Flor R. Contemplacion
(January 1953 - March 17, 1995) was a Filipina domestic
worker who was executed in Singapore for murder.
Her execution severely strained
relations between Singapore and the Philippines and caused
many Filipinos to vent their frustration at their own
government and the Singaporean government over the
helplessness, abuse, and mental stresses that many
Filipino overseas workers face around the world.
Circumstances surrounding the
On May 4, 1991, a Filipino domestic
worker named Delia Magat was found strangled to death in
Singapore. The four-year-old child that she was taking
care of, Nicholas Huang, was discovered drowned. Although
Nicholas's father could not identify a suspect, the police
learned about Flor Contemplacion through Magat's diary.
The police interrogated Contemplacion,
who then confessed the crime of murdering Magat and the
child. Contemplacion never renounced her confession, and
the Filipino embassy in Singapore deemed her confession to
be credible. She was then sentenced to death by hanging.
Just before her execution, two Filipino
witnesses claimed that Huang's father framed Contemplacion
for the murders. They alleged that the father killed Magat
in rage after finding his son to have accidentally
drowned. The son was an epilectic who was alleged to have
an attack while in the bath tub of which Magat was not
aware of. The Singaporean court considered and rejected
the testimony. The execution went ahead despite
Philippines President Fidel Ramos's personal plea to the
Singaporean government to stop it.
Although President Ramos seemed
initially resigned to the execution, he called
Contemplacion a hero. Ramos' wife came to receive the
coffin at Manila's airport. The President sent a wreath to
Contemplacion's funeral and offered financial assistance
to Contemplacion's children who were dependent on their
mother's income from her work as a domestic worker.
Many Filipinos believed that
Contemplacion was innocent, or at least suffering from
insanity if she did commit the murders. They blamed the
Singaporean government for not being merciful and were
resentful that their own government apparently did not do
much to stop the execution. The Alex Boncayao Brigade, a
Communist terrorist group in the Philippines, threatened
to punish Singaporean and Filipino officials. The Catholic
Church, which wields considerable influence in the
Philippines, condemned the execution.
Regardless of her innocence or guilt,
others took up Contemplacion as a rallying cry against the
allegedly inhumane, abusive, and exploitive working
conditions that many Filipino domestic workers and
laborers faced abroad.
A movie called The Flor
Contemplacion Story was made in the Philippines to
highlight this as well as the harsh punishment Filipino
overseas workers face when they totally break down from
their jobs. The film won Best Picture in the Cairo Film
Festival. This anger continued when a rather similar case
arose only a few months later with Sarah Balabagan in the
United Arab Emirates (though Balabagan was not ultimately
Relations between Singapore and the
Philippines chilled for several years after the execution.
To counter domestic backlash, President Ramos recalled the
Filipino ambassador to Singapore and many bilateral
exchanges between both countries were cancelled.
As of March 9, 2011, Flor's three
children, Sandrex, Joel and Jun Jun, were sentenced to
life imprisonment and fine of 500,000 pesos each for
selling illegal drugs. Flor's husband, Efren, and his
live-in partner, Violeta, remain in jail as they were
arrested for drug pushing in 2008.
She was hanged before dawn
on Friday 17th March 1995 together with three male drug
traffickers amidst scenes of unusually tight security. Eight
policemen, including two armed with machine guns and wearing flak
jackets, stood outside the prison gates with two dogs.
Police cars and
motorcycles patrolled the street continuously, apparently to deter
protests by the estimated 75,000 Filipinos working in Singapore.
Anger swept the
Philippines as the news of the execution broke. Leftist and
feminist groups, human rights activists and the media denounced
Singapore as a barbaric, tyrannical and totalitarian state with no
respect for human rights. The Roman Catholic Church called
Singapore a state without mercy.
The execution caused a
major diplomatic row between Singapore and the Philippines, after
Singapore rejected an appeal from the Philippines President, Fidel
Ramos. There were protests outside the Singapore Embassy in
Flor had said, on the eve
of her execution, that she was ready to die after final pleas for
clemency and a new trial had been rejected. The Philippine Foreign
Secretary said that she had thanked Filipinos for their efforts in
trying to save her, but had said that if the stay of execution
will only delay the carrying out of her sentence, she preferred to
have an early end to everyone's suffering instead.
Flor was visited in Changi
prison daily by her children, a 21-year-old son, a 17-year-old
daughter and 15-year-old twin boys who had last seen their mother
in 1989, but her husband Efren didn't visit her because, "I could
not bear to see her and not be able to touch her or embrace her
after seven years".
He had made an emotional
appeal a week earlier for help in saving his wife.
She was informed of the
date and the time of the hanging on the Tuesday (14th March)
before the execution, as is customary in Singapore and apparently
took the news calmly. "She was resigned to her fate and she tried
to be strong and told the children to be strong and love one
The Philippine government,
had requested a stay of execution. Solicitor-General Raul Goco, in
a letter to the Singapore government, asked for this "to put all
doubts to rest before the case of Mrs Contemplacion comes to a
final conclusion." He had urged Singapore to defer the hanging "on
Philippine President Fidel
Ramos had personally asked Singapore to postpone the execution
until new evidence, testimony from another Filipino maid had been
evaluated. But the Singapore government said it "carefully
investigated this new evidence and found it to be untrue."
