What was supposed to be a regular day turned into a horrific one that not only changed the lives of the families involved, but also, the relationship between the two countries.
Flor Contemplacion, seeking better opportunities in order to support her four children, went to Singapore as a domestic helper. She was tasked to clean the household and take care of her employer’s child. She would work from dawn to midnight. She did her responsibilities and was treated fairly by her employers. On May 4, 1991, after doing her morning duties, she was allowed to take some time off to visit another helper, fellow Filipino, Della Maga, as the latter needed her help regarding her things. However, instead of helping her out, she ended up killing not just Della, but the employer’s child as well.
She was convicted for the murder of her fellow Filipino domestic worker, Della Maga, and the 4-year-old son of Maga’s employer, Nicholas Huang. Both victims were found dead in the Huang residence wherein Della was strangled and Nicholas drowned. Flor was found guilty of the murders and was sentenced to death. She was executed by hanging on March 17, 1995.
Her case severely severed the bilateral diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Singapore which caused a sharp decline in investments and tourism.
Flor’s Murder of Della and Nicholas
Della, who was scheduled to return to the Philippines on May 5, 1991, asked for Flor’s help to deliver a parcel to her parents in the Philippines. Flor went to Della’s place on May 4 to retrieve the parcel that she was supposed to deliver. However, there was a change in plans.
While Della was busy in the kitchen, Flor used an elastic cord to strangle her from behind. She tried to fight but eventually collapsed. Her body was dragged to the bathroom near the kitchen. It was there that Flor saw Nicholas playing with water in a pail. She stood over him, held his arms, and pushed his head into the pail. She only stopped when Nicholas stopped moving.
After the cruel deed, she went to take some of Della’s belongings then left the residence.
The Gruesome Discovery
Nicholas’ parents came home after work on May 4, 1991, expecting to see their child run into their arms, taking away their stress after an exhausting day at the office. Never in a million years did they expect to make the gruesome and horrifying discovery of seeing their son, Nicholas, and helper, Della, dead in their home.
The fact that no one greeted them when they got home was already suspicious. They searched all over the house when they heard their 22-month-old daughter crying in Della’s room. They eventually ended up in the bathroom wherein the bone-chilling discovery took place. Their son was lying on the floor with his head in a pail of water; while Della was lying next to him with an elastic cord wrapped around her neck.
Flor’s Arrest, Trial, and Execution
The authorities had their suspicions that the culprit could be a friend of Della’s. Flor’s name and address were found in Della’s diary, prompting the police to have her questioned. Her alibi turned out to be false; thus, she was arrested on May 5, 1991, and on May 7, she was charged for the murders of both Della and Nicholas.
Flor admitted to the murders and even shared in great detail what happened on that day. She claimed that before the killings occurred, she was not her usual self as she was ill; thus, she had no control over herself when she inflicted harm on the victims. Upon the advice of her lawyer, she pleaded temporary insanity.
On the third day of her trial, Flor claimed that her statements to the police were obtained under duress; however, the judge dismissed her claim. The following day, as the hearing drew to a close, Flor remained silent all throughout. The judge found her guilty for the murder of Della and Nicholas, and she was sentenced to death.
Flor tried to appeal twice but failed to have her sentence reduced. Her execution was set for March 17, 1995.
Then-president, Fidel Ramos, wrote to Singapore’s then-president, Ong Teng Cheong, requesting clemency on humanitarian grounds. However, Ong turned down the request as there were no justifications. Flor petitioned for presidential clemency, but this was also rejected.
Then Solicitor-General, Raul Goco, wrote a letter to the Singaporean government asking for a stay of execution in order to put all doubts to rest before the case of Mrs. Contemplacion comes to a final conclusion.
Ramos asked to postpone the execution as new evidence surfaced, provided by another Filipino domestic worker, Emilia Frenilla, who was working for the brother of Huang Sing Kiong, Nicholas’ father. Emilia apparently overheard between her employer and Nicholas’ father about how the latter was the one who strangled Della after discovering that his son had drowned. However, the allegations were baseless; thus, turning down yet another of Ramos’ appeals.
On the same day of her execution, Flor’s fellow inmate, Virginia Custodia Parumog, claimed that Flor told her about how Nicholas’ father killed Della in anger upon discovering the lifeless body of his son. Virginia was arrested on June 25, 1992, and signed a statement saying that she came to Singapore for prostitution, charging Singaporeans $70-100 for sexual entertainment.
Nicholas allegedly drowned during an epileptic fit in the bathtub; thus, prompting his father to kill Della out of anger. According to Virginia, Della immediately called her employer to tell him about the incident. He rushed home to find his dead son, and in a fit of rage, strangled Della to death. He, then, called the police and pinned the crime on Flor for the double murder.
This, too, was found to be false. According to the Singaporean Home Affairs Ministry, “These claims are pure fabrication. 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.”
According to the ministry, first, it was Nicholas’ mother that called the police, not the father. Second, Flor was no longer at home when they arrived at the Huang residence; thus, refuting Virginia’s claim that both Flor and Della were the ones who discovered that Nicholas had drowned.
The ministry also refuted claims that Flor was tortured by undergoing electric shock treatment while waiting for her trial. She was, however, given two electroencephalograms (EEG) tests; one of which was ordered by her own defense team. Regarding her claim of being drugged, she was given medication solely for headaches and sore throat.
