I’ve never heard of the name Mary Jane Veloso until a week before her scheduled execution on the 28th of April 2015. When her name started trending on social media just days before she was supposed to be killed by firing squad, I still had no idea what her ordeal was about. I have to admit that when I finally read that she was convicted of illegal drug smuggling in Indonesia, I shook my head in disbelief at how people were frantically asking Indonesia for a reprieve only on her final hours.
Yes, I was a bit annoyed that people were only making a fuss about her case when it appeared little to none could be done about it. This seems to happen for a lot of overseas contract workers on death row. In Veloso’s case, it turns out, I was wrong. The last minute appeal was worth it. The people who frantically worked on saving Mary Jane were rewarded with a temporary reprieve by the Indonesian government after her illegal recruiter surrendered to Philippine National Police.
I blame my lack of knowledge about Veloso’s plight on Philippine mainstream media. They did not write about her case enough to raise awareness. It’s no surprise considering mainstream media hardly feature the plight of ordinary citizens in their publications. But they do feature a lot of information about the lives of celebrities like Kris Aquino. In fact, just a few days before I read about Mary Jane, people were sharing the article “Why Kris asked for her mom’s engagement ring–the family heirloom.” I mean, who cares about that kind of crap? I don’t know why I read it. I didn’t really feel good after reading it. If only there was a way to unread senseless items like that.
There seems to be less investigative journalists who try to uncover anomalies in both the private and public sectors nowadays. It seems they have more people working on writing about flaky issues like a celebrity’s jewellery. Maybe journalists are scared for their lives nowadays with the number of journalists being assassinated and so they would rather stay away from controversial issues. It says a lot about Filipino patriotism though. It means there are fewer journalists who are willing to risk his or her life to exposing the truth.
Had more Filipinos known about Veloso’s case years ago through mainstream media, more people could have helped her pressure the government to clear her name. Unfortunately for Veloso, there was no “investigative journalist” who was interested in writing about her five-year ordeal in an Indonesian jail.
Yes, the Department of Justice is finally doing its job to prosecute Veloso’s former friend and recruiter, Ma. Cristina Sergio but one can be forgiven for thinking their only motivation is due to public scrutiny. It also seems that the Department of Justice (DOJ) only does its job when ordered by President Benigno Simeon (BS) Aquino. In 2010, the same year Veloso was arrested, the DOJ was very, very busy coming up with charges to arrest former President Gloria Arroyo and prosecute former Chief Justice Renato Corona. In other words, the DOJ had other priorities that were more important to BS Aquino back in 2010.
Mary Jane Veloso’s dilemma is really complicated. It became even worse when her mother Celia Veloso released a tirade against BS Aquino as soon as she got back from Indonesia. While it didn’t help her daughter’s case at all, it’s hard to judge a mother who just went through an emotional roller-coaster. The public euphoria in support of her daughter soon turned into public condemnation after her public outburst. This was partly the fault of some members of mainstream media who were quick to paint BS Aquino as the hero of the day. It made the Velosos seem ungrateful. It didn’t help that the public only found out about her recently, again due to lack of media coverage.
It’s not hard to analyze why the public quickly turned against the Velosos though. Some were even wishing them all to die. Aside from the lack of information about her case, the majority of the public did not really sympathize with Mary Jane Veloso anyway because she was a convicted drug smuggler. Before she was given temporary reprieve, there were a lot of Filipinos who expressed their anger towards her. They thought she actually deserved the death penalty. They were disgusted that she was helping in the proliferation of illegal drugs on the streets – a substance that has wrought havoc in societies all over the world. Some people thought her greed was to blame for her situation. Guilty or not, people also thought that Indonesian laws should be respected.
When news of the surrender of Sergio surfaced, Veloso gained more supporters. They suddenly thought there could be truth to her claim that she had no knowledge that there was 2.6 kilograms of heroin in the suitcase given to her by a certain “Ike” who she met in Malaysia before heading to Indonesia. Hence, the hashtag #MaryJaneVeloso became among the highest trending topics on Twitter hours before her execution.
Netizens were lambasting BS Aquino for not doing enough to save her. This could explain why BS Aquino was compelled to talk to Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the ASEAN summit. There’s even an account that claims Widodo couldn’t be bothered to stop walking when BS Aquino tried to talk to him about Veloso. In short, it was only a brief encounter between the two heads of states. It was actually too convenient for BS Aquino that it’s quite ridiculous how his supporters were equating his move as the result of his “hard work”.
Indeed, BS Aquino’s supporters have exaggerated BS Aquino’s role to give him all the credit for “saving” Veloso. They keep ignoring the fact that what finally convinced Widodo were Sergio’s surrender and Migrant Care Indonesia head Anis Hidayah’s plea to consider Veloso’s case. They also ignore the efforts exerted by Filipino migrants’ group Migrante International and its networks, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) who have been helping the Velosos.
BS Aquino’s supporters should avoid trumpeting the President’s role or else they could jeopardize Veloso’s case and that of other Filipinos in death row. She could still face the firing squad. I’m sure Indonesia is also trying to avoid a precedent for other countries to use Veloso’s case to help their citizens in death row, which is why we will never hear President Widodo confirm that his decisions was influenced by President BS Aquino’s appeals. The other downside to highlighting the President’s role is that, the other OFWs on death row – all 79 of them, will be expecting him to do the same thing for them. Will BS Aquino still have the motivation to help them after Veloso’s case? Some say that while BS Aquino defended himself by saying he did not create their problem, his motivation to help the Velosos could have something to do with the fact that Mary Jane’s father was cane-cutter at Hacienda Luisita. That’s bad news for the other OFWs on death row.
Mainstream media is to blame for a lot of the conflicts and divisions in Philippine society. Some academics have even pointed out that the Philippine Daily Inquirer have lost their credibility after committing another gaffe – a headline announcing the death of Mary Jane Veloso. The media giant did not even apologize for the mistake. It is becoming obvious to a lot of people that the Inquirer has very little journalistic integrity. They seem partial to BS Aquino. The Philippines will not progress if members of major media organizations like the Inquirer act as propaganda tool for those in power. Ordinay folks like the Velosos will not win against government incompetence and abuse.
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