‘Kapit sa patalim’
In contrast to other Filipino families whose members are in peril—families of OFWs in distress, kidnapped workers, or those in prison and facing trial—the family of the unnamed Filipino woman and her male first cousin have chosen to keep quiet and have avoided most media. The woman was recently executed by Chinese authorities on drug trafficking charges while her cousin has received a deferred sentence. But instead of tearful interviews, the public has at best heard only second-hand reports.
Even the family’s neighbors, approached by an Inquirer reporter in their own neighborhood, chose to be discreet, saying that, beyond sharing the chocolates brought home by the woman as pasalubong (homecoming gifts), her survivors kept their own counsel and rarely mingled with them.
Of course, we can understand the family’s silence. There is little to be proud of in their daughter’s case, and the fact that it involved drug trafficking took away much of the sympathy factor. And it isn’t as if she was a naïve novice traveler supposedly entrapped and lured by a Nigerian drug ring into bringing heroin into China. She was allegedly on her 18th trip to China since being recruited in 2007, earning between $3,000 and $4,000 each trip, a factor which surely played a huge role in her risk-taking.
Families of other drug mules have used the excuse of “poverty” to explain away the crime. But there are millions of Filipinos living below the poverty line and they have not had the opportunity or inclination to pack heroin in their luggage and brave the scrutiny of the Chinese. Any traveler to China and many other countries knows—as stated in travel documents—that drug trafficking is punishable by death. Sure brings an entirely new spin on “kapit sa patalim,” or clinging to a knife’s edge, meaning willingness to risk death or injury despite knowing the dangers.
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Overseas workers’ groups and activist organizations lost no time denouncing the government’s supposed inaction and indifference to the executed drug mule’s case.
But as the Department of Foreign Affairs explained, the moment it heard about her arrest, it provided a lawyer for her and followed up the investigation and trial. Last week, it expedited the visit of the woman’s mother and son to the prison where the woman was held.
And what more could our top officials do?
P-Noy wrote a letter of appeal, in addition to verbal pleas for “clemency” for the woman. Vice President Jojo Binay was all set to travel to China to present the President’s letter to Chinese officials until he was advised that the timing for the trip would be unfortunate.
How much lower should our officials bow and scrape to save the life of someone who thought nothing of endangering her life to earn tremendous profits? What else do our officials have to do just to placate public opinion and prove their concern for a compatriot? And when will we stop subjecting national dignity to any more humiliation when our own people think nothing of staking everything for a quick buck?
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There are exceptions, of course. And every Filipino abroad—with papers or without—deserves assistance and support when he or she runs afoul of lascivious employers, criminal syndicates, even local authorities.
And let’s add to the list smarmy Filipino representatives, paid by our government to assist our country folk, who use their positions to exploit oppressed workers, including those who have fled their employers and are in desperate straits. These government employees are to me the lowest of the low, exploiting the desperation and need of our “modern heroes” to satisfy their own base desires, including that of making a profit off the workers.
It’s not enough for the DFA and the Department of Labor and Employment, especially its agencies charged with managing labor export, to simply recall the erring officials and subject them to interrogation and investigation. If found guilty, they should be treated and punished as criminals, deserving the full panoply of penalties, including jail time.
Perhaps our officials should stop bending over backward to save the necks of those who have been found guilty by the courts of serious crimes—that is, beyond the basic duty to provide legal counsel and support. Instead, all that attention, time and money should be spent helping Filipinos who have been victimized in foreign countries without proper counsel or even knowing their rights. And we can start by recalling accused Filipino officials and punishing them after they have been found guilty.
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Still, the basic warning of the DFA has to be heeded. Those tempted by so-called “easy money” to traffic in drugs should be made aware that doing so is punishable by death and jail time.
As the DFA spokesperson, Ambassador Raul Hernandez, declared: “Drug trafficking is a criminal act in the Philippines and all over the world. The life of every Filipino is valuable and we pray that this is the last time that a tragedy like this befalls any of our countrymen.”
If the fate of our unnamed kababayan—along with three others executed in China in 2011—is not enough of a lesson, then perhaps the collective shrug of a disgusted Filipino public the next time another Pinoy faces death due to drug charges would be enough of a deterrent.
Then again, our government should itself show a renewed resolve to end the illicit drug trade once and for all. As radio commentators point out, while Pinoy drug traffickers are put to death in China, in the Philippines Chinese drug lords and manufacturers are arrested and then somehow are allowed to go scot-free.
Maybe that’s why Filipino travelers themselves don’t take warnings against drug trafficking all that seriously.