A death in Hongkong
Text and photos by Gina Mission

Glenda Lorio’s family: (L-R) April, Aldrin, Lamberto, and Gilbert

"It’s as if we did not learn from the Flor Contemplacion case," said Marie Yuvienco, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center and lawyer for the family of the late Glenda Giron-Lorio.

___On the evening of May 22, 1999, Glenda Lorio, 31, a domestic helper in Hong Kong, was brutally murdered inside the Filipino Workers Development Center (FWDC), previously known as the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Center. Like the thousands of other faceless overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), her death might have passed by unnoticed, except that she didn’t die just anywhere.

___She was killed inside the FWDC premises, the very center that is legally tasked to provide protection for OFWs in distress. It is a killing that could have been prevented, Yuvienco said, if only there was proper security in the place. If only the Center, lamented Imelda Laguindam, executive director of Migrante International, had a decent set of locks on its doors.

___But, as if their negligence were not enough, it appears that FWDC officials, instead of honestly assessing and atoning for their delinquency, are even trying to withhold documents in what concerned NGOs call a malicious "cover-up attempt."

A simple dream…

___Glenda Lorio hailed from Naic, Cavite, the eldest among the three children of Crispin (a former migrant worker in Saudi Arabia) and Gloria Giron. She was married at 18 to a 31-year old fisherman, Lamberto Lorio. The couple then moved to Tanza, Cavite where they raised their three children: April 12, Gilbert, 10 and Aldrin, 6.

___For nine years, the couple did their best to make both ends meet with Lamberto's daily earnings as a fisherman, which ranges from P200 to P400 a day. But just like every parent, Glenda had dreams for her children.

…and a singleminded stubbornness

___However, Glenda saw that Lamberto’s earnings were dwindling and that they would not be able to give the three kids a bright future. According to her father, Crispin, when Glenda set her mind on something, she went ahead and did it. And in order to realize her dream for her children, she figured, she had to go and do overseas work.

___"She was stubborn; she would really do whatever she said she would do," Crispin told CyberDyaryo. It was the same determined stubbornness that made her drop her studies against her father’s will, and marry her husband. This same stubbornness eventually led to her untimely death.

___But who could blame a mother for being stubborn about providing for the future of her children?

Life in the promised land

___Glenda arrived in Hong Kong on May 4,1994 to work for an Italian woman as a direct hire. Isidra Beltran, her sister-in-law, facilitated her employment. But her employer terminated her contract after a year and a half, as they could not get along with each other.

___Sometime in 1997, Glenda met Michael Emeka, who was working as an engineer in Kowloon. On August 8, 1997, Gelnda signed an employment agreement with Emeka, which allowed her to take on domestic work with other families on a part-time basis.

___This enabled her to increase the money she sent home every month from P3,000 to P5,000. According to her husband, Lamberto, she would occasionally send a few thousand pesos more than her regular monthly remittance.

___But not everything was rosy for Glenda, as it turned out. According to Isidra Beltran, while under the employ of Emeka, her sister-in-law was physically assaulted many times. On several occasions, Beltran said, she saw her with bruises on Glenda’s face and in other parts of her body.

___Characteristically, Glenda did not take the beatings sitting down. She filed charges against Emeka with the Hong Kong police. The charges would never make it to court, however, as she would withdraw her complaints later. This went on for a long time, according to Beltran until finally, Glenda could no longer take Emeka’s abuse.

___On May 2, after another violent episode with her employer which she had reported to the authorities, Glenda left Emeka’s home and sought refuge at the FWDC. Three days later, she went to the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong to seek advice whether or not to push through with her case. According to Beltran, the Consulate prodded her to pursue the case, and even offered her accommodations at FWDC where she stayed until her brutal murder. On May 23, her body was found stuffed into a manhole in the vicinity of the FWDC.

Her last days

___Migrante International, the United Filipinos in Hong Kong, the Asia-Pacific Mission for Migrant Filipinos (APMMF), the Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers (MFMW) and the Bethune House Migrant Women's Refuge documented the accounts of witnesses of Glenda’s last days.

___Based on the documents, on May 17, while Glenda was waiting for a bus near the FWDC on May 17, Emeka attacked her again. She reported the incident to the police who charged Emeka with assault. Four days later, the suspect pleaded not guilty in court. The inquiries made by Migrante and the other NGOs from the other residents at the FWDC, revealed that the suspect tracked Glenda all the way to the Center.

___Emeka was first seen by Center resident Shera Arellano at around 8 PM on May 22, in the premises of the Center, hiding behind the kitchen door. When she asked him why he was there, Emeka replied that he wanted to talk to Glenda. When Shera told him that he had no permission to be in the Center, Emeka said that he would go away. Immediately, Arellano informed all the other residents about his presence.

___At around 10:30 p.m., the residents heard a cry for help coming from the bathroom on the second floor. Immediately, the residents ran to the stairway to see what happened. They saw the suspect going down the stairs to the ground floor carrying Glenda by the waist with one arm. Witnesses said that Glenda's body was limp and seemed to be lifeless as there was no movement detected from her. There was a lot of blood on her face, around her nose and mouth.

___OWWA Coordinator Tessie Fullon called up the Hongkong Police for assistance, but when the officers arrived 10 minutes later, Glenda and the suspect were nowhere to be found.

___At 2 o’clock in the morning on May 23, after a thorough search of the compound using tracker dogs, the police found the suspect hiding in an old building some 400 meters away from the Center. Police said his clothes were covered with mud. At around 6:00 p.m. on the same day, Glenda’s dead body was found when both the police and some residents noticed that the cover of a manhole had been removed. Her body was stuffed in the hole. It was badly bruised on the face and neck.

___The initial findings of the pathologist who attended the scene indicated that she may have died between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m. on May 22.

The butcher

___According to Atty. Yuvienco, Emeka is a big man who is psychologically unstable, and, according to Glenda’s previous police reports, a hothead. That he is Glenda’s killer can easily be established, since, Yuvienco said, there is overwhelming evidence to prove his guilt. Yuvienco’s theory is that Emeka got really angry when Glenda, standing up for her rights, began filing complaints against him.

___"There is no clear motive. He is hotheaded, and he is physically capable of doing what was done to Glenda. His psychological instability supports my theory," Yuvienco said.

___But while it is easier to blame everything on Emeka, the question must be asked: Could he really do what he has done, and with the ease that the witnesses described, if, as Laguindam said, FWDC had just one decent set of locks on its door?

___"A safe haven no more," was how the Bethune House Migrant Women's Refuge described the FWDC center in a Letter to the Editor of the South China Morning Post. This is some description for a shelter whose only reason for being is to give protection to OFWs in distress.

___As Glenda’s father lamented at apress conference on October 6, "Had she sought protection and help from the migrant NGOs in HK, and not the Center, she would still be alive today."

___Close by, Glenda’s three children, seemed surprised at what they just heard from their grandfather. While the absence of their mother is not an alien concept to them, since they are used to celebrating birthdays and other special events with only their father around, they still find it hard to accept that their mother will not be coming home anymore. Yes, they told Cyberdyaryo, they are "missing Mama."


Next week: A closer look at the FWDC and its officials, and their responsibility for Glenda’s death.

CyberDyaryo | 1999.10.07