For more than a decade Tang Lung-wai, a Hongkonger serving a 40-year jail term in the Philippines for drug possession, was shunned by his family, who were shocked and angered by the thought he would commit such a crime.
His police officer father, stricken with disbelief, suffered from emotional problems and depression, and eventually committed suicide in a police station.
The poignant beginnings of Tang Lung-wai’s ordeal were revealed by his older brother, Tang Lung-piu, on a radio programme on Thursday morning, just a day after he learned that crucial immigration records that could finally prove his brother’s innocence had been turned over to his lawyer.
“I blamed my brother for that [their father’s death] and started to hate him,” Tang Lung-piu said.
“We had not spoken a single word to each other for more than 10 years. It was only when I found out about four or five years ago that he was framed that I started communicating with him again.”
The relationship was so torn after their father’s death, Tang Lung-piu stopped transferring money to his brother for food and amenities, and later cut off all contact with his jailed sibling.
Looking back, I was very cruel
Tang Lung-piu, brother of jailed Tang Lung-wai
“I even changed my phone number,” he said. “Looking back, I was very cruel. To think how he had suffered for almost a decade … I realise it was very difficult for him. I’m a bit upset with myself.”
Tang Lung-wai, 47, was arrested about a month after arriving in the Philippines in June 2000, and has been languishing behind bars for 18 years. It took 11 years for his case to make it through the legal system. He was eventually found guilty of possession of crystal meth, more commonly known as Ice.
During his trial, the court was told Manila police had monitored his movements from June 1 to 12, 2000. He was convicted in 2011.
But immigration records the Philippine authorities gave to the Chinese embassy in Manila on Tuesday – and which were passed to Tang Lung-wai’s Philippine lawyer, Sheilla San Diego, on Wednesday – showed the convicted man had only entered the Philippines on June 19.
Tang Lung-wai’s ordeal took a surprising twist this week when Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor wrote to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte asking for “compassionate consideration” in expediting a request to the Philippine Bureau of Immigration, so Tang Lung-wai could receive a “fair and just trial”.
The authorities gave the embassy the records the next day.
A legal team in the Philippines is helping the jailed Hongkonger with his final appeal.
Tang Lung-wai, whom RTHK reached out to on the same programme, thanked those who had been helping him, including the Hong Kong and central governments.
However, he said the appeal fight could last up to a year or more.
“Right now, it depends on how the Philippine [judiciary] responds,” he said.
This put a damper on the brother’s hopes of reuniting his jailed sibling with the family in Hong Kong before the Mid-Autumn Festival.
“Maybe Christmas then,” Tang Lung-piu said.
On Thursday, lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun, who is also a lawyer and has been helping Tang Lung-wai for years, said they were “cautiously optimistic” about his chances.
“This is a critical piece of evidence. But of course, once it reaches the courts, it depends on their view,” Tse said.
“At least in a common law system that processes cases with strict judicial rigour, which I am accustomed to, this would be a very useful piece of information that could collapse the prosecution’s arguments.”