The Lessons Singapore Learned From Flor Contemplacion

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SINGAPORE—On March 17, 1995–18 years ago–the Philippines wept when Singapore hanged Filipina overseas worker Flor Contemplacion, a death that apparently unraveled the chilling tragedy behind the government’s labor importation policy.

And quickly the mourning turned to rage over what Filipinos considered a punishment too barbaric and inhumane. Contemplacion was hanged despite the appeals made by the Philippine government to postpone the execution.

Looking back, a professor at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said Singapore was not prepared for the backlash brought by the decision to hang Contemplacion.

“Until that point, Singapore did not fully understand the issue of human development in the Philippines. We were not ready for the emotions of the Filipinos over the execution,” said Associate Prof. Alan Chong.

But the expert on international studies also pointed that the execution of Comtemplacion was partly brought by a diplomatic disconnect between the Philippines and Singapore.

Contemplacion was convicted of killing fellow Filipina domestic worker Delia Maga and Nicholas Huang, the 3-year old son of Maga’s employer. Contemplacion admitted to committing the murders but later backtracked, saying she made the confession under duress.

Before her execution, two Filipina domestic workers surfaced to say that Huang drowned during an epileptic fit. It gave another angle to the murder of Maga as the statements have pointed to Huang’s father as the one who killed Maga.

In this story, Virgia Parumog said “she had shared a cell with Flor and had evidence of her innocence.”

It quoted Parumog’s affidavit as saying “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.”

The Singaporean government said Parumog’s claims were “pure fabrication.”

Diplomatic balm

This supposed diplomatic disconnect was not elaborated well but Chong underscored that if another case similar to that of Flor Contemplacion will happen, both governments will only need to “open these channels unlike before.”

“I don’t think they have all these diplomatic channels before. Previously, everything was left on what is supposed to be done because they must be done. It was all the law which was allowed to take its course,” Chong told NewsDesk.

A few years ago, Chong said another murder case involving two Filipinas shook Singapore and tested its diplomatic relationship with the Philippines.

“There was another case a few years ago where the two governments had to apply the diplomatic balm before things could go really bad,” he said.

“You must not forget that there were several cases that followed. On and off, there were run-ins with foreigners, including Americans and the diplomatic balm was applied effectively,” Chong added.

On September 7, 2005, Filipina domestic worker Guen Garlejo Aguilar was accused of killing—and chopping up—her friend, Jane Parangan La Puebla, also a Filipina domestic worker.

The reason for the murder–a $2,000 that La Puebla owed Aguilar.  Singapore’s high court, on May, 2006, sentenced Aguilar to 10 years in jail.

In this report, Aguilar’s lawyer was quoted as saying: “We are happy with the sentencing. Earlier there were some concerns that she might get a life sentence, so this is a huge relief for Guen.”

More image-conscious

After the execution of Contemplacion, Singapore has become more conscious of the way it is being viewed by the world. Not that it has soften its laws—because it did not—but Chong said it has become more open since, the judicial processes more transparent now compared before.

It allowed the world to accept that for Singapore, the rule of law is important. The law has to prevail even if the unblemished, inconvenient truth has to come out,” Chong said.

“The Flor Contemplacion case made us see through the realities in the Philippines—that there are mothers mothering other children. And that is a fact. But there is also a fact in Singapore—that is we have to enforce the law. There is a system,” he added.

And it also helped that the media has now become more sensitive in their reporting of cases involving foreigners.

“The only thing that changed is that the Singapore media has become a little bit more sensitive. The reporting is still the same. Including the inconvenient truth,” he said.

“In Singapore, you will know everything. All the facts must be unearthed and reported, even the ugly details. If you look at how the government is handling cases now, you see that they are now only tried by the courts but also by the public,” he added.

And he said that unlike in the Middle East, the judicial processes in Singapore are more transparent.

“The Philippines has also the same kind of problem with the whole lot of Middle Eastern countries. But in the Middle East, the judicial system is even less transparent—which is even more frightening right?” he noted.

Other lessons

Chong pointed that lessons Singapore learned from the Flor Contemplacion case was important as the country opens its doors for more Filipinos immigrants and workers.

“I think it helped Singaporeans to realize that there will be a large Filipinos working in Singapore as Singapore would need Filipinos,” he said.

“Apart from all that we have learned from the past is that–there are things that locals can learn from Filipinos too, including extending service from the heart,” he added.


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