Filipina tourist cleared of drug charges back in Philippines
THE only Filipina tourist acquitted among the four who were tried for bringing into Hong Kong an estimated $2.564-million worth of cocaine in 2015 was released from prisons.
The 37-year-old mother of four, Maricel T., told Hong Kong News her family in the Philippines had no idea she would be coming home soon.
Maricel, along with the three other defendants who were convicted of the drug charges, had been in jail custody since their arrest in September 2015.
Upon her release from custody on the late afternoon of Nov. 14, the same day when the jury handed its verdict on the cases and found her not guilty, she went to the Philippine Consulate’s office at the United Centre in Admiralty.
“Hinanap ko ang Consulate, kung saan ang office nila, tapos ang nag-assist sa akin si [Assistance to Nationals officer] Ma’am Lorna [Mojica],” Maricel told Hong Kong News in an interview at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Admiralty Centre.
After the jury gave its verdict on the charges, Maricel stood up in the dock of Court 35 of the High Court where the defendants’ 16-day trial was held.
Apparently overcome with emotion, Maricel was sobbing when she inquired from Judge Audrey Campbell-Moffat whether she would be released and she would be allowed to go back to the Philippines soon.
Judge Campbell-Moffat said it would have to be confirmed with Hong Kong authorities, but Maricel’s lawyer, Diane Crebbin, said they would arrange for her immediate release.
Like the other three defendants, Maricel’s lawyer was provided by the Legal Aid Department.
When she arrived in Hong Kong on Sept. 25, 2015, she was taken straight to custody after Customs officers discovered a false compartment in her handcarry luggage and found 1,203 grams of powder, and which subsequently confirmed to be containing 923 grams of cocaine, hidden in it.
She said it was her first time to be in Hong Kong, and that she was merely convinced by “Nora” to join the all-expense paid trip, bring the bag, and then tour Hong Kong.
“Tourists lang daw kami, sabi magto-tourist lang kami, ang sabi sa akin, ‘dalhin mo ang bag’, at talagang tourists lang daw kami,” Maricel said.
Among the three other defendants, she was friends with the third defendant – Remelyn Amistoso Roque.
“Si Remelyn, siya lang ang kilala ko, siya lang ang kaibigan ko. Sina Shirley [Chua] at Ana Loella [Creus], doon ko lang sila na-meet noong
Nora, on the other hand, was merely an acquaintance and that they both lived in Trece Martires Cavite.
Asked if she was not afraid of going back home and seeing Nora there, Maricel said she saw no reason to be afraid.
“Hindi naman, wala naman akong dapat na ikatakot sa kanya,” she said.
After a pause, she advised other Filipinos to be cautious when asked to take a luggage and bring it overseas.
“Sa na-experience ko talagang kailangan na mag-ingat at huwag masyadong magtiwala kahit na close kayo o kaibigan mo, at kahit matagal mo na siyang kakilala at ganoon na kapanatag ang loob mo sa kanya,” Maricel said.
At the Tai Lam Centre for Women in Tuen Mun, where she and the other defendants stayed while awaiting their trial, she said she used to work at the laundry center.
“Sa Tai Lam, ok naman kami. Pati pagkain, ok naman at mabait naman sila doon, mabuti ang trato sa amin. Ang kalaban mo lang ang kalooban mo dahil sa lungkot at hindi ka din nakakalabas,” Maricel said.
When she was released, she did not have the chance to talk to the other defendants who were found guilty of drug charges.
Maricel’s lawyer argued before the jury that the defendant, whose former husband was a US serviceman and sends her money every month to support their children, said her client was merely a last-minute addition to the group of women who traveled from Manila to Hong Kong on Sept. 25, 2015.
It was also revealed that Maricel was not included in a group chat, where messages about the bags and passing through Customs were exchanged among the other defendants and Nora and a certain “Madam” were retrieved by Hong Kong law enforcers.
The sentencing of the other defendants was adjourned to Jan. 18, 2018.