Kidneys in this country come at a steep price, not just for those in desperate need of one but for those who are giving up one of theirs.
Lito, 23, a resident of Gumaca, Quezon, who sold one of his kidneys, knew the stakes just got higher when he was told before the transplant procedure that he could not back out anymore. A friend of his decided to pull-out. “They are hunting him down. They want to have him killed."
Typical of most organ sellers, Lito only finished grade VI. With lack of education limiting his employment prospects, he took odd jobs here and there, engaged in charcoal making and even sought employment in Mindanao to make ends meet.
He is the sole breadwinner. His wife can’t work because she is taking care of their three kids. And with loan sharks literally pounding at his door, he was desperate. “I was in dire straits.” The prospect of selling a part of his body became an attractive option. A friend who previously donated earned P115,000 from the transaction. It was this friend whom he approached to ask for tips on how to go about the process.
On February 14, 2007, the friend accompanied Lito to a house in Barangay Tikalan, a village in San Juan, Batangas where a man named “Junior” who was referred to by his men as the “manager,” housed other would-be donors.
“Junior” is also an organ donor. The following day, Lito and nine others were brought to a private hospital laboratory in front of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) where many people were having their blood samples taken. They also underwent a number of tests. X-rays were also taken. Junior paid for the procedures.
No turning back
Upon returning to Batangas that afternoon, Lito learned that he “passed.” He was not allowed to go home afterwards. Instead, the manager agreed to send home a portion of the amount he was supposed to get through his friend. “I asked one of the manager’s men if I can go home first. But I was told, wala nang atrasan (there is no turning back),” Lito recalled. It is not just because of the advances he had made. Lito was told that the manager spends about P50,000 for the tests conducted on him. “They said I would have to pay for that if I back out.”
For over a month after the first tests, Lito shuttled back and forth from Batangas to Metro Manila in order to undergo various tests in different hospitals. In each of the trips, he was accompanied by either “Junior” or one of his men. The purpose, he was told, was to look for a match. Then, on March 20, 2007, he was told that a match had been found. He was lucky, Lito said. There are those who had to stay in the Batangas house longer looking for a match. Events unfolded swiftly after that. On March 22, he was taken to the St. Luke’s Hospital.
On the way, he was coached on how to answer questions. One of Junior’s men told him he had to be careful because he will be arrested if he answers wrong.
If asked why he was donating, Lito was supposed to say, “Para makatulong sa nangangailangan at sana ay matulungan din ako sa aking pangangailangan (In order to help the needy, and hopefully receive assistance as well for my own needs).”
If asked how much “assistance” he is expecting to receive, he was supposed to say P180,000. He was also coached not to say that somebody else told him to mention that price. He was even instructed to lie about his family’s medical history. Lito’s parents are both asthmatic. His mother is also hypertensive. But he was instructed not to reveal this, if asked. “I was told that if I say that there is a history of heart condition in my family, then I would be rejected.”
Lito recalled breathing a sigh of relief when the doctor who examined him at the hospital did not ask him this. He had a tattoo, but the doctor said that was okay. Had rules been strictly followed, the tattoo would have disqualified him from donating. The doctor appeared to know Junior, Lito recalled. Upon noticing something in Lito’s chest x-ray, the doctor called up Junior’s phone. Lito overheard him saying “Junior, may tama ang baga ni Lito. Kailangang may duplicate ito. (Junior, there is a problem with Lito’s lungs. This has to have a duplicate).”
The problem, however, did not stop the procedure. On the same day, Lito recalled, he was interviewed by a group of doctors in the presence of a Japanese national. He later learned that the Japanese was the beneficiary. An old doctor who seemed to head the panel introduced him to the Japanese, saying, “this is my donor.”
During the interview, the old doctor asked Lito why he was donating his kidney. Lito answered just as instructed.
The old doctor then asked him what he expected to receive in exchange. Again, he followed instructions. “I told him, P180,000.”
After that, he was asked to sign a document in English. He did not bother reading the document. There was a blank in the paper where he wrote down the price as agreed. The doctors and the Japanese beneficiary also signed. Then his escort later told him that he would be operated on already. Lito was admitted on the same day. He was not allowed to bring his wife or any relative to watch over him during his confinement. One of Junior’s men performed this task.
Waking up the following day, he saw a fresh scar on his left side. On discharge, Lito was told by a Chinese looking female doctor at the hospital that he should return in case he felt anything. Pain medication was also given ease the soreness of his still fresh wound.He went back to the manager’s house in Batangas where he was given P105,000.
He did not bother asking where the rest of the P180,000 went.
Back home in Gumaca, Lito found that money has a way of slipping easily between one’s fingers. In his case, it lasted only for six months. Almost half of the amount he got from selling his kidney—about P40,000—went to the payment of debts. With the rest of the money he was able to buy a tricycle and a small dwelling. Months later, however, he had to pawn the tricycle to pay for his daughter’s hospitalization. Lito does not regret going through the operation. “I was in dire straits,” he explained. If he did not go through it, he said, he would not have been able to pay his debts. Besides, he said, he did it for his family’s sake. “I am ready to give up my life, for the sake of my family.”
(This article was made possible with the generous support of the American people through the United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat trafficking in Persons and The Asia Foundation. The contents are the responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Department of State of the United States or The Asia Foundation.)