Supporters of convicted drug smuggler Mary Jane Veloso heaved a sigh of relief after Indonesia suspended the execution of the Filipina in death row by firing squad on the 29th April 2015. The decision to postpone her execution came not necessarily after Philippine President Benigno Simeon (BS) Aquino spoke to Indonesian President Joko Widodo as some would say, but after Widodo met director of Migrant Care Indonesia Anis Hidayah hours before her scheduled execution.
According to an ABS-CBN News report, Hidayah pleaded with Widodo to try and understand that there are also Indonesian migrant workers in death row in other parts of the world who were convicted under similar circumstances to Filipina OFW Veloso.
Hidayah said she discussed the details of the case and appealed to the Indonesian president to spare the Filipina’s life.
“We are also talking about the issue of Mary Jane. We talked to him that actually Mary Jane is the victim of human trafficking that also happened with many Indonesia migrant workers abroad also facing death penalty,” she said.
Hidayah said they wanted to make sure Widodo was informed about the vulnerability of migrant workers, particularly from the Philippines and Indonesia, to drug smuggling rings.
The surrender of Veloso’s former friend and illegal recruiter Maria Kristina Sergio to Philippine authorities also helped persuade Widodo to grant a delay of Veloso’s execution. There are now talks that Veloso could serve as a witness against her recruiter and possibly help catch the real drug traffickers.
Widodo however emphasized that it is a postponement of the execution only and not an annulment. This means that Veloso’s execution could still push through if she gets implicated once again during the prosecution of her illegal recruiter Sergio. Veloso has always maintained that she had no knowledge of the presence of drugs in the suitcase given to her by a certain “Ike” – a Malaysian based African who served as Sergio and her partner’s contact from Malaysia.
It is therefore too early for Veloso and her supporters to start celebrating. It is also a bit silly for BS Aquino and his supporters to start taking the credit for Veloso’s temporary reprieve. If ever, we should give credit to the timing of the ASEAN summit prior to Veloso’s execution.
The gathering of ASEAN leaders gave BS Aquino an opportunity to speak face to face with President Widodo. Of course, the two leaders talking in person made a difference – it put a little pressure on Widodo. The outcome would not have been the same had BS Aquino communicated only via telephone or through representatives in the Department of Foreign Affairs. As they say, timing is everything.
It is doubtful that BS Aquino would have made a special trip to Indonesia just to speak to Widodo in person regarding Veloso had they not met at the ASEAN summit. However, some of the President’s supporters were quick to give the credit to BS Aquino. Presidential sister and actress Kris Aquino rushed to express her praise for her brother on social networking site Instagram:
I AM PROUD of my brother. I AM PROUD OF MY PRESIDENT.
Never mind that Veloso has been languishing in jail for five years without assistance from the Philippine government. During her trial, Veloso did not even have a lawyer to defend her. This was what pro-OFW group Migrante International had to say about Philippine government neglect:
“Like others before her, she was not provided proper legal assistance and counsel by the Philippine government until the last minute,” the group said in an open letter to Indonesian President Joko Widodo asking him to spare Veloso.
“The Philippine government has thus far failed to show transparency and accountability for failing to save the lives of Filipinos on death row,” it added.
The question remains: why did it take five years for the Philippine government to help Veloso? It seems BS Aquino only classified Veloso’s case as “urgent” when members of the public were already blaming him. Five years ago, the Department of Justice could have arrested and filed charges against Veloso’s illegal recruiter but didn’t. She languished in jail for years while BS Aquino remained oblivious of her legal woes until the last few days.
For BS Aquino to qualify for credit grabbing, he needs to ask himself: Would he accept the blame had Veloso’s execution gone ahead? It is doubtful considering he has never been known to take accountability for his own shortfalls. He would probably blame someone instead.
The real credit should go to Veloso’s supporters who worked tirelessly to ask the Philippine government for assistance. They should be proud of their work considering Veloso is the only convict who was spared from the mass execution scheduled on that day. The death threats received by illegal recruiter Sergio likewise compelled her to surrender to police.
It would be a real tragedy if it turns out that Veloso is actually innocent of her crimes. The postponement of her execution is not a guarantee she will be freed from jail. She could still serve a long sentence. If there is any truth to the stories about how appalling prison conditions are in countries like Indonesia, then remaining in jail is like a living hell.
The other tragedy in this situation is if the Filipino public who are currently in a state of emotional high, suddenly became gullible again to BS Aquino’s PR stunt. While the President’s move has certainly yielded positive results, he is only compelled to do something when there is already a public outcry – something that will not happen when the public is beholden to him. It’s sort of a Catch-22.
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