In the early hours of March 17, 1995, Filipino maid Flor Contemplacion was awoken at Changi Prison in Singapore. The 42-year-old mother - convicted of killing another maid and a three-year-old boy - had an appointment with the hangman. Security was tighter than usual. Singapore's decision to execute the Filipino had caused a serious diplomatic breach between the city state and the Philippines. Many Filipinos working in Singapore as domestic helpers had returned to their homeland in disgust. Others organised protests. Filipinos responded very emotionally to Contemplacion's plight. With so many of their countrymen working overseas, often in adverse circumstances, they felt particularly vulnerable to any unfair treatment. In the past, some Filipinos had been victims of great injustices - particularly in places with harsh laws, such as Saudi Arabia. Singapore argued that Contemplacion was no victim, but a calculating double murderess. Outside the prison, police officers - some dressed in flak jackets and armed with machine guns - were on alert. Other officers in cars and on motorcycles patrolled the streets nearby. They were ready in case some of Singapore's 75,000 Filipinos decided to vent their anger. The previous Sunday, in Hong Kong, groups of Filipino maids held a candle-light vigil in Chater Gardens, offering prayers and support for Contemplacion. The condemned woman's fate had aroused considerable interest in Hong Kong. Three young people from the territory, Poon Yuen-chung, 22, Tong Ching-man, 24, and Lam Cheuk-wang, 24, were also waiting to be executed. They had been caught drug trafficking in July 1991. In January, Angel Mou Pui-peng, a Hong Kong-Macau resident, had been hanged for drug trafficking - despite pleas for clemency from then governor Chris Patten. Pope John Paul was also appealing for mercy for Contemplacion. But Singapore was adamant: outsiders would not interfere. Its senior minister and founding father, Lee Kwan Yew, had argued that Singapore's tough penalities helped create a society with a very low crime rate. 'We have established a certain security and personal safety. You know if you come to Singapore, your life, body, limbs, properties will be quite safe,' Mr Lee said. Contemplacion was quickly escorted into a waiting room to be prepared for death. In a chilling ritual dating back to British colonial times, her arms were pinioned and a black hood placed over her head. Singapore usually executes prisoners in groups of three to five. Contemplacion and three male drug traffickers were led to the prison's large gallows, which can execute as many as seven at once. In Changi, the 'long drop' is used. This is a method of hanging developed in late 19th-century Britain to ensure the condemned die by breaking their necks - not by strangulation, which is slower and more painful. Contemplacion, whose legs had been strapped, was positioned on the gallows. Seconds later, the trapdoor swung open and she plunged down. Contemplacion had been arrested on May 4, 1991, for the murder of 34-year-old Della Maga and Nicholas Huang, the three-year-old son of Maga's Chinese employers. Initially, she had confessed to killing Maga and drowning the boy in a bath. Singapore police believed the motive was to steal Maga's jewellery. At her trial, Contemplacion pleaded guilty on grounds of insanity. She later claimed this was advised by her Singaporean lawyers. She said they had told her this would mean escaping the death penalty in favour of a short stint in a mental hospital. But in April 1994, a court convicted Contemplacion of double murder, which carried a mandatory death sentence. She unsuccessfully attempted to appeal the conviction. But on March 14, 1995, she was told she would die three days later. She had accepted the news calmly, according to husband Efren Contemplacion. 'She was resigned to her fate and told her children to be strong and love one another,' he said. Contemplacion was visited regularly by her children. They included a 21-year-old son, a 17-year-old daughter, and 15-year-old twin boys. Her husband said he found it too painful to visit. 'I couldn't bear to see her and not be able to touch her after seven years,' he recalled. Singapore had rejected a last-minute request for a stay of execution by the Philippines.Then Philippine solicitor-general Raul Goco had written to his counterparts in Singapore asking them 'to put all doubts to rest before the cause of Mrs Contemplacion has a final conclusion'. Then Philippine president Fidel Ramos implored Singapore to delay the hanging while testimony from another maid could be examined. But the Singapore government said it had 'carefully investigated the new evidence and found it to be untrue'. Singapore's then president Ong Teng Cheong said there was no valid reason why the execution should be postponed. In the week before the execution, two maids in Singapore had told the authorities Huang had drowned after suffering an epileptic fit in the bath. Virginia Parumog said in an affidavit that she had shared a prison cell with Contemplacion, who had told