|IMMORTAL LOVE IN AMNESIA|
The usual noise in the court room began to subside when the Clerk announced: “All rise. The Superior Court of Justice is now in session, the Honorable Judge Nguyen Dan ispresiding.”
The judge in a black gown appeared from the side entrance, walked up to the bench and greeted everyone: “Good morning.”
“Good morning, your Honor.” The audience responded then began to sit down.
After citing the case on the Court’s docket for the record, the Clerk called on each of the involved parties to identify themselves. Attorneys representing both sides stood up and confirmed their client’s presence awaiting for the Court’s final judgment to be rendered today after a lengthy multiday hearing with thorough examination of several key witnesses.
There were noises in the audience when the litigating parties were identified prompting the Clerk to ask everyone to refrain from talking. Today’s hearing attracted a large audience of regular folks as well as journalists, including foreign reporters, interested in the unusual facts surrounding the Will of a well-known company’s deceased owner.
The Judge put on his glasses and began to read the decision:
“Today is April 26, 2019. After carefully reviewing all evidence before me, I make the following judgment on the validity of the terms contained in the Will of Testator Tran Bat Pham, who died of cancer on Palawan island in the Philippines on January 31, 2019.
The Testator’s wife, Ly Yen Phuong, passed away 20 years ago. Mr. Tran neither remarried nor lived with anyone else in a spousal relationship since his wife’s death. Mr. Tran and Mrs. Ly had a child, namely Mrs. Tran Hoai Niem, who is currently managing their family’s TranSaigon Corporation and is also the Applicant in this case.
The Respondent in this case is Mr. Gabriel Nguyen, a citizen of the Philippines, whom Mr. Tran Bat Pham knew during the last 10 years of his life. According to Mr. Gabriel Nguyen, who was born and is still residing in Palawan, he only knew Mr. Tran as a great benefactor, who had wholeheartedly supported his mother and his family for many years.
Mr. Tran Bat Pham’s assets are worth collectively at least 1721 billion dong or US$74 million on the valuation date of March 11, 2019 according to the audit ordered by this Court.
Mr. Gabriel Nguyen does not make any claim for Mr. Tran’s assets. However, the Attorney managing the estate of Mr. Tran Bat Pham is bound by the terms of Mr. Tran’s Will to divide and distribute Mr. Tran’s assets equally between two beneficiaries, Mrs. Tran Hoai Niem and Mr. Gabriel Nguyen.
The Attorney of the Applicant questioned the mental health of Mr. Tran at the time he made the Will and expressed deep concern about the potential undue influence from Mr. Gabriel Nguyen and his family because the division of the assets appears to be extremely unusual and, according to the eloquent argument of the Applicant’s Attorney, to be “unconscionably unjust.”
The Court is fully aware of great public interest in this case. The media has played a major role in reporting the facts as well as attempting to prejudge the outcome by extracting opinions from various sources from legal professionals to social issue analysts. Many well-regarded commentators expressed views similar to that of the Applicant’s Attorney on television, radio and the print media. The Court, however, can only judge and decide on the basis of the evidence as revealed in the documents and as presented by reliable witnesses.
This ruling is based in part on the absence of any evidence demonstrating that Mr. Tran Bat Pham was mentally unsound at the time of making his Will.
Two signature witnesses named in Mr. Tran Bat Pham’s Will testified that Mr. Tran did not show any symptom of illness nor did he appear to be under pressure or undue influence at the time of making the Will. According to them, Mr. Tran looked healthy, conducted himself professionally and was very sharp and highly intelligent when he interacted with them.
Mr. Tran’s work schedule during the last month before his death also proves that he was of sound mind until the very last moment in life. While fighting the losing battle with cancer:
1. Mr. Tran continued to provide strategic direction for TranSaigon Corporation, especially regarding the export plan aimed at the U.S. market.
2. Mr. Tran refused to return to Vietnam and issued explicit and direct instruction to his personal Attorney that until his death, he would remain in the house that he built for Mr. Gabriel Nguyen’s family.
3. Mrs. Tran Hoai Niem also confirmed that during the final days of the Testator’s life, even in pain, Mr. Tran often told her and her children as well as members of Mr. Gabriel Nguyen’s family to be happy, to love life and care for one another.
4. Mr. Tran carefully planned for his grave beside that of his wife in Vietnam with thoughtful construction details.
5. Mr. Tran constantly reminded his personal Attorney that the terms of his Will must be respected and followed precisely.
According to Mrs. Tran Hoai Niem’s Attorney, the Testator visited Palawan island after hearing the news about a Vienamese refugee suffering from amnesia, Mrs. Thi Nguyen who is Mr. Gabriel Nguyen’s mother. After the trip Mr. Tran decided to relocate to Palawan and built a beautiful home for Mr. Gabriel Nguyen’s family. The Attorney argued that Mr. Tran’s relationship with Mr. Nguyen’s family was simply of benefactor-beneficiary nature and, thus as he asserted, it would be highly unreasonable as well as unconscionably unjust to gift half of a huge fortune to a distant beneficiary such as Mr. Gabriel Nguyen.
