Flor Contemplacion



Singapore Infopedia

by Chew, Valerie

Background

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.1 The murders took place in May 1991, and she was found guilty and sentenced to death in January 1993.2 She was executed by hanging on 17 March 1995.3 Although Contemplacion never denied her guilt,4 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.5

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.6 The boy had drowned and Maga had been strangled.7

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.8 After interrogating Contemplacion and checking her alibi, which turned out to be false, the police arrested her on 5 May 1991.9 Two days later, she was charged for the two murders.10

In her statements to the police and subsequent court testimony, Contemplacion admitted to the double murder and gave a detailed account of what happened.11 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.12

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 in the Philippines. 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.13

From trial to execution
Contemplacion’s trial in the High Court commenced on 26 January 1993.14 On the third day, she claimed that her statements to the police had been obtained under duress, but the judge dismissed the allegation.15 The next day, she chose to remain silent when her defence was called as the hearing drew to a close.16 The judge then found her guilty as charged and sentenced her to death.17 She subsequently filed two appeals but failed to have the sentence reduced. Her execution was set for 17 March 1995.18


In January 1995, then president of the Philippines, Fidel Ramos, wrote to Singapore’s then president Ong Teng Cheong requesting clemency on humanitarian grounds.19 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.20

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.21 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.22 Ong turned down Ramos’s appeal as the allegations were found to be baseless.23

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.24 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.25 Her funeral on 26 March attracted about 40,000 people.26 In 1995, a movie about her, titled The Flor Contemplacion Story, was released in the Philippines.27 Another movie, Victim No. 1: Delia Maga, Jesus Pray for Us, A Massacre in Singapore, was released in May 1995 to packed audiences in Philippine cinemas. It was based on Flor Contemplacion and directed by Carlo Caparas, known for his massacre movies.28

Diplomatic fallout
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.29 The embassy reported receiving threats against Singaporeans and Singapore properties in the country, and there were calls to boycott Singapore products there.30 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.31 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.32


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.33 A few days after the execution, the Philippines recalled its Singapore ambassador and downgraded its diplomatic representation here to charge d’affaires.34 Singapore responded by recalling its Philippine ambassador as well. 35 The April visit of then prime minister Goh Chok Tong to Manila and joint naval exercises planned for July were also postponed.36

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.37 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 reopened.38 The Singapore government rejected the findings but agreed to re-examine Maga’s remains.39

