Judge asks help for Kiwi languishing in Catanduanes jail

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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.

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • Teresa Santos

    Well done Judge!

    • makinagulingon_nasud

      BRAVO TO NEW ZEALAND!!! KEEP YOUR DIGNITY MATES DO NOT LOWER YOURSELF TO THE LEVEL OF THE PHILIPPINES!! THEY WANT YOU TO PAY RANSOM/BLOOD MONEY FOR HIS RELEASE,,,DO NOT PAY…LET THE PHILIPPINES PAY FOR HIS CARE FOR THE NEXT 20 YEARS…HE GOT HIMSELF INTO THIS MESS LET HIM GET HIMSELF OUT DO NOT DO AS THE PHILIPPINES DOES AND MAKE THE TAXPAYER PAY HIS RANSOM

      • Marx Louis Wang

        HEY!!! DO YOU KNOW HOW TO READ? READ THE ARTICLE AGAIN DIOS POR SANTO!!! WHAT RANSOM ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? FCUK YOU FOR BEING A NONREADER. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED.

  • boybakal

    Just drop the case and set him free for humanitarian reason.
    For sure, once that New Zealand man is in his country, he will pay what he owes.
    That is as simple as that.

  • paulo

    this judge should resign and just enter his services as defense counsel. this man is charged with an offense before his court. he should at least stay neutral. what will happen if the amicable settlement negotiations fail and trial proceeds? he would not be anymore be neutral

    • Antonio P. Contreras

      Why do you prejudge the situation. Do you really know that amicable settlement and plea bargaining are legal ways. The judge is not that stupid. I know her, and you simply do not know her.

      • paulo

        just because you know her and I don’t is simply not the point. the point is, a judge should be neutral. to go out of her way is going out of the required cold neutrality of a judge. pa papel ang tawag dyan. Period. By writing people and soliciting funds to amicably settle the matter with the end point of freeing the criminal of his criminal liability is way way out of line. I won’t be surprised if this person becomes a repeat offender.

      • Antonio P. Contreras

        A judge is not necessarily compromised when she advises parties to settle things out of court. That is a pretty standard procedure now, which the Supreme Court even encourages to declog the courts of cases. Judges are not simply there to try, they are also there to settle things prior to trial, if there is still a chance.

      • Marx Louis Wang

        Yes, your Judge Contreras, will let go of this guy from New Zealand after amicable settlement, but for me, with the 100,000 plus money that I trusted on him and even if he pays it back, is some kind of pure injustice. Poor pinoys, always a loser.

    • Marx Louis Wang

      Yes, the pinoy victim of illegal recruitment is very kind settling the case amicably. In this case it is like the pinoy victim is the one who is wrong and should be in prison for trusting that guy from New Zealand.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Boycott.Made.N.China Val Sor

    My hats off to Judge Lelu Contreras, a judge with conscience, a rare gem. I’ve been in foreign lands too many a time, and I have never experienced nor heard of a judge like Judge Lelu Contreras. Let it be known to all men in all lands, that in Philippines there exists a judge with soul and conscience, named Judge Lelu Contreras.

    • Marx Louis Wang

      Yes, she cares more for foreigners than our own citizen, and that is sad. Did you know why Gardiner’s live-in pinay partner left him?

  • kismaytami

    This judge should be axed by the Supreme Court. And let a real impartial judge hear the case if it prosper. This kiwi is still lucky, his victim still has the heart for a settlement. Illegal recruitment is a serious crime.

    • Antonio P. Contreras

      She is impartial. She imprisoned the Kiwi. He remains in jail because he fails to post bail. And let me assure you that if and when settlement fails, she would render the judgment which our laws prescribe. But she is also facilitating what even the complainant is willing to do—to drop the charges only if he pays the money he owes him. This is why there is an amicable settlement. This is why there are suspended sentences for first time offenders. And this Kiwi has no criminal record.

      • kismaytami

        Having no criminal record is not a passport of a clear conscience. Not even being a priest.