The Applicant’s Attorney advanced many probable causes for such an unusual gift to a foreigner from the Testator’s mental infirmity to the beneficiary’s undue influence. The Court, however, found absolutely no evidence to support those speculations.
The Respondent Gabriel Nguyen also confirmed that Mr. Tran Bat Pham and his mother, Mrs. Thi Nguyen, were two elderly persons helping each other in taking care of his family’s fruit garden. They did not have a spousal relationship. In fact, his mother paid very little attention to Mr. Tran. Mrs. Thi Nguyen lost her memory prior to the Respondent’s birth. Each day after caring for the garden, Mrs. Thi Nguyen would sit alone quietly looking out at the vast ocean and pay little attention to anyone including Mr. Tran Bat Pham.
After the death of Mr. Tran, the terms of his Will were communicated by his personal Attorney to Mrs. Tran Hoai Niem and Mr. Gabriel Nguyen. Both parties were surprised to learn that they share the residue of Mr. Tran’s estate equally. This hearing was initiated by the Applicant Tran Hoai Niem to determine the validity of the said terms.
The Court has reviewed all documentary evidence and witnesses’ testimony and hereby concludes that there is no evidence suggesting Mr. Tran Bat Pham was mentally incompetent or under undue influence at the time of making his Will. On the contrary, documentary evidence and witnesses’ testimony demonstrate that Mr. Tran Bat Pham was of sound mind until the final days of his life. The Court determines that there is no valid legal or ethical reason to interfere with or amend the terms of Mr. Tran’s Will. The final Will of Testator Tran Bat Pham must be respected and honored accordingly.
The Judge stopped momentarily, reached for the glass and drank a third of the water before continuing on.
“The ruling today confirms that the terms of Testator Tran Bat Pham’s Will are legal, reasonable and must be honored and followed accordingly.
The residue of Testator Tran Bat Pham’s estate will be divided equally with a 50% stake in TranSaigon Corporation to be transferred to Mrs. Tran Hoai Niem and the remaining 50% stake to Mr. Gabriel Nguyen. The Testator’s real estate and personal properties in Vietnam will be bequeathed to Mrs. Tran Hoai Niem. The Testator’s real estate and personal properties in the Philippines will be bequeathed to Mr. Gabriel Nguyen.
According to the terms of the Will, if Mr. Gabriel Nguyen refuses to accept his share, the 50% stake in TranSaigon Corporation would be held by a Trust for Mr. Nguyen’s issues, i.e. children, until they reach the age majority.
Today’s ruling is based on all evidence before the Court, the most important of which, in addition to the Will, is Mr. Tran Bat Pham’s handwritten letter addressed to Mrs. Thi Nguyen and held by his personal Attorney to be given to her once she recovers her lost memory or to submit to the Court in case the terms of his Will are challenged such as during this lengthy hearing.
Mrs. Thi Nguyen was one of the boat people who escaped Vietnam after April 30, 1975. Her boat was capsized during a devastating storm. She managed to hold on to a wooden plank and somehow was washed ashore near a remote village on Palawan island. Perhaps due to traumatic stress, she lost her memory but persistently refused to leave the area because, as she repeatedly told her Filipino rescuers, “I have to be here to wait for my husband.”
At that time Mrs. Thi Nguyen was in her third month of pregnancy. Subsequently Mr. Gabriel Nguyen was born with the loving support of the Filipino family that rescued and assisted his mother from day one.
Mrs. Thi Nguyen was visited by UNHCR officials and invited to Palawan Refugee Camp to be processed for resettlement in the West but she flatly refused. She cried hysterically citing the reason that “I have to be here to wait for my husband.” The Filipino family felt compelled to protect her so they petitioned the Catholic Church to intervene so that Mrs. Thi Nguyen could receive permanent resident status through their sponsorship. Their caring determination succeeded and helped to shield Mrs. Thi Nguyen from further pressure that could worsen her mental state.
It is wonderful to note that Mr. Gabriel Nguyen later married the youngest daughter of the Filipino family that supported him and his mother on Palawan island since day one.
Ten years ago the story of a Vietnamese refugee, who lost her memory but continued to wait for her husband’s arrival on Palawan island, was reported by the Filipino press then spread to Vietnam through social media. Mrs. Tran Hoai Niem read the news to her father, and Mr. Tran Bat Pham was so moved that he subsequently flew to the Philippines to investigate and then eventually decided to relocate to Palawan island.