After two autopsies – 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.40



Author
Valerie Chew



References
1. Tommy Koh et al. eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, 2006), 144–45 (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); “Diary Entry Led to Arrest of Alleged Murderer,” Straits Times, 27 January 1993, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Flor Contemplacion: The Facts of the Case (Singapore: Ministry of Information and the Arts, 1995), 1–6, 16–18. (Call no. RSING 364.1523095957 FLO)
3. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 144–45.
4. Ben Davidson, “Maid Breaks Down as Death Sentence Passed,” Straits Times, 30 January 1993, 17. (From NewspaperSG); Flor Contemplacion, 2.
5. Nirmal Ghosh, “Philippines Recalls Envoy to S’pore,” Straits Times, 23 March 1995, 1; Nirmal Ghosh, “Protesters in Manila Burn Thousands of Singapore Flags,” Straits Times, 26 March 1995, 18; Mathew Pereira, Julie Kee and Tammy Tan, “200 S’poreans Back from Short Trips in Philippines,” Straits Times, 24 March 1995, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Diary Entry Led to Arrest of Alleged Murderer”; Flor Contemplacion, 1.
7. Davidson, “Maid Breaks Down as Death Sentence Passed”; Flor Contemplacion, 1.
8. “Diary Entry Led to Arrest of Alleged Murderer”; Flor Contemplacion, 1–2.
9. Davidson, “Maid Breaks Down as Death Sentence Passed”; Flor Contemplacion, 2.
10. “Diary Entry Led to Arrest of Alleged Murderer”; Flor Contemplacion, 16.
11. Flor Contemplacion, 2.
12. Davidson, “Maid Breaks Down as Death Sentence Passed”; Flor Contemplacion, 5–6.
13. Davidson, “Maid Breaks Down as Death Sentence Passed”; Flor Contemplacion, 5–6.
14. Flor Contemplacion, 5.
15. “Maid: Police Used Virgin Mary Picture to Force Statements,” Straits Times, 29 January 1993, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Davidson, “Maid Breaks Down as Death Sentence Passed”; Flor Contemplacion, 11.
17. Davidson, “Maid Breaks Down as Death Sentence Passed.”
18. Flor Contemplacion, 7–9.
19.  Michael Leifer, Dictionary of the Modern Politics of South-East Asia (New York: Routledge, 2001), 96. (Call no. RSING 959.053 LEI)
20. Flor Contemplacion, 9, 18.
21. Leifer, Dictionary of the Modern Politics, 96; Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 144–45; Flor Contemplacion, 9, 18.
22. Flor Contemplacion, 9, 19–20.
23. Flor Contemplacion, 10, 18.
24. Flor Contemplacion, 10, 18, 21–22.
25. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 144–45; “Angry Protesters Jam Streets to Pay Last Respects to Maid,” Straits Times, 19 March 1995, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Nirmal Ghosh, “40,000 Filipinos at Maid’s Funeral,” Straits Times, 27 March 1995, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 144–45.
28. L. Parpan, “Film on Murdered Filipina Maid Draws Jeers but Packs Them In,” Agence France-Presse, 19 May 1995. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
29. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 144–45; “S’poreans Advised to Put Off Trips to Philippines in Wake of Threats,” Straits Times, 21 March 1995, 3; Nirmal Ghosh, “Manila May Stop Deployment of Workers to the Republic,” Straits Times, 21 March 1995, 13; “PM’s Visit to the Philippines Next Month Postponed,” Straits Times, 20 March 1995, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Ghosh, “Protesters in Manila Burn Thousands of Singapore Flags.”
30. “PM’s Visit to the Philippines Next Month Postponed”; S’poreans Advised to Put Off Trips to Philippines in Wake of Threats”; Ghosh, “Manila May Stop Deployment of Workers to the Republic.”
31. “Angry Protesters Jam Streets to Pay Last Respects to Maid,” Straits Times, 19 March 1995, 22; Ghosh, “Manila May Stop Deployment of Workers”; Leifer, Dictionary of the Modern Politics of South-East Asia, 96.
32. Pereira, Kee and Tan, “200 S’poreans Back from Short Trips in Philippines.” 
33. Nirmal Ghosh, “Philippines Recalls Envoy to S’pore,” Straits Times, 23 March 1995, 1. (From NewspaperSG); Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Shirlena Huang and Joaquin Gonzalez III, “Migrant Female Domestic Workers: Debating the Economic, Social and Political Impacts in Singapore,” International Migration Review, 33, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 114–36. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
34. Ghosh, “Philippines Recalls Envoy to S’pore.
35. Ghosh, “Philippines Recalls Envoy to S’pore.”
36. “PM’s Visit to the Philippines Next Month Postponed”; Ghosh, “Philippines Recalls Envoy to S’pore”; Yeoh, Huang and Gonzalez III, “Migrant Female Domestic Workers.”
37. Ghosh, “Manila May Stop Deployment of Workers”; Ghosh, “Philippines Recalls Envoy to S’pore”; Yeoh, Huang and Gonzalez III, “Migrant Female Domestic Workers.”
38. Leticia Perez, “Maid Case – Commission Submits Report to Ramos,” Straits Times, 7 April 1995, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
39. Zuraidah Ibrahim, “Govt Rejects Findings of Manila Maid Case Panel,” Straits Times, 11 April 1995, 1. (From NewspaperSG); Leifer, Dictionary of the Modern Politics of South-East Asia96-97.
40. Nirmal Ghosh, “Joint Autopsy of Maid Ends with No Accord,” Straits Times, 20 April 1995, 1; Leifer, Dictionary of the Modern Politics of South-East Asia97; Zuraidah Ibrahim, “Autopsy by US Panel Will Be “Final and Conclusive,” Straits Times, 13 July 1995, 3; Nirmal Ghosh, “Manila Accepts US Findings as Final,” Straits Times, 20 July 1995, 1. (From NewspaperSG)



The information in this article is valid as of July 2023 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.

 


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