      • Antonio P. Contreras

        spoken like a true lawyer eh. I hope you also know that a case of illegal recruitment of only one person is not a syndicated one, and would merit a lesser offense. It is ironic that you and paulo above are casting aspersions on the judge, and yet you don’t bother to know the real story. you don’t even appreciate the fact that this judge exercise humanitarian considerations for a 66-year old who has no prior criminal record, and who has attempted to kill himself twice already. and you don’t even consider the fact that someone can at the same time exercise mercy and respect the rights even of prisoners (who are not even convicted yet), and also one ready to uphold the law.

        it is strange that when filipinos are imprisoned in other countries, our government, and we the people, speak of mercy. Politicians even parade themselves and eagerly line up to denounce alleged cruelty and lack of human consideration. Remember the Flor Contemplacion case? And we accuse the justice system of other countries as totally heartless.

        And now the shoe is on our feet. And we condemn the judge who is willing to merely facilitate the legal aid of one man who is all alone and abandoned by his very own country in a foreign land.

      • Marx Louis Wang

        So you are suggesting that we should be lenient to foreigners even if they cannot defend themselves?

      • kismaytami

        I almost failed to notice your surname and that of the judge is the same.

      • Marx Louis Wang

        Does your judge know that illegal recruiting is a serious crime? From what I read, Gardiner can go free after he has paid back the money to the victim of illegal recruiting.

      • Timothy Te-Co

        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 report says that the Kiwi has been detained since October 2011. Anong petsa na po ngayon? Ibig pong sabihin e sinadya ni Judge na patagalin ang kaso at hindi dinggin in compliance with the Rules of Court. Napakatagal nang usapin ng amicable settlement iyan. Yung kinakasama nung Kiwi e nakaalis na nga papunta ng ibang bansa, maaring yung pera pa na binigay nung niloko nila ang ginamit. “The law may be hard but that is the law.” Lam ko po, ang dapat gawin ni judge ayon sa Rules of Court e magrekomenda kung sakaling may parusa na labis labis para sa isang pagkakasala o sabihing walang batas na sumasaklaw sa isang maling gawa na kailangang parusahan, pero sa pagmediate nya ng ganyan para pong may mali e.

      • http://twitter.com/judgelelu Lelu Contreras

        Mr. Timothy TE-Co , please read the whole story which I have posted somewhere in this page so you will understand the circumstances surrounding the situation. Thank you.

    • paulo

      I agree. The Supreme Court should axe the judge. She’s acting like the lawyer of the New Zealander who committed a serious crime. Magkano kaya?

      • Antonio P. Contreras

        I will answer your question but you first tell me your real identity. It is easy to cast aspersions on the dignity of one person, and suggest that she was bought? Di ka ba nag-iisip. Wala na ngang pam-piyansa ang Kiwi, kaya nga nasa kulungan, e may pera pa na panuhol sa huwes? Mag-isip isip naman ano?

      • Marx Louis Wang

        Tinulungan pa kamo para lang makalaya. Nag-communicate sa New Zealand embassy sa Manila. Mas priority niya ang foreigner kaysa kapwa pinoy niya.

      • http://twitter.com/judgelelu Lelu Contreras

        It is but unfortunate that the article did not tell the whole story behind the
        case that is why some readers posted negative comments against me.

        Let me just
        clarify that the prosecution agreed to suspend the proceedings to give the
        accused ample time to pay back the money given to him in exchange for the
        promised employment and, upon motion, the Court directed the New Zealand
        embassy to assist him in contacting his relatives and friends back in his
        country. The Court allowed this since the case was still in its
        preliminary/pre-trial stage. Months passed and nothing positive came out from
        the embassy. Then, I received a letter from the jail official bringing to my
        attention the 5-day hunger strike of the accused. There was even a handwritten
        letter from the accused absolving the jail officials from any liability should
        he die as a result of his hunger strike. A judge does not only hand down
        decisions but must also be concerned of the welfare of the parties, including
        the inmates, as, in fact, an executive judge, like me, is required to conduct
        regular jail visitation to monitor the condition of the inmates and the jail
        facilities. I would not want any of my inmates to die, especially from a hunger
        strike. They have rights, too, even when they are detained. What I did was to
        inform the embassy officials about the situation, at least for them to give him
        a ray of hope for him to end his hunger strike. I, too, visited him and told
        him to start eating explaining that I contacted the embassy officials. When I
        learned that he wanted to have some reading materials, I let him borrow my
        pocketbooks, just to keep his mind from depression. I succeeded, but only for
        awhile.

