SINGAPORE: The last time Mr Reynaldo Nucos spoke to his sister Arceli, they talked about having one of the family’s motorised rickshaws repaired.
"We spoke on Friday or Saturday. She asked me if it was still running fine,” Mr Nucos told CNA on Tuesday (Dec 31) in a phone interview from the family’s hometown in La Union, Philippines. "I said it runs, but it needs a bit of repair. We just need to allocate some funds to get it done."
Ms Arceli replied that it’s “no problem” and they will have it fixed when she returns to the Philippines. She was supposed to fly back in January.
However, on Sunday, the 56-year-old and their sister Arlyn were among the six people involved in a car crash near Lucky Plaza in Orchard Road. Arlyn, 50, was killed in the accident, while Arceli was seriously injured.
Another domestic helper, 41-year-old Abigail Leste, also died. Three others were injured: Ms Egnal Limbauan, 43, Ms Laila Laudencia, 44, and Ms Demet Limbauan, 37.
A memorial is being held for Ms Leste in Geylang Bahru.
“What happened instead is that one of my sisters is suffering in the hospital, and the other has died,” Mr Nucos said. “I don’t know why this had to happen.”
SISTERS WERE GENEROUS, CHEERFUL, CHATTY
Both sisters had been working in Singapore for nearly 30 years. Ms Arlyn arrived first, with Ms Arceli following a few months later in 1990.
He described both of his sisters as generous, cheerful and chatty.
"They’re also always helpful. Whatever we need, they would give it to us, even when we don’t ask for it,” he said. “They’d always help us, even when we couldn’t reciprocate the kindness. That’s how good they were.”
Ms Arceli and Ms Arlyn, both unmarried, doted on their nephews and nieces, he added.
This generosity also extended to their friends and relatives. When asked, the sisters would lend a hand, even when they didn't have much to give, Mr Nucos said.
They would ask him to cook food so that friends coming back to Singapore from their hometown can bring it with them.
"Once it gets there, they would divide it up and share it with their friends," he said.
They would also order Christmas ham to be given away to friends and relatives during the holidays, he said.
Ms Arceli and Ms Arlyn would return to their hometown in the Philippines every two years or so, Mr Nucos said.
Usually they would go together, at times with a cousin who is also working in Singapore. This time, Ms Arceli had planned to go back in January 2020 and Ms Arlyn in February.
Often, they don’t mention the exact date or month of their return, preferring to surprise their family.
“We always have a good time when they’re here,” Mr Nucos said. “The family would gather and we would eat at home. Our sister’s house is close by, and we have our breakfast, lunch and dinner together. Even our meryenda (mid-afternoon snack).”
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SISTER-IN-LAW TO TAKE ARLYN’S BODY HOME
Mr Nucos said he heard a different voice on the phone when he called one of his sisters on the day of the accident. He then called his wife Rose, who is also working in Singapore.
“At first, I thought I pressed something different,” he said. The person on the line mentioned one sister’s name and asked if he knew her. When he said "yes", the other person asked if he knew what had happened to them.
“I hung up immediately. I thought something bad had happened so I decided to call my wife. I tried calling Arlyn’s phone. It still rang. Arcely’s did not, so I thought she may have run out of phone credit.”
Eventually, he reached his wife. A friend of the sisters was with her, but she was hardly able to speak because she was crying so much. She was the one who told him his sisters were in the car crash.
"I cried," he said, his voice breaking on the line. "I wondered why it had to be them."
Mrs Nucos was given leave by her employer so she could accompany Ms Arlyn’s body back to the Philippines.
A brief memorial will be held before they leave. A wake will be held at their hometown, though no funeral plans have been discussed, he added.
The family had planned to fly to Singapore to get Ms Arlyn’s body but were unable to get passports in time.
"We are still planning to get passports," Mr Nucos said. "If there’s financial help, we will fly to see Arceli. I hope that if we manage to get to her, she would get the strength to fight. It makes a difference when someone is taking care of her."
For now, his wife has said she is willing to take care of Ms Arceli, who has had two operations. She has since regained consciousness, but remains in hospital.
"My two cousins are there too. I think the three of them will take care of our sister for now. And they have friends. I’m sure they would not neglect her."