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The Philippines

Seventeen years of hell: Hong Kong prisoner recounts his time in Philippine jail

Tang Lung-wai was sentenced to life in the notorious New Bilibid Prison for a drug offence he insists he never committed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 July, 2017, 8:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 July, 2017, 9:48am

Inside his 60 sq ft cell in the notorious New Bilibid Prison in Manila, convicted Hong Kong drug offender Tang Lung-wai completed a mission impossible – writing a book detailing his ordeal in the Philippines over the past 17 years.

He wrote that he was beaten by police officers as he was handcuffed to the cell’s bars, was deprived of food for three days and even worse had his hopes of returning home to Hong Kong dashed again and again.

“[An officer] told me to raise my hands straight up and that only my toes could be touching the floor.

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“They handcuffed my hands to the gate. Two officers beat me on my back, bottom and thighs with their batons. All I could do was scream ‘sorry sir! sorry sir!’” he wrote of the encounter when he was detained inside a police facility in 2000.

Tang, now 46, insisted in his Chinese-language book that he was innocent.

He entered the Philippines as a tourist in June 2000 to meet his friend, Cheung Tai-on. The day before he was scheduled to return to Hong Kong, he boarded a taxi to a casino. Two Filipinos forced the door open and dragged him out of the vehicle. After the pair took his wallet, phone, passport and watch, they told him they were police officers.

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Tang was then taken to the police headquarters, where he was told to admit drug offences.

He refused. He, Cheung and a Hong Kong man he did not know at the time were then taken to a room inside a residential building. They were told that 15 minutes after the officers left the room, someone would knock on the door.

“Someone did indeed knock on the door 15 minutes later. I opened the door as the police told me to do. I saw the eight officers who were with us a while ago,” Tang wrote. “They started searching the room and five minutes later found a big plastic bag under the bed in the bedroom. There were four paper boxes inside, with each box carrying two bags of [methamphetamine].”

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Tang was detained for 10 dark years before court proceedings started in 2010 – log-jams in the nation’s legal system are common.

I wanted to let Hong Kong people know of the injustice I experienced. Over the years, the Hong Kong government never really helped me
Tang Lung-wai, prisoner

He was sentenced to life in 2011. As a life sentence in the Philippines is 40 years, Tang wrote, he should be released on June 9, 2032 after deducting public holidays.

In 2008, he tried to hang himself with a string. It snapped as he struggled.

“It was in 2013 that I started to have the idea of writing a book. I wanted to let Hong Kong people know of the injustice I experienced. Over the years, the Hong Kong government never really helped me,” he told the Post.

“When you are feeling miserable and helpless, you can read my book and you may feel that I am in a more miserable situation than you are. Don’t say you don’t want to live any more.”

Tang wrote his 205-page book inside his small cell in a two-storey facility he bought for HK$2,000. There is a bed, a chair and a small table inside. Philippine prisons are run differently than those in Hong Kong.

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New Bilibid Prison is home to some of the most notorious criminals. Last September, a riot broke out in which a high-profile inmate was killed and others injured.

Tang writes about witnessing murders and other kinds of violence and hearing gunshots inside the prison.

“All I can do is wait for the day when I am set free so I can return to the place I call home,” he wrote.

His book will be on sale at the annual Hong Kong Book Fair which opens on July 19.