        During the Christmas season, while I was on vacation, I received a text message
        from the jail official informing me that the accused was back to his hunger
        strike because the embassy official called him up telling him that he should
        not depend on the Prime Minister, who he had written appealing for help. It was, then, that I decided to email some
        New Zealand government officials informing them of the situation of their
        countryman. This gave the accused some hope, so he resumed eating. One office
        replied referring me to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which, of course, means
        the embassy in Manila. Knowing that the
        embassy is of no help, I emailed the same letter to the media, both print and broadcast, hoping that someone
        would be interested to run his story and help him pay back the private
        complainant. By the way, during all this
        time, the private complainant was out of the country, while waiting for the
        accused to raise the amount to pay him.
        Well, if nothing came out of my simple humanitarian gestures, then, we
        proceed to trial. But, I am very sure
        that this 66-year old accused would rather end his life than stand trial.

        What I did
        for this particular accused, I will do to other inmates
        similarly situated, regardless of race, sex or creed, especially those
        with health problems.
        One time, during my jail visitation which lasted beyond office hours,
        one inmate had to be rushed to the hospital.
        Under normal circumstances, a court order is needed to bring an inmate
        out of detention. But because of the
        urgent situation, I just accompanied the jail officials in bringing him to the
        hospital so that I need not go back to the office and issue an order. Another instance, an inmate who was released
        from the National Center for Mental Health needed regular medications, which
        were not available, then. I directed the
        jail officials to seek assistance from the DSWD. Meantime, I provided for his one month
        medication from my own pocket while waiting for the processing of the request
        and
        release of the assistance. Another inmate was released because he was
        acquitted, but he had no fare to go back home since he had not been
        visited for quite sometime, I gave him money, again from my own pocket.
        This is not to mention foods I give to the inmates during Christmas. I
        even provided the jail facilities with personally-sewn pillow cases
        which the inmates could use during their detention. I repeat,these
        people have rights even when they are detained and the court is tasked
        to see to it that they are not deprived of them.

    • Marx Louis Wang

      Yes, the judge is promoting similar kind of people. She advocates illegal recruiting. Kapag nahuli ka, amicable settlement is the solution. Kapag di ka nahili, sorry na lang, forget your money. That is Judge Contreras, the idol of Antonio P. Contreras.

      • http://twitter.com/judgelelu Lelu Contreras

        Mr. Amalayar, kismaytami, please read the whole story which I have posted above so you will understand the circumstances surrounding the situation. Thank you.

  • Timothy Te-Co

    Ok naman po Judge, kaya lang parang may something off…kasi you’re supposed to hand down the penalty accordingly…evidently the Kiwi is guilty of illegal recruitment and you should hand down the verdict in accordance to your oath and duty. Pano pa magko-compromise kung nahatulan nyo na po? Either way, magbabayad pa rin sya ng penalty (actual, moral, exemplary) sa biniktima nya at he’ll suffer pa for the consequence of his illegal act. Saka kung di pa man nahahatulan, aren’t you showing your partiality already?

    • Marx Louis Wang

      Tama ka diyan, iyan nga ang iginigiit ko. Ibinalik niya yong pera (sana nga) bale wala na siyang kasalanan (dahil sa fcuking amicable settlement). Ilang taon mong pinaghirapan at inipon ang 100,000 pesos tapos ganun na lang. “O, yan naibalik ko na pera mo! Peace na tayo!” Ganun ba kasimple yun? Kaya tayong mga pinoy laging api.

