Filipinos try to prevent execution in Singapore


MANILA, Philippines -- The government of Singapore, which has tried to portray the debate over its draconian legal system as a clash between Asian and Western values, now finds its courts under attack by fellow Asians who are campaigning to prevent the execution of a Philippine woman this week.

Leading Philippine politicians, human rights groups and church leaders are demanding that Singapore stay the execution of Flor Contemplacion, 42, a Philippine maid who is scheduled to be hanged tomorrow for the deaths of another maid and a 4-year-old Singaporean boy in 1991.

President Fidel V. Ramos has joined in the appeals, asking that Singaporean prosecutors reopen the case because of new testimony suggesting that Mrs. Contemplacion was framed, and that the other Philippine maid was actually killed by her vengeful Singaporean employer after the boy had accidentally drowned.

The testimony is coming from a third maid, Emilia Frenilla, who has since returned home to the Philippines. Mrs. Frenilla has said that the boy drowned in a bathtub after suffering an epileptic fit, and that the boy's outraged father then killed the maid, Della Maga, who was supposed to be caring for the child.

According to her testimony, Mrs. Frenilla eavesdropped on members of the boy's family as they decided to pin both deaths on Mrs. Contemplacion.

The case has made for banner headlines in newspapers in Manila for weeks, turning this into the Philippine equivalent of last year's furor over the flogging of an American teen-ager, Michael P. Fay, who pleaded guilty to vandalism in Singapore.

For many Filipinos, Mrs. Contemplacion has come to symbolize the plight of millions of Filipinos who are forced by the poverty of their homeland to work abroad, most of them as household servants or construction workers elsewhere in Asia or in the Middle East.

The Singaporean Embassy in Manila did not respond to written questions about the case. In turning down earlier appeals for clemency, Singapore's government has said she received a fair trial.

The uproar over Mrs. Contemplacion followed a furor here in January over the execution of three Filipino contract workers in Saudi Arabia. They were beheaded after they were accused of holding an influential Arab family hostage and then killing four of them.

Details of the case were never made public by Saudi officials, although news accounts here have suggested that the Saudi police were responsible for the deaths in a shootout.

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