Sarah Balabagan

Sarah Balabagan (born August 16, 1979) (her family name phonetically pronounced as Ba-la-BAH-gan) was a Filipina prisoner in the United Arab Emirates during 1994 - 96 whose case caused a good deal of controversy. Her story was made into a controversial film in 1997.

Her case in the UAE

Balabagan grew up in a Muslim community on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, in the province of Sultan Kudarat. Like many Filipinas, she left to become a domestic worker, lying about her age, and obtained a post in the town of Al-Ain in the UAE. On July 19, 1994, she killed her employer, Almas Mohammed al-Baloushi, 85, stabbing him 34 times. She alleged that he tried to rape her, and that she was acting in self-defense. On June 26, 1995, a court ruled that she was guilty of manslaughter as well a victim of rape. She was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and ordered to pay 150,000 dirhams ($40,000) blood money to relatives of the deceased, while at the same time she was awarded 100,000 dirhams ($27,000) as compensation for the rape . However, the prosecution appealed the verdict, calling for the death penalty. On September 6, 1995, a second Islamic court found no evidence of rape and convicted her of premeditated murder, sentencing her to death by firing squad. There was an international outcry and a defense campaign in several countries, as her case was seen as symbolising the ill-treatment of domestic servants in the Persian Gulf countries, and just a few months earlier there had been the rather similar case of Flor Contemplación, a Filipina domestic servant who was hanged in Singapore.

Reportedly, it was only after a personal appeal for mercy by the President of the UAE Sheikh Zayed that the victim's family agreed to drop their execution demand in exchange for blood money On October 30, at her third trial, her sentence was reduced to a year's imprisonment and 100 strokes of the cane, along with payment of blood money, which was donated by a Filipino businessman. She was caned in 20 strokes at a time, over five days during January 30 - February 5 in 1996. Philippine Ambassador Roy Seneres said "Balabagan said it was bearable. Embassy officials visited her twice afterward, and there were no marks or bruises or reddening." She returned to the Philippines on August 1 1996 to a heroine's welcome.

Film version

In 1997 her story was made into a film, The Sarah Balabagan Story. It was made in the Philippines, directed by Joel Lamangan, and starred Vina Morales in the title role. Balabagan was offered the chance to play herself, but declined. The government of the Philippines made several attempts to prevent the film from being shown, because it might damage relations with the United Arab Emirates, and its release was delayed for several months. (It was made in the Tagalog language, it is not clear whether there is an English subtitled or dubbed version available.)

Later life

Shortly after her release, Balabagan embarked on a career as a singer. She also appeared on a television programme with Geri Halliwell. In 1998, she became a single parent after a brief relationship with a broadcasting journalist. In August 2003 she announced her engagement to Russell Vergara.


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