How Seneres saved 14-year-old OFW from death row

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 09 2016 05:14 PM

MANILA - For one former migrant worker, the late congressman and presidential candidate Roy Señeres Sr. will live on as the man who plucked her from death row in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) almost two decades ago.

Sarah Balabagan-Sereno, who grew up in poverty in Sultan Kudarat, was 14 years old when she found work as a domestic helper in Al Ain, UAE.

On July 17, 1994, the teenage Balabagan stabbed dead her employer Almas Mohammed al-Baloushi after he allegedly tried to rape her.

An Islamic court sentenced her to death by firing squad in 1995.

Señeres had just been appointed Philippine Ambassador to UAE when he learned of Balabagan's case.

"Agad-agad po siyang nagpunta sa Al Ain Central Jail. Binisita po nila ako. Inaalam nila kung anong nangyari kaya po natutukan ang aking kaso," she told dzMM.

Balabagan cited the "wisdom" of Señeres in securing help from the media in airing her plight.

"Alam naman po natin sa Pilipinas, kung hindi matutukan ng media, makakalimutan na lang. Malaki po iyung wisdom ni ambassador na ininvolve niya ang media," she said.

Balabagan's case roused an international outcry and a defense campaign, with many believing that she represented the way many Filipina workers were being treated in the Middle East.

She said Señeres worked hard to lower her penalty and visited her frequently with other officials.

Balabagan said the ambassador often asked his daughters to accompany him in his visits so that she would have someone her own age to talk with.

Señeres eventually succeeded in enlisting help of UAE President Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan to appeal Balabagan's case.

Reports said it was only after a personal visit from Al Nahyan that the family of Balabagan's employer agreed to drop their execution demand in exchange for blood money.

Another trial later reduced the Filipina's sentence to one year imprisonment, 100 strokes of the cane, and payment of blood money amounting to $40,000.

MOVING ON

Balabagan returned to a hero's welcome in the Philippines in August 1996.

She lived afterwards with the Señeres family for three years in Las Piñas.

Balabagan said Señeres and his family treated her as one of their own. Señeres also stood as principal sponsor in her wedding.

She kept in touch with the former presidential aspirant even after she moved to California. Balabagan said she continued to refer alleged cases of OFW abuse to Señeres.

Señeres died of cardiopulmonary arrest in a hospital on Monday.

He withdrew his bid for the presidency last Friday, citing health reasons.

Balabagan said the OFW advocate's death came as a surprise to her but she will always remember all his advice. "Iyung mga advice niya sa akin bilang tatay, hinding hindi ko makakalimutan iyun," she said.

Balabagan won't make it to the wake of the late lawmaker. She has speaking engagements in several countries to share her experiences as a migrant worker.

"Iyung mga sakit na naranasan ko sa ibang bansa, hindi po nasayang dahil nagkakaroon ng healing. Iyun pong mga nakakarinig, na-iinspire at nakakapulot kahit paano ng aral," she said.