The ministry pointed out that Flor had the liberty to protest her innocence while in prison, but she chose 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. Are we to believe that if Flor Contemplacion felt that she was innocent, she would choose to say so only to a prostitute in prison?”
On the eve of her execution, Flor said that she was ready to die after her pleas for clemency and a new trial were rejected. She expressed her gratitude to her fellow Filipinos for trying to save her, but said that if her stay of execution would only deny her inevitable execution, she would rather meet her end to relieve others of their suffering.
She was visited in prison daily by her children, her 21-year old son, 17-year-old daughter, and 15-year-old twin boys. Her husband, Efren, made an emotional appeal to help save his wife.
He did not visit her in prison, saying, “I could not bear to see her and not be able to touch her or embrace her after seven years.”
Flor was informed of the date and time of her hanging a day before its execution, as was customary in Singapore. Flor, who had already accepted her fate, 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 another.”
She was hanged by Darshan Singh at 6:45 in the morning of March 17, 1995; together with three male drug traffickers. Because of the sensationalism of the case, the presence of tight security was needed during the execution. Eight policemen, in which two were armed with machine guns, stood outside the gates of Changi Women’s Prison and Drug Rehabilitation Center. The streets were filled with police cars and motorcycles in order to prevent protests by an estimated 75,000 Filipino workers in Singapore.
Her body was returned to the Philippines the day after her execution wherein a crowd of 5,000 people was gathered around her house in San Pablo, awaiting to see her coffin. At the time, the Ramos government was actively trying to restore the death penalty; however, Flor, a victim of the death penalty, was considered a heroine. Demonstrations filled the streets, seeking justice for Flor’s death. Her funeral on March 26 had a turnout of 40,000 people.
Bishop Teodoro Bacani held a mass in the town’s crowded cathedral, saying, “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.”
Fallout Between the Philippines and Singapore
Public outrage was spread across the Philippines, in which leftists, feminists, and human rights groups, and the media called out the execution of Flor as barbaric and that Singapore was a tyrannical and totalitarian state with no respect for human rights. The Roman Catholic Church even called Singapore a state without mercy.
Flor’s execution led to the diplomatic fallout between the Philippines and Singapore. Outside the Singapore embassy, demonstrations were staged and flags of Singapore were burned. There were even threats about inflicting harm on Singaporeans and Singaporean properties in the country as well as calls for boycotts for their products.
Flor was considered a heroine in the Philippines that’s why the Filipino public was not satisfied with the efforts of the government to save her life. The Philippine government was also criticized for not protecting well enough the other overseas Filipino workers worldwide. Fearing that they will be affected, the Singaporeans who were working or staying in the Philippines returned to their country.
The Ramos administration was under great pressure to remedy the country’s diplomatic relations with Singapore, especially since all of this was happening leading up to the Philippine national elections in May 1995. After Flor’s execution, both the Singaporean and Philippine ambassadors were recalled of their diplomatic representations. Other state visits by Singaporean officials were postponed.
A special commission was created by Ramos on March 20, 1995, wherein he threatened to sever the Philippines’ ties with Singapore should Flor be a victim of injustice after all. According to the commission’s report on April 6, Flor might have been innocent after all, which asked for her case to be reopened. The Singaporean government rejected these findings; however, they agreed to have Della’s remains be reexamined. Her body had bruises on her shoulder, neck, and face.
According to detective Maximo Reyes, “We will try to determine if these are still present and if these could have been caused by a female. "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.”
After two autopsies, it was concluded that the Singaporeans were right regarding Flor. The Philippine government finally accepted the original findings of Singaporean pathologists. This acceptance would spark the beginning of the process of reconciliation between the two countries.
Life After Death
Flor’s life story was seen on the silver screen through the 1995 film, “The Flor Contemplacion Story” starring Nora Aunor as Flor. Flor’s twin sons played as themselves in the film and reportedly received P100,000 each, while the Contemplacion family was said to have been paid P2 million by Viva Films for the story rights.
Carlo J. Caparas, known for his long list of massacre movies, also included Flor’s life among his works. In 1995, he released a film entitled “Victim No. 1: Delia Maga, Jesus Pray for Us. A Massacre in Singapore.” The film drew in huge crowds and during its run and cinemas that featured the film were packed.
In 2011, Flor’s three sons, 37-year-old Sandrex and 30-year-old twins Joel and Jun-Jun, were sentenced to life imprisonment for selling illegal drugs. They were arrested in a “shabu” buy-bust operation carried out in San Pablo city. Flor’s husband, Efren, and his live-in partner, Violeta, remained in jail after being arrested in 2008 for drug pushing. The family had been having a hard time providing for their financial needs following Flor’s death.
In 2015, then-presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte condemned the fate of Flor at the hands of Singapore, saying “I burned the flag of Singapore. I said: 'F*** you ... You are a garrison pretending to be a country.”
He would later recall his actions during his presidential campaign. His spokesperson also said that the controversial remark of Duterte was meant to be taken as a joke.
26 years since her death, her tragic fate has continued to reflect the plight of Filiino migrants as the abuse being experienced by overseas Filipino workers persisted despite the Migrant Workers Act of 1995—which was passed to prevent cases like Flor’s to ever happen again.
However, Flor would not be the last overseas Filipino worker to suffer a tragic fate abroad. Her story is the story of many others like her who were just seeking a better life for their family as extreme poverty and hopelessness urge them to go out of the country for better opportunities.
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