I am truly honored to be the first person to open the envelope to learn the content of Mr. Tran Bat Pham’s handwritten letter. In accordance with the principle of judicial openness and transparency, I will read this letter because it provides important evidence related to the Court’s judgement but, equally important, the content of the letter affects fundamentally the emotion of and the relationship between both parties involved in this case. ”
The Judge stopped. He removed his glasses, slowly wiped them with a handkerchief then put them back on before reading Mr. Tran Bat Pham’s letter addressed to Mrs. Thi Nguyen.
“My beloved Thi,
I wish you could somehow recover your memory before I depart this world so I could truly apologize for abandoning you and our son on this faraway island for decades.
After our boat was capsized at sea, I managed to stay afloat for a few days and was eventually rescued by a ship en route to Vietnam. I was imprisoned for two years and, upon release, I immediately returned to Saigon looking desperately for you and our unborn child but my search was to no avail.
Life took me in a different direction and, by a stroke of luck, I met a beautiful woman, Yen Phuong, who loved me just as you loved me. We worked together so well as business partners and were able to establish a highly successful company exporting various products to Europe and North America.
Yen Phuong knew about you and our unborn child so she actively helped me to find out your whereabouts. Yen Phuong refused to marry me until all leads in Vietnam as well as in various Vietnamese refugee communities in the West were exhausted, and the only reasonable conclusion was that you and our unborn child perished at sea.
Your family in Vietnam considered you dead and had your photograph on the altar at home. Worry not about your parents whom I consider an integral part of our extended family. Yen Phuong and I took good care of them with generous monthly financial support, and they blessed our wedding and took Yen Phuong in as their daughter in your place. Your Mom is still alive. She is so healthy given her advanced age. Your Dad passed away recently and I took care of the funeral as a son-in-law.
I truly treasure Yen Phuong’s love as I truly treasure your love. Yen Phuong gave us a beautiful daughter and I named her Hoai Niem (nostalgia). However, perhaps I am unlucky with love, Yen Phuong left me for heaven twenty years ago due to illness. I could no longer think about intimacy so I devoted all my efforts to raise Hoai Niem to be strong and gentle as Yen Phuong and you while tirelessly expanded the company’s businesses.
One day 10 years ago Hoai Niem informed me about an article from the Philippines describing a Vietnamese refugee who suffered from amnesia but still insisted waiting for her husband’s arrival on Palawan island. For unknown reasons I could not sleep for days after hearing the news so I booked the flight to the Philippines to look for the woman with amnesia and, thank God, I finally found you, my beloved Thi, and our son, Gabriel.
I thank God everyday for keeping you and our son alive for all these years.
I thank God everyday for the opportunity to take care of you, our son and his family before I depart this world.
I thank God everyday for creating generous individuals like the Filipino sponsors who supported you and our son over the years and eventually became a precious part of our extended family.
Even with the love and caring of the Filipino sponsors, I know how hard you had suffered in a strange land trying to survive and raise our son. Gabriel is a decent hardworking man taking care of a beautiful family with three young children. I am so surprised to find out that our daughter-in-law is the youngest child of your Filipino sponsors, who loved Gabriel as their own son.
I feel so ashamed that I abandoned you and our son for so long on this faraway island. I don’t even have the courage to tell Gabriel that I am his long-lost father.
I truly apologize for my failure to take care of you and our son in the past.
I truly apologize for my inability to continue to take care of you for the rest of your life.
I am indebted by your gift of a son in this life. I am indebted by your endless love for me. I am indebted by your relentless wait for me on this faraway island.
I owe you so much in this life. I owe you a shoulder that you could rest when tired. I owe you a warm hand that you could hold when it’s winter. I owe you encouraging words when you feel sad. I owe you congratulatory cheers when you’re happy. I owe you a quiet walk in the park as loving souls. I owe you thousand kisses when you just want to be showered with love… I hope to repay you all these in the next lifetime.
I have to leave you now in this lifetime. I never failed to and will always remember our love, forever and for eternity.
Goodbye my beloved Thi. I hope to see you again, soon.
Your failed husband.
Tran Bat Pham”
The Judge stopped.
For a moment the court room fell into complete silence.
April 11, 2019
Lloyd DUONG was a refugee at age 14 and was rescued at sea after his boat was capsized in January 1980. Formerly a Crown Prosecutor, Lloyd Duong is now an attorney practicing law in Toronto, Canada. He serves as President of the Vietnamese Abroad PEN Centre (PENVietnam.org).
Lloyd DUONG was a refugee at age 14
IMMORTAL LOVE IN AMNESIA
I crafted this fictional story portraying a Vietnamese refugee who’d lost her precious memory but continued to wait faithfully on Palawan island, Philippines, for her husband’s arrival decades after the fall of Saigon in 1975. The thought came to me at midnight on April 11, 2019. The story began with a Court hearing in Vietnam to determine the validity of a will dividing equally US$74 million in assets between the testator’s only daughter and an unknown Filipino, who was born and currently resides on Palawan island.