Protest over maid's hanging Singapore firm on hanging stands 36pt hed in here plas

Singapore/ Filipinos angry
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The Independent Online
THE hanging of the Filipino maid, Flor Contemplacion, in Singapore has unleashed a flood of anger against the island state

which aspires to a leadership role in South East Asia.

Last Friday morning hundreds of Filipinos assembled outside the Singapore Embassy in Manila. The crowd began a countdown to six o'clock and then erupted in a furious explosion of noise on the hour.

When the body arrived at Manila yesterday the Philippine president's wife Amelita Ramos was among thousands of mourners who gathered at the airport for a glimpse of the wooden crate carrying the maid's remains.

The First Lady spoke of the president's regret that Singapore had ignored pleas for a stay of execution. The powerful Catholic Church has denounced Singapore as a country without mercy. Human rights groups are even more vocal, describing Singapore as tyrannical and totalitarian.

Most Filipinos seem to believe that Mrs Contemplacion was forced to confess to a double murder which involved the strangulation of another maid, and the drowning of her employer's young son.

They contend the boy drowned in the bath during an epileptic fit, and that his enraged father strangled the maid responsible for caring for him, then conspired with other family members to pin the blame on Mrs Contemplacion.

The execution has released a torrent of resentment against Singapore, where 65,000 Filipinos work as domestic servants and form a high proportion of the workforce.

Singapore's leaders, who portray themselves as the custodians of Asian values - an alternative to the alleged liberalism and democratic obsessions of the West - are finding it increasingly difficult to gain a receptive audience among their neighbours.

In the Philippines itself many of the country's most influential leaders are still smarting from a speech delivered on their home ground by former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kwan Yew in which he castigated Filipinos for their lack of discipline and the breakdown of authority. Authority is a central tenet of the so-called "Confucian values" which Mr Lee likes to proclaim.

The leaders of Singapore's closest neighbour, Malaysia, also appear to be less than impressed by Singaporean claims to represent Asians in the debate on values. Speaking recently in Hong Kong, Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's deputy premier, said: "It is altogether shameful, if ingenious, to cite Asian values as an excuse for autocratic practises and denial of basic rights."

The many Malaysians who cross the causeway to work in Singapore often complain of discrimination and denial of rights. However the response to last week's hanging was muted in Malaysia where the death sentence is often carried out.

Thailand also supplies many workers to Singapore and the Thai press is littered with stories about how domestic workers are abused.

Singapore is unmoved by protests. Indeed it seems to revel in its tough stand. The Government maintains that it preserves a peaceful society by cracking down hard on crime.

Although Singapore's President Ong Teng Cheong has the power to grant clemency, he is very reluctant to exercise it.

In the Philippines President Fidel Ramos made an appeal on Mrs Contemplacion's behalf but this was rejected. He now stands accused of what Filipinos call inutile or powerlessness, for failing to protect his countrymen when they are abroad.

There is a growing sense of dislike for the rather self-satisfied Singaporeans among their neighbours. Some of the dislike stems from jealousy, as Singapore has achieved such high standards of living.

Some of it however is a reaction against the authoritarian style of government and the relish with which Singaporean leaders, particularly Mr Lee, preach to their neighbours.