By Laura Lynott
A nurse facing 14 years imprisonment in a Filipino prison on a cannabis possession charge he insists he’s innocent of – has told how his mother learnt of his arrest after reading a newspaper article from her deathbed.
Eanna O’Cochlain, 56, from Cork, is stranded in the Philippines as a bloody war on drugs rages, with state vetoed vigilantes and police slaying 3,500 people involved in the drugs trade.
The former Harley Street nurse was arrested in Laoag International Airport in July 2013, as he was about to board a plane with his Filipino wife Jho, after visiting the country to arrange her deceased father’s estate.
Eanna insists he is innocent of carrying 0.38 grams of marijuana in two joints through airport security – and his family tried to shield elderly Josephine from the truth before her death – but to no avail.
“We tried to keep what was happening to me from my mother – but when she was in hospital she saw a photo of me in the newspaper and read what had happened,” said Eanna.
“I’m convinced she died of a broken heart and that if I’d been there to care for her, she’d have lived longer.”
Four months after he was arrested, Eanna was convicted of possession of marijuana. He launched an appeal, which he lost at the end of August and now he intends to launch another at the highest court in the Philippines, the Supreme Court.
In a tragic twist to the dire circumstances he found himself in, Eanna, who’s lived in Stratford, East London, for almost two decades, was made to suffer the loss of half his family and his best friend, who also died in 2014 – and he was unable to attend any of the four funerals because Filipino authorities seized his Irish passport.
Josephine, 94, passed away after learning the disturbing truth of her son’s situation, and his brother, Colm died after suffering cancer, while his beloved sister, Deirdre passed away. All died in 2014.
The nurse wept as he recalled the final phone call to his mother three months before her death and the losses he has suffered while fighting for his liberty.
Heartbreakingly, Josephine was unable to hear Eanna over the long-distance phone line but managed to tell him: “I love you Eanna. Can you hear me?” before she died.
Josephine passed away fearing for her son’s life after accidentally finding out his fate in a local newspaper read from her nursing home bed.
“She loved to read newspapers and she read them every day,” Eanna said. “Someone gave her a paper one day and unfortunately she read the story. She was in shock.
“Can you imagine at 94 and I was her favourite son – She always expected me to be there at the end.
“I’d made a promise to care for her at the end and she kept asking nursing staff ‘When is Eanna coming?’”
The father-of-one’s nightmare began in 2013 as he attempted to leave the country to return to London.
Manila security staff claimed they caught Eanna red handed with two small sticks of marijuana in a cigarette packet, a claim he strenuously denies.
Eanna has grown increasingly terrified as vigilantes and police sanctioned by President Rodrigo Duterte target anyone connected with the drugs trade. Around 3,500 people have been executed in just four months.
Eanna claims when he entered the airport on the evening of his arrest he had a “last cigarette” before going through security. He alleges that he was searched by airport staff, with one man “searching my camera bag,” who then announced he had found marijuana seeds.
“I told him it was dirt from the beach and no way was it marijuana seeds. My wife was freaking out and crowds were gathering,” Eanna said.
“He ordered me to be searched again.” This is when the nurse claims a security staff member took his cigarette box and passed it to a customs worker who “broke” a hand-rolled cigarette in half and “claimed it was proof it was marijuana. He claimed he saw me smoking marijuana in the carpark (of the airport) and knew it was marijuana because no smoke came from my mouth.”
Eanna was taken to the police station opposite the airport where he refused to sign papers saying he had read his rights, until he saw a solicitor.
“I was treated like an animal. My wife was distraught. The flight was to leave in 10 minutes and I ordered her to catch it because our daughter, Caoibhe, was alone in London.”
He claimed Filipino police did not “bag” the cigarettes they claimed were marijuana for evidence. “They left them sitting in a tray,” he said.
“A camera crew arrived…They filmed me as well as the sticks (roll-ups)…It was only later that next day, I saw my cigarettes had been switched for one fat three paper joint and another made into a skinny pencil (roll up) like a joint.” He claimed from there on officials attempted to extort money from hi in return for his freedom.
The former Christian Brothers College, Cork, student, said he hadn’t even been able to talk to his mother, to say how he too loved her, before she passed away with only a nurse by her side.
“I never got to say goodbye, to say I love you. It was very difficult because of where I was in 2014 when she died and she was almost deaf towards the end,” said Eanna.
“You can imagine a call from a remote beach, where I was hiding at the time, wouldn’t work.
“I spoke to mum three months before she died but she couldn’t understand with the echo and time delay.
“She kept saying to the nurse ‘I can’t hear him,’ but she did say one very important thing. She told me she loved me and that she hoped I could hear her. That was very difficult.
“It brings back my own humanity to remember it. It’s barbaric. This was one year and everyone I loved seemed to be dying.
“The night I found out my mother had died, I lost control. I freaked out. I broke the bone in my hand from punching a door in anger.
“I ended up surrounded by eight huge Filipinos – I was so enraged with hate. I was trapped and I’d lost those I loved and couldn’t be there with them.
“I’m innocent and condemned to this hell.”
Eanna, who also worked in Iraq during the first Gulf war, said he’s been “forsaken” by the Irish Government and is adamant he was “set up,” claiming attempts were made to extort money from him..
The United Nations, western governments and human rights groups are alarmed at the sanctioned mass killings in the Philippines.
Minister Flanagan said the department was concerned for the well-being and health of an Irish citizen.
But Eanna has accused the Irish state of “leaving me to die.” “I have been to hell and back and I am an innocent man. The Irish Government has condemned me by leaving me here as death squads search for anyone involved in drugs.
“I’m like a sitting duck and I may not survive this.
“I have lost so much while I’ve been stuck here for three years. I lost my mother, my brother, my sister and my best friend.
“Imagine being an innocent Irish citizen in another country and you can’t even say goodbye to mother, your loved ones, one last time. I’m in a living nightmare every day.
“My mother was 94 and she had multiple health problems but the plan was I’d look after her in final days, that she’d never set foot in a nursing home.
“That was the promise I made to her,” Eanna said, his voice breaking.
“But the woman I loved so much, who did everything for me as a child and young man, fell between the gaps.
“She ended up bouncing in and out of hospital and ended up in a nursing home. She died with just a nurse there by her side. That breaks my heart.
“She was compos mentis until the last couple of weeks and everyday she was asking for me.
“I just want to come home.”
IF YOU FEEL THAT EANNA IS NOT BEING HELPED ENOUGH BY THE DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS SEND MINISTER CHARLIE FLANAGAN’S OFFICE AN EMAIL HERE CALLING FOR MORE ACTION TO BRING EANNA HOME AND TWEET AND FACEBOOK THE HASHTAG #BRINGEANNAHOME