May 27, 2017 03:00 AM PST
SINCE 2007

Flor Contemplacion remembered


SAN FRANCISCO -- It was 20 years ago this month when overseas Filipina worker in Singapore, Flor Contemplacion, was executed by hanging after a Singapore court found her guilty of killing fellow dometic helper Delia Maga and her five-year old ward Nicolas Huang four years before. Up to execution day, Contemplacion claimed she was only forced to admitting the

crime by authorities under extreme duress.

The awareness generated by the struggles of Flor among Filipinos in the homeland and overseas, especially in the last years before she was eventually executed on March 17, 1995, greatly dramatized the plight of OFWs who leave the Philippines in the hopes of giving their families a better future.

Vivian Zalvidea-Araullo, veteran broadcast journalist and now executive director of West Bay Filipino Multiservices Center in San Francisco, remembers how she was not able to fight back tears while covering Contemplacion’s execution in Singapore as ace ABS-CBN reporter, along with Filipino human rights lawyer Romeo Capulong and Philippine Assistant Solicitor General Karl Miranda. She had actually stayed on top of the Contemplacion case from Day 1, and was the first to report that the Singapore government had refused to grant the Philippine government’s request for a stay of the execution.

“When we heard the bells that tolled signifying her death, Flor’s family and friends broke down along with Attorney Capulong …. we were all in a holding room,” Zalvidea-Araullo recounted to FilAm Star. “As I reported this to ABS-CBN in Manila, I, too, was crying, as the grief for Flor, who did not even have adequate legal defense throughout her prosecution, overwhelmed me.”

The prevailing sentiments then, not just in the Philippines, but also in the much bigger world of the Filipino Diaspora, was that any OFW is a potential Flor Contemplacion who is vulnerable to suffering the same fate.

“But Flor did not die in vain,” Zalvidea-Araullo pointed out to FilAm Star. “President Fidel Ramos responded to the outrage of the Filipino people by ordering an investigation and threatening to sever diplomatic ties with Singapore. He bore down hard on the Foreign Affairs Department and fired then secretary, Roberto Romulo. All these culminated in the passing of the 1995 Overseas Filipino Workers Act that raised the standards of protection for Filipino workers abroad. I’m proud to have been part of that legislation.”

Yet nothing really much has changed for OFWs, according to Zalvidea-Araullo.

“To this day I notice that OFWs are still disempowered. I believe that their collective voice is still not adequately represented in the decisions made in the homeland,” she lamented. “(This despite the fact that) OFWs are pillars of the Philippine economy. They could cripple Philippine economy if they stopped remitting their dollars back home.”

Zalvidea-Araullo sees no true engagement by the Philippine Government in Manila with OFWs, save for the efforts of hardworking diplomats and career foreign service officers.

She said: “I salute our foreign service (but they) can only do so much. Without strong political will from the government in Manila to put in the OFW voice in decision-making, OFWs are nothing but cash cows.”

The sentiments is shared by militant organizations in the Bay Area led by the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, Migrante International, and Gabriela, among others.

In a statement they claimed that twenty years later, it is clear that little has an estimated 6,092 Filipinos leave the Philippines daily (Source: IBON Foundation, 2015) and they are added to the already overflowing size of 13 to 15 million OFWs worldwide many of whom face exploitation and abuse, yet receive little support from the Philippine government as promised. A large number of these OFWS, they claim, are no longer confined to the men in the family as many of them are mothers, daughters, aunts nieces and grandmothers a substantial number of whom fall victim to human trafficking and eventually becomes trapped to exploitative conditions, prostitutions, and drug trafficking.