Therefore, the Singaporean President, Ong Teng Cheong, found there
was no basis to justify a stay of execution.
At least two maids came
forward during the week prior to the hanging to suggest that the
little boy drowned during an epileptic fit in a bathtub and his
father killed Mrs. Maga and framed Flor in a fit of rage.
One, Virginie Parumog said
in an affidavit she was had shared a cell with Flor and had
evidence of her innocence. In her affidavit Parumog said Flor told
her that, "Della immediately phoned her employer about the
incident. Her male employer immediately rushed home. Very angry,
the employer strangled Della's neck." Then the employer called the
police and implicated Flor in the double murder.
"These claims are pure
fabrication," a Singaporean Home Affairs Ministry statement said.
"The wild and baseless allegations of Virginie Parumog are yet
another attempt to stir up controversy over the Flor Contemplacion
case, without any regard for the truth."
The Home Ministry said
Parumog claimed Contemplacion told her, that when visiting Della
Maga the two maids had discovered Nicholas had drowned. According
to the Ministry, when the police arrived Contemplacion was not at
the house. She was traced later through entries made in Della
Maga's diary. In addition, it was not the boy's father who phoned
police, it was the mother.
The Ministry statement
also dismissed other claims made by Parumog including that Flor
had undergone electric shock treatment while awaiting trial and
had been drugged. They said she was given two
electro-encephalogram (EEG) tests, one of which was ordered by her
own defence psychiatrist and was given medication only for
headaches and a sore throat.
The statement also pointed
out that Flor had had ample opportunity to protest her innocence
while in jail and had chosen not to do so. "During her
imprisonment Flor Contemplacion had nine visits by Philippine
embassy officials. The government did not receive any
representations regarding complaints of ill treatment or claims to
Contemplacion's innocence," the ministry said. "Are we to believe
that if Flor Contemplacion felt that she was innocent she would
chose to say so only to a prostitute in prison," it added.
According to the Home
Ministry, Parumog had been arrested in Singapore on June 25th
1992, and had signed a statement saying that she had come to the
island republic for prostitution and "was charging Singaporeans
$100 ($70) per sexual entertainment."
After the execution
Flor Contemplacion's body
was released and flown back to Manila and was greeted by the
President's wife, Amelita, at the airport. Perhaps,
extraordinarily for a country that is actively trying to restore
the death penalty itself, President Ramos and the Philippine
people saw Contemplacion as a heroine. Some mourners waved white
handkerchiefs and others clenched their fists and carried placards
saying "Justice for Flor Contemplacion" as her funeral cortege
passed through Manila's streets.
Thousands jammed into the
small town of San Pablo where she had lived to pay their last
respects to Flor. More than 5,000 town residents and supporters
from Manila and nearby areas flocked round her one-room house to
try to catch a glimpse of her body in its open white coffin.
Roman Catholic Bishop
Teodoro Bacani held a requiem mass in the town's crowded cathedral
for her. He told the congregation - "She is a symbol of millions
of Filipinos driven by poverty to take their chances abroad,"
"Their lot is pathetic. Their own government neglects them," he
added, evoking applause from the congregation.
President Ramos set up an
inquiry into the case and ordered the exhumation of Delia Maga's
remains to determine how she died. Her former husband complained
that he and the family had never seen the autopsy report on her.
Conrado Maga said his wife's body bore bruises on the shoulder,
neck and face.
"We will try to determine
if these are still present and if these could have been caused by
a female," a Philippine detective, Maximo Reyes, said in a radio
interview. He said they may have to rely on bone findings since
the remains have been buried for four years. "Doctors can tell in
bone findings if there are fractures or cracks. That means it is
not possible for a woman to have done that. It could have been
someone stronger," said Reyes, who will initially examine the
This new inquiry seemed to
conclude that the Singaporeans were right and that Flor
Contemplacion probably was guilty although many in the Philippines
will never accept its findings.
Singapore and the Philippines have slowly got back to normal.
It is noteworthy that none
of the "new evidence" that purported to show her innocence came to
light beforehand. In the last week of her life everyone seemed to
jump on the bandwagon and yet she had been in prison for four
years and on death row for two of those years. There was little
diplomatic activity during that time and she seemed to have made
very little effort to deny the allegations.
Singapore might sensibly
have considered granting a stay of execution as requested by
President Ramos and it hard to see how doing so would have damaged
its criminal justice system. However once its has made up its mind
on a particular case it seems nothing in the world will stop
Singapore letting the law take its course. (N. B. the cases of the
American teenager Michael Faye who was caned for criminal damage
and Dutchman Johannes van Damme who was hanged for drug
trafficking despite protests from all over Europe.