her: 'Della immediately phoned her employer about the incident. Her male employer immediately rushed home. Very angry, the employer strangled Della's neck. Then the employer called police and said Flor was responsible for the two deaths.' But a Singapore police statement said: 'These claims are pure fabrication. The wild and baseless allegations of Virginia Parumog are yet another attempt to stir up controversy over the Flor Contemplacion case, without any regard for truth.' Singapore's Home Ministry argued that Parumog claimed Contemplacion told her she'd visited Maga; the two Filipinos then discovered Huang drowned. The ministry also said Contemplacion was not at Huang's home when police arrived. It was only after Contemplacion's name appeared in Maga's diary that police began looking for her. Moreover, it was the boy's mother - not his father - who called police. The ministry said Contemplacion had plenty of opportunities to state her innocence in prison but had not. Indeed, the Philippine consul-general had visited Contemplacion in jail nine times and reported she had never denied her guilt. Philippine ambassador to Singapore, Alicia Ramos, had also visited and confirmed there had been no denials. The Home Ministry also noted that Parumog had been arrested on June 25, 1992, and signed a statement saying she had come to Singapore to work as a prostitute and 'was charging Singaporeans S$100 per sexual entertainment'. 'Are we to believe that if Flor Contemplacion felt that she was innocent she would only choose to say it to a prostitute in prison?' it said. Then another Filipino came forward. Emilia Frenilla, a 36-year-old maid from Mindanao, also claimed Contemplacion was innocent. Frenilla had worked in the home of the brother of Della Maga's employer. She told Japan's Yomuri Shimbun newspaper that she had overheard a conversation between Maga's employer and his brother. She said he had told his brother his son had had an epileptic fit in the bath and drowned. Enraged, he had killed Maga. But the Singapore authorities were also sceptical about Frenilla's testimony. They said the brothers usually conversed in Chinese - which Frenilla could not understand. Contemplacion's death sparked angry demonstrations in the Philippines. Human rights and women's groups launched protests. The Catholic Church condemned Singapore as a 'state without mercy'. In the Philippines, several thousand people converged on the Singapore embassy in Manila shouting 'Justice for Flor'. A communist group, the Alex Boncayo Brigade, threatened to kill Singaporeans in revenge. The Singapore government warned citizens travelling to the Philippines to register with its embassy in Manila for safety. In death Contemplacion became a martyr. Her body was flown back to Manila where it was greeted by thousands, including the former first lady Amelita Ramos. As her funeral procession passed through the streets, some mourners carried placards proclaiming Contemplacion a victim of great injustice. There was also a huge turnout at San Pablo - the town where she'd lived. While her body was displayed in an open casket, Catholic Bishop Teodoro Bacani held a requiem mass. He proclaimed she'd been a 'symbol of millions of Filipinos driven to poverty to take their chances abroad. Their lot is pathetic. Their own government neglects them.' President Ramos ordered an inquiry and announced the body of Della Maga would be exhumed from its grave at Nanhaya in Laguna. Maga's husband said his family had never seen a post-mortem examination report on her. Contrado Maga said his wife's body had bruises on her face, shoulders and neck. Forensic experts from Singapore and the Philippines examined Maga's remains. The Philippine expert concluded Contemplacion was innocent, arguing it must have taken a lot of strength to break Maga's ribs. She also had skull fractures. He concluded a man had killed her. But Singaporean experts said Maga's ribs had been broken after her remains were buried and decomposed. They said there was no evidence to prove she was killed by a man. Mr Ramos also appointed a seven-member commission headed by former Supreme Court Justice Emilio Gancayo. The commission studied transcripts of Contemplacion's trial and took testimony from 39 witnesses - none of whom were Singaporean. The commission concluded in its 79-page report that Contemplacion 'could have been the victim of a grave injustice' and the 'evidence tends to show she is not guilty'. Mr Ramos suspended his country's ambassador from Singapore. At his request, Singapore temporarily withdrew its ambassador. But the Singaporean authorities slammed the Gancayo commission findings as 'inconsistent and contradictory' and 'totally absurd'. Singapore later released new documents to support the verdict, including a handwritten letter in which Contemplacion admitted to her family she had done 'this stupid thing'. Less than a month later, Singapore's gallows were again in use. The three Hong Kong citizens, convicted of drug trafficking, were hanged on April 21, 1995. Singapore executed 37 people that year.