Judge asks help for Kiwi languishing in Catanduanes jail

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06:18 AM April 1st, 2013

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By: Juan Escandor Jr., April 1st, 2013 06:18 AM

NAGA CITY, Philippines—A judge hearing a case of a 66-year-old Kiwi facing at least 20 years behind bars for estafa and illegal recruitment charges appealed to the New Zealand Embassy in Manila to assist its detained citizen settle his financial obligation to free him from jail.

Regional Trial Court Judge Lelu Contreras of Branch 42 in Virac, Catanduanes, who presides over the estafa and illegal recruitment cases against Vernon Wayne Gardiner, appealed to the New Zealand Embassy in Manila to help its citizen raise P160,000 as settlement to complainant Joseph Diwata.

“The complainant and the accused could still solve their conflict through amicable settlement, if not, they enter into plea bargain or plea guilty,” she said.

The judge said on Sunday she decided to help Gardiner, an ex-Anglican priest, after he tried to starve himself to death twice.

Contreras, who sent Gardiner to jail, took pity on Gardiner and wrote the New Zealand Embassy in Manila and sent e-mails to different entities to appeal for the settlement money.

Gardiner has been detained at the Catanduanes Provincial Jail since October 2011 after he was sued by Diwata for estafa and illegal recruitment.

The Kiwi, without license from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, promised Diwata a job in a nursing home in Christchurch in April 2010 months before a devastating earthquake struck the New Zealand city. The job never came.

Diwata paid Gardiner P100,000 in cash for job service, P6,400 in check for immigration service and spent P10,332 for medical examination, aside from other overhead expenses complying with the requirements of job placement.

Contreras said Diwata was willing to drop all charges in exchange for P160,000 but the Kiwi was unable to pay even for his bail.

She said she has informed the New Zealand Embassy in Manila that she has given time for Gardiner to raise the settlement money.

Contreras said she was made to understand by Gardiner that he could apply for government pension of NZ$50,000. However, Contreras said New Zealand’s Manila Consul Heather Garven wrote her on Dec. 13, 2012, to say that Gardiner must be in his country to be able to apply for government pension.

She said the New Zealand government tried but failed to contact Gardiner’s friends and relatives.

The New Zealand Embassy also told her that their government would not provide funds to pay for fine, retribution, legal fees or bail of their citizens, Contreras added.

Contreras said she sent dozens of e-mails to several entities in New Zealand appealing to his compatriots to help him raise the P160,000 or NZ$4,800 which she said bore positive response from a television network there.

On March 10, a news crew from TV3 in New Zealand arrived in Catanduanes to do a feature on him which was aired on March 20, she said.

Contreras also got a positive response from a newspaper in New Zealand to help raise money for his financial obligation.

“(Gardiner) is not a hardened criminal and it is better to free and rehabilitate him than impose punitive action,” Contreras told the Inquirer.

Gardiner arrived in Catanduanes in 2009 and lived with a Filipina partner named Mirasol Nazareno of Asgad, San Andres town. They operated a coffee shop in Virac in the same year but it closed down the following year.

Nazareno, the co-accused in the estafa and illegal recruitment cases, is reportedly now in Malaysia working as a domestic helper and has cut contact with Gardiner.

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