The story of Mary Jane Veloso is Flor Contemplacion Part II but for the much happier ending: her execution by firing squad for drug trafficking having been held in abeyance by Indonesian President Jokowi Widodo at the eleventh hour. In the case of Contemplacion, which by the way happened twenty years ago, last ditch efforts by volunteer lawyers led by the late human rights lawyer Atty. Romeo T. Capulong failed to save her from the gallows what with Singapore’s unbending justice system and Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy of authoritarianism.
Since the hanging of our kababayan, Contemplacion, one would think the government would have learned its lessons. After all heads rolled – not just embassy officials but the labor and foreign affairs secretaries were forced to tender their resignation – when it became clear that the mother of three from San Pablo, Laguna had been tortured by police to admit to murdering her friend, a fellow Filipino domestic worker, in order to cover up for the culpability of the victim’s Singaporean employer. Subsequently Flor was convicted and sentenced to death, a victim of gross miscarriage of justice, while embassy officials twiddled their thumbs and did close to nothing.
The explosion of public outrage against the Ramos government and sympathy for the doomed Flor and her hapless family was unprecedented. Flor’s wake in her hometown and the funeral cortege that wound through the streets of Manila drew hundreds of thousands with houses along the route dotted with improvised streamers or placards denouncing the government and expressing sympathy for the plight of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Avowals by foreign affairs and labor officials that they did “everything” to try to save her life could not placate the public, many of whom have relatives who have migrated abroad to find better-paying jobs in order to support their families and therefore could easily identify with Flor’s travails and be filled with dread by her tragic ending.
We saw how President Gloria Arroyo handled the Angelo de la Cruz case to avert a potential source of political instability even before she could be sworn into her controversial second term of office. De la Cruz was a truck driver who had been taken by Iraqi rebels fighting against US armed occupation of their country and held hostage till their demand that Philippine soldiers deployed in Iraq as part of the US-led “coalition of the willing” be pulled out. Arroyo agreed to the pull-out in exchange for De la Cruz’s freedom in spite of US pressure (for after all, her political neck was at stake) even as mass actions calling on her government to do precisely that were violently suppressed. (This columnist has a three-inch scar on the scalp courtesy of the police who dispersed a demonstration at Plaza Miranda while she and other leaders tried to negotiate a peaceful and orderly retreat.)
The point was made. Government’s labor export policy, of promoting Filipino brawn and brain as a major dollar-earning commodity for export, should at the very least be accompanied by all the diplomatic, legal, financial and moral support that government can muster to protect our countrymen overseas.
As for the policy itself that dates back to the Marcos martial law era, then Labor Secretary Nieves Confessor quite candidly, if lamely, justified it by saying labor export served as a “safety valve” given the high unemployment rates in the country; otherwise, there would be unmanageable social unrest. She even cited labor export as a vital part of the government’s counterinsurgency program as it dissuaded job-hungry malcontents from joining the New People’s Army!
Two decades have passed and currently more than 800 OFWs are languishing in prison in several countries, with 41 of them on death row. Most are drug trafficking-related, a testimony to how the risks for OFWs have grown in such dangerous and complex ways. Unfortunately, save for cases where the impending execution of a Filipino becomes a national issue with adverse political implications for certain government officials or for the entire government itself, help for the doomed OFW always comes too little and too late. Sometimes, the attempts are dramatic, i.e. special diplomatic missions of high public officials to appeal for clemency, but nonetheless futile, as more vital legal and political measures had not been taken much earlier. In too many instances, the condemned OFWs are unceremoniously executed and bereaved relatives are left only with the task of picking up the remains of their loved ones if by luck these are repatriated.
