Sarah Balabagan

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Sarah Balabagan
Sarah Balabagan

(1979-08-16) August 16, 1979 (age 40)
OccupationOverseas Filipino Worker
Singer, Entertainer
Known forHer trial in the United Arab Emirates
Criminal chargePremeditated murder
Criminal penalty Death penalty, by firing squad (initial sentence)
1 year of imprisonment and 100 lashes
Criminal statusReleased (1996)

Sarah Balabagan-Sereno [1] (born August 16, 1979) is a Filipina who was imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates from 1994–1996 for murder. She was initially sentenced to death, but was later returned to the Philippines. Her story was made into a film in 1997.

United Arab Emirates Country in Western Asia

The United Arab Emirates, sometimes simply called the Emirates, is a country in Western Asia at the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf, bordering Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south and west, as well as sharing maritime borders with Qatar to the west and Iran to the north. The sovereign constitutional monarchy is a federation of seven emirates consisting of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. Their boundaries are complex, with numerous enclaves within the various emirates. Each emirate is governed by a ruler; together, they jointly form the Federal Supreme Council. One of the rulers serves as the President of the United Arab Emirates. In 2013, the UAE's population was 9.2 million, of which 1.4 million are Emirati citizens and 7.8 million are expatriates.

Philippines Republic in Southeast Asia

The Philippines, officially the Republic of the Philippines, is an archipelagic country in Southeast Asia. Situated in the western Pacific Ocean, it consists of about 7,641 islands that are categorized broadly under three main geographical divisions from north to south: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The capital city of the Philippines is Manila and the most populous city is Quezon City, both part of Metro Manila. Bounded by the South China Sea on the west, the Philippine Sea on the east and the Celebes Sea on the southwest, the Philippines shares maritime borders with Taiwan to the north, Japan to the northeast, Vietnam to the west, Palau to the east, and Malaysia and Indonesia to the south.


Early life

Balabagan grew up in a poor Muslim family in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao in the Philippines. She had 13 brothers and sisters but only six survived. Her siblings died due to disease and because of her family's financial constraints, which prevented them from availing adequate medical care. She worked for relatives at a young age to support her studies. She only managed to reach the fifth grade. [2] She has implied that she was abused by an uncle as a child. [3]

Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao Municipality in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Philippines

Sultan Kudarat, officially the Municipality of Sultan Kudarat, is a 1st class municipality in the province of Maguindanao, Philippines. According to the 2015 census, it has a population of 95,201 people.

Maguindanao Province in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Philippines

Maguindanao is a province in the Philippines located in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Since 2014 the provincial capital is Buluan but the legislative branch of the provincial government, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, convenes in the old provincial capitol in the town of Sultan Kudarat. It borders Lanao del Sur to the north, Cotabato to the east, Sultan Kudarat to the south, and the Illana Bay to the west.


At age 14, Balabagan decided to work abroad. Her recruiter listed her age as 28 and managed to secure a job for her. She learnt of this falsification only when she was already on her flight to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. She was tasked by contract to work for a 67 year old widower with four sons. Balabagan was anxious of the employment and convinced herself that her employers would respect her since she and they were Muslims. [2]

Dubai Metropolis in United Arab Emirates

Dubai is the largest and most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the capital of the Emirate of Dubai.

This was later proven to be false, as Balabagan became a subject of unsolicited sexual advancements. [2]


On July 19, 1994, Balabagan killed her employer, Almas Mohammed al-Baloushi, stabbing him 34 times. She alleged that he had tried to rape her, and that she was acting in self-defence.

Rape type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse without consent

Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority, or against a person who is incapable of giving valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, has an intellectual disability or is below the legal age of consent. The term rape is sometimes used interchangeably with the term sexual assault.

On June 26, 1995, a court ruled that she was guilty of manslaughter as well as a victim of rape. She was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and ordered to pay 150,000 dirhams (US$40,000) in blood money to al-Baloushi's relatives, while at the same time awarded 100,000 dirhams (US$27,000) as compensation for the rape. [4] 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 Arab states of the Persian Gulf, and just a few months earlier there had been the rather similar case of Flor Contemplación, a Filipina domestic worker who was hanged in Singapore that March.

Manslaughter is a common law legal term for homicide considered by law as less culpable than murder. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is sometimes said to have first been made by the ancient Athenian lawmaker Draco in the 7th century BC.

United Arab Emirates dirham currency

The United Arab Emirates dirham, also known as simply the Emirati dirham, is the currency of the United Arab Emirates. The term dirham is officially abbreviated "AED", while unofficial abbreviations include "DH" or "Dhs.". The dirham is subdivided into 100 fils (فلس).

United States dollar Currency of the United States of America

The United States dollar is the official currency of the United States and its territories per the United States Constitution since 1792. In practice, the dollar is divided into 100 smaller cent (¢) units, but is occasionally divided into 1000 mills (₥) for accounting. The circulating paper money consists of Federal Reserve Notes that are denominated in United States dollars.

Reportedly, it was only after a personal appeal for mercy by President of the United Arab Emirates Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan that al-Baloushi's family agreed to drop their execution demand in exchange for blood money. [5] 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 spanning January 30 – February 5, 1996. Philippine Ambassador Roy Señeres said "Balabagan said it was bearable. Embassy officials visited her twice afterward, and there were no marks or bruises or reddening." [6] However, she later said that her injuries were more serious than she said at the time. [7] [8] She returned to the Philippines on August 1, 1996, to a hero's welcome.

Later life

Shortly after her release, Balabagan embarked on a career as a singer, appearing on a television programme with Geri Halliwell.[ citation needed ] In 1998, she became a single parent after a brief relationship. In August 2003, she announced her engagement to Russell Vergara. She went on to have two more children.[ citation needed ] She later converted from Islam to Christianity after being introduced to a pastor by a Christian singer, Dulce Amor. [2] She and Vergara divorced in 2010. [7]

In 2013 she married June Sereno, and they have a child. [8] As of 2018, she lives in Las Vegas with her husband and five children. [9]

In film

Balabagan's story was dramatised in the 1997 Philippine film The Sarah Balabagan Story. Directed by Joel Lamangan the Tagalog-language film starred Vina Morales in the title role which was initially offered to Balabagan herself but had declined. The government of the Philippines made several attempts to prevent the film from being shown lest it damage bilateral relations with the United Arab Emirates, and its release was delayed for several months.

See also

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  1. "How Seneres saved 14-year-old OFW from death row". ABS-CBN News. 9 February 2016. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Rodis, Rodel (8 April 2009). "Sarah Balabagan, from Muslim to Christian". Global Nation. Archived from the original on 15 July 2015. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  3. "Wayback Machine" (PDF). Dec 8, 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-08. Retrieved May 17, 2019.
  4. "Amnesty International is concerned about the capital sentence imposed on Sarah Balabagan", September 27, 1995.
  5. "Filipina maid sentenced to caning, prison in Emirates", Nando Times, October 30, 1995.
  6. "Philippine Maid Gets Symbolic 100 Lashes", Los Angeles Times, February 10, 1996.
  7. 1 2 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-03-18. Retrieved 2012-03-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Sarah Balabagan The next chapter
  8. 1 2 [ dead link ]
  9. "Remember OFW Sarah Balabagan? She Is Living This Kind Of Life Now". Philippine News. Sep 8, 2018. Retrieved May 17, 2019.