  • Marx Louis Wang

    Kapag naibalik kay Diwata ang pera niya, papaano naman yung pangloloko na ginawa sa kanya? Porke ba matanda na siya ganun-ganun na lang? Sa perang ginastos ni Diwata kung hindi siya niloko maaaring nabawi na niya ang investment niya. Kaya nilayasan ng pinay na asawa yang si Gardiner, wala naman sigurong kita ang coffee shop nila sa Virac, Catanduanes. Sino ang tatambay sa shop para uminom lang ng coffee. Beer house pa baka sakali.

  • http://twitter.com/judgelelu Lelu Contreras

    It is but unfortunate that the article did not tell the whole story behind the
    case that is why some readers posted negative comments against me.

    Let me just
    clarify that the prosecution agreed to suspend the proceedings to give the
    accused ample time to pay back the money given to him in exchange for the
    promised employment and, upon motion, the Court directed the New Zealand
    embassy to assist him in contacting his relatives and friends back in his
    country. The Court allowed this since the case was still in its
    preliminary/pre-trial stage. Months passed and nothing positive came out from
    the embassy. Then, I received a letter from the jail official bringing to my
    attention the 5-day hunger strike of the accused. There was even a handwritten
    letter from the accused absolving the jail officials from any liability should
    he die as a result of his hunger strike. A judge does not only hand down
    decisions but must also be concerned of the welfare of the parties, including
    the inmates, as, in fact, an executive judge, like me, is required to conduct
    regular jail visitation to monitor the condition of the inmates and the jail
    facilities. I would not want any of my inmates to die, especially from a hunger
    strike. They have rights, too, even when they are detained. What I did was to
    inform the embassy officials about the situation, at least for them to give him
    a ray of hope for him to end his hunger strike. I, too, visited him and told
    him to start eating explaining that I contacted the embassy officials. When I
    learned that he wanted to have some reading materials, I let him borrow my
    pocketbooks, just to keep his mind from depression. I succeeded, but only for
    awhile.

    During the Christmas season, while I was on vacation, I received a text message
    from the jail official informing me that the accused was back to his hunger
    strike because the embassy official called him up telling him that he should
    not depend on the Prime Minister, who he had written appealing for help. It was, then, that I decided to email some
    New Zealand government officials informing them of the situation of their
    countryman. This gave the accused some hope, so he resumed eating. One office
    replied referring me to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which, of course, means
    the embassy in Manila. Knowing that the
    embassy is of no help, I emailed the same letter to the media, both print and broadcast, hoping that someone
    would be interested to run his story and help him pay back the private
    complainant. By the way, during all this
    time, the private complainant was out of the country, while waiting for the
    accused to raise the amount to pay him.
    Well, if nothing came out of my simple humanitarian gestures, then, we
    proceed to trial. But, I am very sure
    that this 66-year old accused would rather end his life than stand trial.

    What I did
    for this particular accused, I will do to other inmates similarly situated, regardless of race, sex or creed, especially those with health problems.
    One time, during my jail visitation which lasted beyond office hours,
    one inmate had to be rushed to the hospital.
    Under normal circumstances, a court order is needed to bring an inmate
    out of detention. But because of the
    urgent situation, I just accompanied the jail officials in bringing him to the
    hospital so that I need not go back to the office and issue an order. Another instance, an inmate who was released
    from the National Center for Mental Health needed regular medications, which
    were not available, then. I directed the
    jail officials to seek assistance from the DSWD. Meantime, I provided for his one month
    medication from my own pocket while waiting for the processing of the request
    and release of the assistance. Another inmate was released because he was acquitted, but he had no fare to go back home since he had not been visited for quite sometime, I gave him money, again from my own pocket. This is not to mention foods I give to the inmates during Christmas. I even provided the jail facilities with personally-sewn pillow cases which the inmates could use during their detention. I repeat,these people have rights even when they are detained and the court is tasked to see to it that they are not deprived of them.

  • speedsquared

    Let this crook rot in jail. This undesirable Kiwi is obviously a fraud. I disagree wwhat this judge is doing stick to the law forget about helping a fraudster. You’re only making it worse. Defend the innocent not a fraudster!!!

  • notmeitsthedog

    I think judges compassion is a good thing in this case. Thumbs up! You did our country proud!

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