 2012 was supposed to be the last hearing in my immigration case, but I learned on that date that the Philippines government was seeking my extradition to face charges for allegedly stealing jewelry before leaving my country. I am innocent of these charges.
I no longer have resources to pay a defense attorney, and I am blessed to have the court appoint the Federal Public Defender’s office to represent me. I am now working with a team of lawyers from that office, as well as UCLA Immigration Law Clinic.
It is a miracle for the prosecutor’s office to agree that I be released on bond because it is unusual for it to give bonds to extradition cases most of them are in jail through out the proceedings. I was formally processed and released on October 19, 2012. I was hand cuffed, shackled and in chains again for something I did not do. I thank God for the strength he gave me that day.
8. How is life in the US right now?
At first it was not easy, as you know. I spent 6 months and 10 days in an immigration detention. When I came out, my sisters supported me and my kids until I was able to get a work permit. I’ve been working as a caregiver for four years now with the same patient. For two years, I have been a council member in our church, was at first director of the children’s church, and now of the women’s ministry. I am also a coordinator of three more ministries.
I finished a year of Theology at Life Christian University. I stopped because of financial and time issues. My life is my kids, work, church and family. I am blessed with my family, church family and friends.
9. What future do you envision yourself to have after this victory?
When this is all over, I want to go back to school get a degree on either Psychology or Theology. Given a chance, I want to speak and tell my story to help other women maybe not like me but similar situation, to give them hope and maybe even help prevent young women from getting into such situation.
10. What lesson has this experience taught you about womanhood, about yourself, about being a wife, mom, lover?
I shouldn’t allow any man to treat me like dirt. I learned that I am God’s masterpiece, a child of a king. I know now who I am in Christ. I lost my soul, my self-esteem, confidence in myself all those years.
I was never a wife, so I don’t know. All I know is that I am a loving and caring mom and I have set a good example to my boys. Maybe someday, I will be blessed with a man who would love me and my boys but as of now we are happy with our life just the three of us.