Whenever I get a chance to talk to my grandmother, whether it is over the telephone, video calls, or the few times I managed to go back to the Philippines to visit, pleasantries are very brief, with hardly any chance to ask how she is doing.
Within the first few minutes, she’d jump to her go-to question: “Have you already paid the taxes for your land over here? You have to stay on top of it to make sure that there are no issues that would come up in the future.” As a businesswoman who had to struggle hard after growing up in poverty, I’m not surprised by this. Her primary motivation is being able to provide for the family. She is not the type to be affectionate. These tangible words are her ‘love language’. She is quite proud to have been able to give at least one piece of land and one small business to each of her eight children, in addition to sending them all to college.
I remember during a difficult time in my high school years, when my grandma started yelling and scolding me. She threatened me by saying I will not inherit anything from her in the future if nothing changes in the situation we were in at the time. Strangely enough, I did not feel scared about the concept of losing this potential wealth or property. I was just disappointed. It felt like a blackmail tactic, and it was not helpful in resolving the problems we were facing that day.
I got an offer to see one of these pieces of land, and I went to a local law firm not too far from my neighbourhood here in Edmonton to get a special power of attorney. The lawyer, not being a Filipino, warned me that he cannot 100% guarantee that all the language in the document I drafted is 100% effective, because he does not know how the laws work. I felt confident with what we got from the Philippine Consulate website, and I told him to just go ahead and finalize the document. Afterwards, I took a bus to the Consulate in Calgary to get it certified and have the red ribbon affixed to it. It was a challenging journey as I cannot drive, so I took the Red Arrow bus to Calgary, relied on my phone to navigate downtown, and bought transit tickets to get around. As a young adult, this was a first-time experience for me!
Last March, I got a phone call from my aunt who lives in Canada as one of her sons, my cousin, is living in the Philippines. I was notified that there are unauthorized occupants in one of the farmlands that was under my and my brother’s name. I was shown drone pictures showing these photos that was in a portion of this farmland. I thanked her for notifying me, although I am fully aware that there is not much I can do. I imagined that the local government in these towns are too busy with other more important things, like supporting everyone impacted by the pandemic.
During a dinner date with one of my friends, she shared her situation about her home country in Latin America. She and her brother own a piece of land and they have to make decisions on what to do with it. She is tempted to sell it the fastest way possible, and not even bother about the complicated process of selling the property at a good price. For her, the property felt like a burden that is too distant to manage effectively. I heard the same sentiment from many Filipinos, as it is difficult to find someone back home that is trustworthy at times.
I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to one of the biggest questions when dealing with such matters – is it better to keep the property, to sell it at market value so that the person who gave it in the first place felt appreciated, or give it to a family member at home who needs it more? I do hope that it becomes less of a cause of conflict and pain among family members who are already far apart from each other.