Did the Aquino government indeed do everything that they could to save the life of Mary Jane Veloso? And with the happy outcome that her execution was eventually stayed, doesn’t that prove irrefutably that President Aquino no less deserves accolades and not brickbats since he personally intervened with President Widodo? For those interested there is a timeline of events regarding Mary Jane’s five-year journey to the brink of death and her close-to-miraculous escape. (Please search #SaveMary Jane TIMELINE OF EVENTS: Let the facts speak for themselves)
In brief, it shows clearly that Mary Jane did not have a lawyer when she was tried and convicted; she was provided an Indonesian student interpreter whose English she couldn’t understand. Upon conviction the Philippine embassy hired an Indonesian law firm that appealed her case. The Indonesian lawyer had already advised Philippine authorities to run after Mary Jane’s recruiter. Proof that she had been a victim of human trafficking and was merely duped into becoming an unwitting drug mule would be crucial in proving her innocence. But the Philippine authorities did not take that critical step until days before her scheduled execution.
Meanwhile the parents, who had initially been threatened into silence by Mary Jane’s recruiter (they were told that the drug syndicate was powerful and that it would go after them if they approached the mass media or government officials and that the syndicate would get Mary Jane off the hook) started knocking on the doors of the DFA and PDEA when they learned she was on death row but their appeals received only scant and diffident attention.
It was only when sympathetic media persons alerted Migrante International of Mary Jane’s plight and connected them with the family did the campaign to save Mary Jane begin in earnest starting with heroic efforts to draw government and media attention on her case. Pro bono lawyers were mobilized who immediately got in touch with their Indonesian counterparts. Indonesian migrant advocates and human rights activists were alerted and also took action including gaining an audience with the Indonesian president himself. OFW communities the world over and their allies among international social movements also sounded the appeal to save Mary Jane’s life.
In short, the Aquino government took notice and went into high gear for Mary Jane only when it loomed as a possible public relations disaster not just domestically but internationally. It is important to get it straight that government is in fact one of the main reasons OFWs find themselves in their dire predicaments even if it is true that they “voluntarily” sought to work abroad. To obscure or muddle this would undermine any real effort to remedy the situation of our OFWs on the short and long term. #
Published in Business World
4 May 2015
Panayam ng Kodao Productions kay Cristina Palabay pangkalahatang kalihim ng Karapatan hinggil sa pansamantalang pagtigil ng execution ng pamahalaang Indonesia kay Mary Jane Veloso.
Quezon City, Philippines
April 29, 2015
Nagsindi at nagtirik ng kandila ang iba’t ibang grupo sa iba’t ibang lugar sa Kamaynilaan noong Lunes bilang simbolo ng protesta sa nakatakdang pagbitay kay Mary Jane Veloso, Overseas Filipino Worker na biktima ng illegal drug syndicate sa bansang Indonesia.
Nananawagan din ang iba’t ibang grupo sa mga mamamayang Pilipino na huwag palagpasin ang kapabayaan ng gubyerno sa kaso ng mga OFW.
Sa kanyang limang taon bilang Presidente halos ibugaw umano ni Noynoy Aquino ang mga Pilipino palabas ng bansa. Mula 4,500 na Pilipinong lumalabas ng bansa noong umupo si Aquino sa Palasyo, 6,092 na ang migranteng manggagawa ang lumilipad araw-araw. Umaabot na rin sa 12 hanggang13 milyong Pilipino ang nasa ibayong dagat upang makipagsapalaran. Katumbas ito ng 30 porsyento ng lakas-paggawa ng Pilipinas.
St. Peter Parish Church
Coomonwealth Avenue, Quezon City
April 27, 2015
The organization that led the worldwide campaign to save the life of Mary Jane Veloso explains how the Filipina on death row got a last minute reprieve from the Indonesian government last night.
Veloso was the only one spared in Indonesia’s mass execution of one local and eight foreigners convicted of drug possession and trafficking. The executions happened at around midnight at a prison island in Indonesia.
In this video, Migrante International secretary general Sol Pillas gives credit to Veloso’s private Filipino lawyers, Indonesian attorneys, the international migrant community, the Filipino people and even boxing great Manny Pacquiao for the reprieve.
April 29, 2015
Militant groups led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) trooped to the Indonesian embassy in the Philippines and kept vigil to save the life of Mary Jane Veloso wrongly convicted and sentenced to death on drug charges. The execution was stayed at the last minute thanks to the support of migrant workers and peoples from at least 120 countries. Migrante International and the Philippines Chapter of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS-Phils) were among those who initiated calls for the campaign.
