A death in Hong Kong
Second of two parts
Text and photo by Gina Mission

Family and friends call for Justice for Glenda.

Lamberto Lorio isn’t too sure if it was in January or February this year when his wife Glenda last sent him and their children a letter and some money. But he has a vivid memory of how he felt at the time.

   "It was painful. I was hurt," he said in Filipino.

   While it was not the first time Glenda stopped communicating with her family, it was nevertheless the longest. And in the familiar world of overseas migration and family break-ups, Lamberto thought, that was it. Their marriage was over.

   "I thought that maybe she was getting tired of working and sending us money. I thought that maybe I failed as a husband and father. I thought that maybe if she hadn’t gone overseas, I wouldn’t be scared for one moment that she would leave us," he said. He figured that if Glenda didn’t have to work in Hong Kong, the family would have been together. The kids would have grown up with both parents around. And as mothers go, the kids would have been very close to her. If only.

   But even as Lamberto was being tortured by such thoughts, Glenda, in Hong Kong, was fighting to hold on to her rights. While she was courageous, it cost her her life, which should have been secured by the government authorities who were tasked to protect her and others like her.

   On May 22, 1999, Glenda was brutally murdered at the Philippine Consulate’s Filipino Workers’ Development Center in Hongkong, where she had sought refuge from an abusive employer. The prime suspect is her employer, who easily gained entry into the loosely-secured compound.

   The Filipino Workers Development Center (FWDC), a two-story former British Military Hospital building located in Wylie Road, Kowloon, opened in October 16, 1996. Run by the Philippine Consulate General, the Center was supposed to be a haven for Filipina migrant workers who have lost their jobs.

   The building was provided by the Hong Kong Government to the Philippine Consulate General for a token rent of HK$1.00 per year. But it needed repair. Its doors, windows, toilets and other features were no longer well secured. In 1996, the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK), together with the residents of the shelter protested what they called "irregularities" in the Center, such as poor food and sanitation, and the "dilapidated condition" of the shelter. But the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong did nothing about their demands.

   "Security of the shelter," according to UNIFIL, was "very poor." There was only one security guard, and he was guarding not only the center's building, but the entire compound as well. And while the guard would perform the standard "roving" procedure from time to time, it was just routine, and not a thorough inspection of the area. In addition, the guardhouse was so far from the shelter that the guard couldn’t see the residents inside, and neither could the residents see the guard from inside the center's building.

   The only telephone line at the Center was disconnected in February 1999 when, according to the Consulate, the phone bill went up from long distance calls made by the residents. But UNIFIL reasoned that if this was true, disconnecting the phone was not the solution. All the Consulate had to do was discontinue the long distance service.

   While it can accommodate up to 40 residents, for reasons only known to its officials, the Center was housing only 11 women at the time of Glenda's death.

   Glenda’s death, said UNIFIL in a statement, was an act of criminal negligence on the part of the Philippine government. "She was not a victim of a car crash, nor was she struck by lightning. She was murdered under the roof of the FWDC, a Philippine government-run shelter," stressed Eman Villanueva, UNIFIL Secretary General.

   "Simply putting the murderer behind bars will not mean justice for Glenda. Justice can only be served if the Philippine government officials who abandoned her are meted corresponding punishment; if the Philippine government will indemnify the family of Glenda, and if the Philippine government will truly provide free, accessible and adequate protection for the rights and welfare of migrant Filipinos," Villanueva said.

   Seeing the "political incorrectness" of the circumstances surrounding Glenda’s death, migrant organizations have mobilized to speed up the delivery of justice.

   On May 25, some 37 Filipino migrant organizations, including UNIFIL, wrote to Senator Raul Roco asking for help in the investigation of Glenda’s death. The following day, the Episcopal Church of the Philippines (ECP) wrote to President Estrada demanding speedy justice for Glenda. A picket-rally on Glenda’s case was held at the Philippine Consulate by UNIFIL-HK the following day. Though nobody from the Philippine Consulate came out to meet the rallyists, Vice Consul Raul Hernandez was seen from outside giving instructions to his people to meet with the group.

   On the same day, UNIFIL appeared on Radio Television Hong Kong to discuss Glenda’s case and denounce the "criminal negligence" of the Philippine government in failing to provide Glenda adequate protection.

   On June 2, UNIFIL received a letter-response from Eleuterio Gardiner, administrator of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA), informing the group that OWWA would extend "assistance and cooperation with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), particularly the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong, in addressing the needs of the witnesses until the resolution of the case."

   On June 10, Migrante International held a dialogue with Gardiner, who informed them that he had already signed an allocation for accommodation of 10 witnesses in Glenda’s case. Migrante’s victory, however, was short-lived; Gardiner told them that Glenda’s death was an "accident."

   This fired up Glenda’s supporters. On June 16, a big picket was held at the DFA. Perhaps due to unrelenting pressure from migrant organizations, the Philippine government was forced to hold an inter-agency meeting composed of the DFA, OWWA, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

   One outcome of the meeting was the government’s decision to look for a new shelter for displaced Filipino overseas workers, which will also be a relocation center for Filipino migrants. The inter-agency meeting also tackled the security of the 10 witnesses and a task force was formed to conduct an investigation into the case.

   Predictably, the investigation by the task force showed that there was no negligence on the part of the government, since there is a full-time social worker, designated staff from DOLE and six security guards in the Center at the time Glenda was murdered.

   Glenda’s father, Crispin, was adamant: "How can the investigation be fair when the people conducting it were the very people who were responsible for the Center when Glenda was murdered?"

   Migrante secretary general Imelda Laguindam, said: "The result of the investigation of the task force headed by Consul Minda Cruz is a total failure and a cover-up of the negligence of some consulate officials in Hong Kong."

   In addition, the lawyer of Glenda’s family was not given a copy of the investigation report and the family was never officially informed of its result.

   So far, only five of the ten witnesses have been transferred by the Philippine Consulate to a house in Mid-levels, Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the Philippine Consulate has ceased operations, and the old Center has been closed.

   Meanwhile, the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong has informed UNIFIL that OWWA has shouldered the cost for repatriation of Glenda’s remains as well as the door-to-door shipment of her personal effects. Burial gratuity and insurance benefits have been given to her family. Family assistance and scholarship grants for the Lorio children in high school are being processed.

   But is the Consulate really helping Glenda’s cause? She paid for all the benefits that her family has so far received through her OWWA Membership Fund. Still, a consulate official arrogantly told Crispin when he was in Hong Kong recently: "Kilala mo ba ako? Di ba natanggap nyo na yung pera? Pasalamat naman kayo sa amin (Do you know me? You have received the money, right? You ought to be grateful to us."

   The Justice for Glenda Movement is unmoved by the government’s delayed response to Gelnda’s death. It said in a statement: "We strongly demand for a genuine, comprehensive, transparent and impartial investigation. An independent investigative body should be formed to re-investigate Glenda’s case and this time, inquiring into the probable neglect of Philippine Consulate officials, including those who are now assigned to different posts."

CyberDyaryo | 1999.10.14