Japan: The Death of Maricris Sioson

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1 Dec 1993

The case of Maricris Sioson—her life, her death, and the inaction of the Japanese government despite medical evidence of homicide - is a tragic illustration of the vulnerability of the tens of thousands of Filipino women working in Japan's entertainment industry.

Maricris SiosonIn April 1991 Maricris Sioson, a 22-year-old dancer from the Philippines, arrived in Japan to work as an entertainer. Previously unemployed, after studying modern dance for three months at a local dance school, Maricris had managed to obtain a "yellow card," the government-issued permit to work overseas as an entertainer, and signed a contract with a Japanese employment agency for $1500/month to work as a dancer in Japan. Just a few months after her arrival in Japan, on September 7, 1991 Maricris Sioson was admitted to Hanawa Welfare Hospital in Fukushima. She died one week later, and her death certificate listed hepatitis as the cause of death. Maricris Sioson's body was flown back to the Philippines on September 25, 1991, along with her personal belongings and $5500, her wages for three months and ten days, which had been delivered to the Philippines Embassy by her Japanese employer Mr. Keizo Sato, owner of the Faces Club in Fukushima, Japan.

When the family of Maricris Sioson opened her coffin for the funeral, they found that her body had been beaten and stabbed. They requested the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct an autopsy, which was performed in Manila on October 4, 1991 by Dr. Floresto P. Arizala. The autopsy findings included a subdural hemorrhage in the cerebral cortex, presumably caused by blows to the head, and two stab wounds, one in the thigh indicating that a double-edged blade had been twisted upward, downward and diagonally in the flesh, and one in the genital area indicating that a blade had been inserted vertically. Dr. Arizala found evidence of hepatitis in early stages, but identified the cause of Maricris Sioson's death as traumatic head injuries, and not hepatitis as claimed on her Japanese death certificate.

A mission was dispatched to Japan by Philippines President Corazon Aquino to investigate Maricris Sioson's death. Both Dr. Arizala, who had performed the autopsy, and Employment Secretary Ruben Torres participated in this mission but were unable to clarify the circumstances of Sioson's death in their discussions with Japanese doctors and officials. The BATIS Center for Women, a human rights group based in Manila working for the protection of Filipino overseas workers, requested the Department of Justice to conduct an official inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Maricris Sioson's death. The Department of Justice responded that it was unable to conduct an official inquiry because the Japanese government would not allow investigation by foreigners of crimes committed in Japan. Relatives of Maricris Sioson have continued to seek information as to the circumstances of her death, but they have been denied access to full medical records and police documents. The Japanese police conducted a quick probe into the case of Maricris Sioson and then closed the investigation, considering her death to have been caused naturally by illness, despite the autopsy findings.

In September 1993, Equality Now asked Dr. Fred B. Jordan, the Chief Medical Examiner of the State of Oklahoma in the United States, to review the autopsy report and other available medical records relating to the death of Maricris Sioson. Dr. Jordan concurred with Dr. Arizala's autopsy finding that the immediate cause of Maricris Sioson's death was head trauma. Dr. Jordan further concluded that the head trauma was likely to have been caused by one or more blows to the head with a blunt object, suggesting that the death should be classified as a homicide.

The story of Maricris Sioson is not unique. In 1991, the year of Maricris Sioson's death, the Labor Ministry of the Philippines estimated that 80,000 Filipinos went to work in Japan. Ninety-five percent (95%) were women, and the vast majority were employed as entertainers. These entertainers commonly find their passports confiscated and their salaries withheld until the end of their contracts, leaving them at the mercy of their Japanese employers. There is only one shelter in Tokyo for migrant women workers who suffer abuse, the HELP Asian Women's Shelter. According to Mizuho Matsuda, director of HELP, women who come to Japan to work are often forced by circumstances into prostitution. It has been alleged that the Yakuza, an organized crime network in Japan, is heavily involved in the trafficking of women for the sex and entertainment industry in Japan. At Senate hearings held in the Philippines after Maricris Sioson's death, Philippines embassy officials testified that 33 Filipino workers had already died in Japan that year and that twelve of these deaths took place under "suspicious circumstances."

What You Can Do: 

Please bring this case to the attention of the media and the general public. Contact the following Japanese authorities, and the Japanese embassy in your country, expressing your concern over the death of Maricris Sioson and the failure of the Japanese government to investigate the clear evidence that she died of unnatural causes. Call for an investigation of Maricris Sioson's death, and prosecution of those responsible, to demonstrate the commitment of the Japanese government to uphold the rule of law and ensure that justice is done for Maricris Sioson and her family. Letters and petitions should be addressed to the following authorities:

Mr. Ryutaro Hashimoto
Prime Minister
1-6-1 Nagata-cho
Tokyo, Japan

Mr. Eiichi Moriyama
Chief Prosecutor
Fukushima Local Prosecutors Office
(Chiho kensatuscho)
17 Kitsunezuka
960 Fukushima, Japan

Mr. Yukihiko Ikeda
Minister of Foreign Affairs
2-2-1 Kasumigaseki
Tokyo, Japan

Mr. Takaji Kunimatsu
Commissioner General
The National Police Agency
2-1-2 Kasumigaseki
Tokyo, Japan