Makati City, Philippines
April 28, 2015
Mary Jane Veloso is a 30-year-old Filipina mother-of-two sentenced to death by the Indonesian Supreme Court in April 2010 for drug trafficking.
Veloso’s case was submitted for judicial review but her appeal was rejected by the Indonesian Supreme Court last March 26, 2014. News reports state that Indonesia is preparing to transfer Veloso from the city of Yogyakarta to the maximum security prison in Nusakambangan Island of Central Java to await execution by firing squad.
Veloso was a domestic worker in Dubai from 2009 to 2010. She left Dubai and came back to the Philippines after her employer attempted to rape her. On April 22, 2010, she was illegally recruited by her kinakapatid (daughter of her godfather) to work as a domestic worker in Malaysia. When she arrived in Kuala Lumpur, the same person told her that the job was not available anymore and that she would instead be transferred to Indonesia. It was there that she found out that she was tricked into carrying luggage containing 2.6 kilos of heroin.
The Indonesian government plans to execute 10 convicted foreign drug traffickers, including Veloso, all at once. Their cases have drawn international flak for Indonesian Pres. Joko Widodo after he rejected pleas by the United Nations and various governments for their clemency.
UN Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns on extrajudicial executions had also appealed to Wododo to stop the executions on the basis that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported information that suggests that Veloso and her 14 other fellow accused were convicted after unfair trials. The same report attested that all of them did not receive sufficient legal services or the right to translators, and had no legal representation at all stages of their trials.
Upon her arrest at the Jogjakarta airport, Veloso was not provided proper legal assistance. She was only provided a student translator during the course of her trial. She did not understand any of the proceedings.
Veloso’s case is yet another case of the Philippine government doing a little, too late. She was arrested in 2010 and was not assigned a lawyer until the last minute. Had it not been for the international criticism that accompanied her fellow foreign inmates’ cases, it can be argued that the Philippine government would have once again opted to keep her case hush to evade public censure. Such had been the Philippine government’s tact, it had so far failed to show transparency or accountability for failing to save the lives of Filipinos on death row.
Should Veloso’s execution push through, she would be the eighth Filipino executed under the present leadership of Benigno Aquino III, the most number of executions of Filipinos on death row under one regime since the Philippine labor export policy was implemented in the 1970s.
Veloso was a victim of large-scale international drug syndicates, of circumstance and of government neglect. The series of unjust executions of Filipinos on death row should be put to a stop.
Philippine Superstar Nora Aunor joins Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) led by Migrante International in commemorating the 20th death anniversary of Flor Contemplacion and calling for Pres. Benigno Aquino’s resignation. With Ms. Aunor is Russel, daughter of Flor. Among the relatives of OFWs are Rodolfo Malinaw whose wife Rochelle Mahusay died in Jeddah last July, Marife Batungbacal whose husband Atlas is among those currently stranded in Saudi Arabia, and Noela Garcia saved by Migrante from detention in Riyadh. Affiliates of the Philippines Chapter of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) joined the march and rally in Mendiola, Manila, March 17, 2015. Song “Kahit Konting Awa” composed by Vehnee Saturno and rendered by Nora Aunor for the movie “The Flor Contemplacion Story”.
Participants in yesterday’s planned prayer and human chain activity to call for justice and accountability on the occasion of the 29th anniversary of the first People Power uprising vented their ire on police officers who blocked their path and caused metro-wide gridlocks. Instead of sustaining the people’s solidarity in light of the Mamasapano debacle that butchered 44 of their colleagues, the police’s duplicity wasted the rare goodwill heaped on them by the people, the participants said.
Church leaders revealed in their speeches the excuses offered by police commanders who previously agreed to plans laid out by event organizers. These were greeted by jeers and hoots by the event participants.
A human chain was nevertheless held in the late afternoon when all efforts for the police to remove their blockade failed. It stretched from the foot of the EDSA-Santolan flyover all the way to EDSA-New York.