MY TENSES are getting mixed up. Present or past? Are the convicts still waiting to die, are they dying, or are they already dead?
By now we should already know the fate of the three overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) who had been condemned and scheduled to die by lethal injection in China on Wednesday. Dying or being killed by lethal injection seems less brutal than OFW Flor Contemplacion’s execution in 1995 in Singapore, which was by the rope. But death as a punishment by any method is brutal, merciless and inhuman. Many democratic nations, the Philippines included, have done away with it. But not China.
I watched someone die by lethal injection in 1999 when the death penalty (which had been outlawed during the administration of President Cory Aquino) was re-imposed and enforced for a few years during the Estrada presidency. I have written about the experience and don’t want to recall the details and write about it again. Let me just say that it looked like it was straight out of a movie, except that it was real and I was seated a few feet from the sobbing family of the convict and a few meters from the gurney on which the convict was strapped. Good thing there was a glass that separated the death chamber and us in the mini gallery.
It is a few minutes to the execution of the three OFWS while I am writing this piece and that scenario at the national penitentiary 12 years ago is beginning to play in my mind. I feel uneasy. I woke up at 4 a.m. and I was hoping to learn from the early morning TV news that the executions were not going to push through or have been deferred. I was disappointed. I prayed—for whatever purpose it may serve.
As a country that continues to send OFWs in the millions, we are never done with our collective mourning for our compatriots who toil in distant places—in deserts and oceans, homes and hospitals, factories and farms, theaters and hotels —and who lose their lives to disasters, disease, accidents, pirates, crime, wars and to their host countries’ lethal laws.
And so it has been this way these past months: earthquake in New Zealand, a package of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, war and strife in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Jordan, etc., pirates in Somalia, death penalty in China. The list goes on. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Department of Foreign Affairs, NGOs and church groups serving OFWs can hardly catch their breath, and the embassy personnel in beleaguered countries are under siege for help, protection and intervention.
Despite the government’s intervention on behalf of the sentenced OFWs in China—Sally Ordinario Villanueva, Ramon Credo and Elizabeth Batain—all they got last month was a stay of execution for a month or so, a pa-consuelo gesture from China, but the execution were to go on as scheduled. Unlike the case of Contemplacion which involved the death of her fellow domestic worker and a child for which Contemplacion was sentenced to death, and which left room for doubts and reinvestigation (which Singapore did not grant), the case of the three OFWs accused of drug trafficking leave many people wondering if the three convicts perhaps wittingly put themselves in danger and thought they could get away with it.
Villanueva and Credo were to be executed in Xiamen, and Batain in Shenzen. Prayer vigils and masses have been held and continue to be held at this moment (Wednesday morning while I am writing this). No amount of government intervention and prayers could save the convicts.
Villanueva’s sworn statement would make us believe that not all who have been caught and convicted for acting as drug mules might have known what they were getting into. I would like to believe that Villanueva was indeed tricked into using what looked like an empty piece of luggage when in fact there were four kilos of heroin in its lining. Skeptics would say, how could she not have sensed the extra heaviness of a supposedly empty piece of luggage which she was then urged to fill with her own personal belongings?
In her sworn statement dated March 26 or four days ago, Villanueva, 33, of Isabela, said she had been tricked. That while she was working in Macau, a certain Mapet Cortez, also known as Tita Cacayan, befriended her. Cacayan, who also hails from Isabela convinced Villanueva to carry a silver-grey suitcase to China which was later found to have illegal drugs concealed in it. It was Cacayan who allegedly arranged for Villanueva’s Dec. 2008 trip to Xiamen.
Villanueva left for Xiamen with $500 pocket money and instructions to contact a certain individual and assurance that if she “do(es) as that person instructs, her boss would pay me a monthly salary of P25,000.” Well, this did not happen because on Dec. 24, 2008, Villanueva was apprehended at the Xiamen Gaoji International Airport. According to Villanueva, two bags of white powder wrapped in black plastic with a reported gross weight of 4,100 grams (about four kilos) were discovered concealed in the inner lining of the silver-grey suitcase. The powder turned out to be heroin.
Villanueva, the woman condemned to die named Mapet Cortez/Tita Cacayan as the person who made her transport the bags of heroin. Who is she? Where is she? Where is the original source of the heroin? What Villanueva said in her sworn statement is just the tip of the iceberg. Are government agencies investigating?
I am awaiting word about the three Filipinos condemned to die any time now before I click the e-mail Send button that would deliver this piece to the Inquirer Opinion page editors. I am waiting for three fellow Filipinos to die…
News came at high noon. Consummatum est.
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