Irish man facing prison in Philippines feels ‘abandoned’ by State

Eanna O’Cochlain awaiting drug charge claims Government focused on Halawa case

Irish nurse Eanna O’Cochlain, 57, from Cork, who is facing 12 years prison in the Philippines for a minor cannabis possession charge he denies, is appealing to the Irish public and government to help him.


An Irish man facing 12 years in jail in the Philippines for possession of a tiny amount of cannabis says he feels he has been abandoned by the Irish Government.

Eanna O’Cochlain, a nurse from Cork, was arrested in Laoag International Airport in July 2013 when he was visiting the country with his Filipina wife. Security staff claimed they found about .38 grams of cannabis in his cigarette box.

Mr O’Cochlain (57) says it was planted there in attempt to extort money from him and that he was arrested when he refused to pay. He was later sentenced to 12 years in prison but was released on bail pending appeal.

The appeal court upheld the sentence and he is now taking his case to the supreme court, a process that he believes could take many years.

Mr O’Cochlain is currently in hiding as he awaits his court date as he fears he could be targeted by anti-drug vigilantes who have killed thousands in the country since its president, Rodrigo Duterte, effectively sanctioned the extra-judicial murder of drug dealers.

The nurse said it is “infuriating” to read about the efforts the Government has put into securing the release of Irishman Ibrahim Halawa in Egypt. Mr Halawa was released from a Cairo prison on Thursday night after spending four years in prison.

He said he has sympathy for Mr Halawa but feels the Government has abandoned his case and put all its efforts into a “more fashionable cause”.

This characterisation has been rejected by the Department of Foreign Affairs which stated it has been doing all it can to help Mr O’Cochlain but that it cannot interfere with another country’s legal system.

‘Level of corruption’

“They’re not doing enough to bring me home. I honestly don’t think they understand this country at all. They’re all too comfortable there in Singapore,” he said referring to the nearest full Irish Embassy to the Philippines. “They don’t understand the level of corruption and how things work here.”

Mr O’Cochlain said he wanted Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to “pick up the phone and call Duterte”.

“I think they need to call President Duterte. He gets things done around here,” Mr O’Cochlain said.

“It’s not a simple call because he’s so anti-drugs but at the same time he made a speech here recently supporting medical marijuana so he’s not an irrational lunatic like everyone thinks he is. So I think [the Government] needs to . . . pick up the phone and call him.”

“I’m getting nothing from these people in Ireland,” he added. “They have an attitude towards me of ‘You got yourself into trouble, get yourself out of it.’”

In a letter seen by The Irish Times, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told Mr O’Cochlain he is making extensive efforts on his behalf including lobbying senior members of government in the Philippines to bring the supreme court hearing date forward.

“I’ll be as old as Methuselah before my case is heard. The supreme court is a mess,” Mr O’Cochlain said.

“The only way out is a diplomatic solution. No matter how much the Irish Government try to get out of it.

“I don’t understand these guys; they’re going to end up with an even bigger problem if I end up on a hunger strike. What are they going to do then?”