Funeral of Executed Maid Transformed into Anti-Government Protest
SAN PABLO CITY, Philippines (AP) _ Tens of thousands of mourners wept, sang a patriotic song and denounced the government in the blazing tropical heat Sunday as they buried the flag-draped coffin of a maid hanged for murder in Singapore.
The tearful seven-hour funeral procession and burial Mass became an anti-government rally as grieving Filipinos raised clenched fists and criticized President Fidel Ramos for failing to prevent the execution.
Throughout the country, supporters of Flor Contemplacion burned Singaporean flags and effigies of Philippine and Singaporean leaders. Speakers called for a break in relations with Singapore.
Contemplacion, a 42-year-old mother of four, was hanged March 17 for murdering a fellow maid and a 4-year-old Singaporean boy. But millions of Filipinos believe she was innocent.
The nation’s media have transformed her into a national heroine and symbol of the 2.5 million Filipinos who work abroad, many of whom are abused while working under difficult conditions.
Mourners, many wearing white T-shirts proclaiming ``We love you, Flor,″ lined the five-mile route from Contemplacion’s home to a cathedral as a truck carried her coffin draped in a Philippine flag.
``We will bury Flor today but let us not bury her into oblivion,″ Roman Catholic Bishop Teodoro Bacani said in his homily. ``She is the symbol of Filipino workers.″
After the funeral Mass, the huge crowd marched behind the coffin as mourners carried it two miles to the city cemetery. Thousands more lined the way. Contemplacion’s coffin was lowered into the grave as mourners sang the patriotic song ``My Country.″
Mrs. Contemplacion’s 17-year-old daughter Russel read a statement thanking supporters ``in this fight for justice″ and urged Filipinos to ``continue to move for justice for my mother.″
President Ramos sought to have the execution postponed, then recalled his ambassador when Singapore rejected his pleas. He also banned Filipinos from going to Singapore to work as maids and threatened to break relations if investigations find Contemplacion was innocent.
But critics say Ramos is partly to blame for her death. They charge his economic policies favor the nation’s elite and have forced millions of Filipinos to seek jobs abroad. Overseas workers send back about $1 billion a year, making remittances the nation’s largest source of foreign currency.
``Our countrymen are being killed there (in Singapore),″ said union organizer Ben Perez. ``Let’s tell the Filipinos there to come home and send them to friendly countries.″
Communist rebel Alex Boncayao Brigade claimed responsibility for grenade explosions early Sunday near the Singapore Airlines office and the Foreign Affairs Department in Manila, saying they represented ``the beginning of the hunt for those responsible″ for mistreating Filipino workers abroad. The explosions caused no casualties and minimal damage.
Protesters elsewhere in the Philippines burned effigies of Ramos and Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.