Flor Contemplacion (b. 1953 - d. 17 March 1995,
Singapore) was a Filipino domestic worker convicted of
murdering another Filipino domestic worker, 34-year-old Della
Maga, and Nicholas Huang, the four-year-old son of Maga's
employer. The murders took place in May 1991 and she was found
guilty and sentenced to death in January 1993. She was executed
by hanging on 17 March 1995. Although Contemplacion never
denied her guilt, her case sparked intense anti-Singapore
feelings in the Philippines which severely hurt bilateral
diplomatic relations and caused investments and tourism between
the two countries to decline sharply.
Description of the Case
Nicholas's parents discovered the bodies of Maga and Nicholas in their flat at Gangsa Road on 4 May 1991 when they returned home from work that afternoon. As no one had appeared to greet them, they began searching the house and found their 22-month-old daughter crying in Maga's room. Then, they found their son lying on the floor of the bathroom in the kitchen with his head in a pail of water, and Maga lying next to him with an elastic cord around her neck. The boy had drowned and Maga had been strangled.
Suspecting that the culprit could be Maga's friend, the police decided to question Contemplacion as her name and address were written in the dead woman's diary. After interrogating Contemplacion and checking her alibi, which turned out to be false, the police arrested her on 5 May 1991. Two days later, she was charged for the two murders.
In her statements to the police and subsequent court testimony, Contemplacion admitted to the double murder and gave a detailed account of what happened. She also claimed that she had felt ill before the killings and that she was not in control of herself when she was hurting the victims.
According to Contemplacion, Maga, who was scheduled to return to the Philippines on 5 May 1991, had agreed to help her deliver a parcel to her parents there. So, on the morning of 4 May, she went to Maga's flat to hand her the parcel. When Maga was in the kitchen doing some work, Contemplacion used an elastic cord to strangle her from behind. After Maga collapsed, she dragged the body to the attached bathroom, where she saw Nicholas playing with water in a pail. She stood behind him, held him by his upper arms and pushed his head into the pail. She let go when the boy became motionless. She then took some items that Maga was planning to take back to the Philippines and left the flat.
From Trial to Execution
Contemplacion's trial in the High Court commenced on 26 January 1993. On the third day, she claimed that her statements to the police had been obtained under duress, but the judge dismissed the allegation. The next day, she chose to remain silent when her defence was called as the hearing drew to a close. The judge then found her guilty as charged and sentenced her to death. She subsequently filed two appeals but failed to have the sentence reduced. Her execution was set for 17 March 1995.
In January 1995, then president of the Philippines, Fidel Ramos, wrote to Singapore's then president Ong Teng Cheong requesting clemency on humanitarian grounds. Ong turned down the request in February, explaining that there were no justifying circumstances. Contemplacion's own petition for presidential clemency, also submitted in January 1995, was rejected at the same time.
Ramos wrote to Ong again six days before the scheduled execution, this time asking for a stay of execution in the light of new evidence provided by another Filipino domestic worker Emilia Frenilla, who worked for the brother of Nicholas's father. Frenilla claimed she had overheard a conversation between her employer and Nicholas's father that led her to believe that the latter had strangled Maga after discovering his son had drowned. Ong turned down Ramos's appeal as the allegations were found to be baseless.
On 17 March, just after 4 am, the police received an affidavit by Contemplacion's former fellow inmate Virginia Custodio Parumog, who claimed Contemplacion had told her that Nicholas's father had killed Maga in anger upon seeing his dead son. Parumog's statement was found to be false and Contemplacion was hanged as scheduled later that morning. The next day, her body was returned home and more than 5,000 supporters gathered around her house in San Pablo to see her coffin. Her funeral on 26 March attracted about 40,000 people. In May 1995, a movie about her, titled The Flor Contemplacion Story, was released in the Philippines.
Contemplacion's execution sparked intense public outrage in the Philippines against the Singapore government. Demonstrations were staged outside the Singapore embassy and Singapore flags were burned. The embassy reported receiving threats against Singaporeans and Singapore properties in the country and there were calls to boycott Singapore products there. The Philippine public, who considered Contemplacion a heroine, also directed their anger against their own government, which was criticised for not doing enough to protect the country's millions of overseas contract workers. Fearing for their safety, several Singaporeans working in the Philippines left the country and many who were there on holiday or business cut short their visit.
All this occurred in the run-up to the Philippine national elections on 8 May 1995, putting severe pressure on the Ramos administration and leading the Philippine government to certain actions that in turn soured diplomatic relations with Singapore. A few days after the execution, the Philippines recalled its Singapore ambassador and downgraded its diplomatic representation here to charge d'affaires. Singapore responded by recalling its Philippine ambassador as well. Then prime minister Goh Chok Tong's April visit to Manila and joint naval exercises planned for July were also postponed.
Ramos even threatened to sever diplomatic ties with Singapore if the special commission he had created on 20 March 1995 found Contemplacion to be a victim of injustice. The commission's report, submitted on 6 April, added fuel to the fire with its conclusion that Contemplacion might have been innocent and that the case should be re-opened. The Singapore government rejected the findings but agreed to re-examine Maga's remains. Two autopsies later, a joint one in April by experts from both sides and a second one in July by an independent panel, the Philippine government finally accepted the original findings of Singapore's pathologists and thus began the process of reconciliation between the two countries.
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Lamangan, J. (Director). (1995). The Flor Contemplacion story [Motion picture]. Diliman, Quezon City: Viva Video.
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(Call no.: RSING 327.5957 LIU)
The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.