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‘Terima kasih,’ Indonesia

Indonesian President Joko Widodo went out on a limb for the Philippines when he ordered a last-minute stay on the execution of Mary Jane Veloso.

It was the first time Widodo granted a reprieve to a convicted drug dealer since he assumed office last year and launched the campaign to stop drug trafficking in his country. The reason he cited to justify the reprieve—to enable Veloso to testify against drug rings operating in Indonesia—does not, strictly speaking, constitute newly found evidence that would warrant such action.

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It probably helped that President Aquino talked to Indonesia’s foreign minister, a woman, about this and she passed on the idea to Widodo before Veloso could be tied to the firing stake.

Although Veloso’s death sentence has not been lifted, Widodo did the Philippines a favor when he gave her an indefinite lease on life.

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Earlier, he rejected the appeals of Australia and Brazil to grant clemency to their citizens who, like Veloso, have been convicted for drug trafficking.

If the investigation that Veloso is set to get involved in shows she was an unwitting victim of a drug ring, or information vital to Indonesia’s anti-drug-trafficking campaign is discovered, Widodo may be persuaded to reduce her sentence to life imprisonment.

In the days after Veloso’s execution was put on hold, I scanned The Jakarta Post, the most widely read English-language newspaper in Indonesia, to find out the Indonesians’ reaction to their president’s unprecedented move.

The commentaries and letters to the editor in the broadsheet did not express strong adverse reaction to the reprieve despite the fact that an Indonesian was also executed on the day Veloso was supposed to suffer the same fate.

The Indonesian people probably empathize with Veloso because many Indonesian women, like Filipino women, work as domestic helpers in different parts of the world.

The liberal treatment Widodo extended to Veloso did not come to me as a surprise. The friendship between the Philippines and Indonesia stands on a high level. On several occasions, Indonesia assisted the Philippines in its advocacies in Asean.

On a personal note, I have noticed an almost spontaneous camaraderie between Filipinos and Indonesians in regional and international business conferences. This rapport may be attributed to our common Malay stock, and the similarity in political and social problems that our countries have gone through. It also helps that certain words in Bahasa, the Indonesian language, and Filipino have the same meaning.

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From experience, it’s easier to make friends with Indonesians than with Singaporeans who tend to be standoffish on account of their advanced economic development, or with Malaysians who consider themselves the poster boy of Islamic wealth in Asia, or with Thais whose unique ethnic and cultural upbringing sometimes makes it difficult for them to relate to their neighbors.

This ease of friendship often results in Filipinos and Indonesians spending time together after the end of official business activities, seeming to share a love for friendly banter over good food and refreshing drinks.

I experienced what I consider my ultimate test of Indonesian friendship sometime in the late 1990s when then Indonesian President Suharto was ousted from power and mobs of angry youth roamed the business district of Jakarta.

There was an anti-West frenzy at that time. Foreigners were advised by the authorities to stay off the streets and avoid contact with roaming antigovernment protesters.

The hotel in which I was staying asked all non-Indonesian guests to leave and go to the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport to catch flights out of the country. Arrangements were made for soldiers to escort the hotel vans taking the guests to the airport. For security reasons, the Asian guests did not ride with the Westerners.

Due to the chaos in the streets, some vehicles got cut off from the military escort, and the passengers were left to fend for themselves.

Small youth groups brandishing sticks and machetes banged on the vehicles’ windows, demanding that the passengers show their passports.

Holders of American and European passports were jeered at and, if not for the timely intervention of the hotel security staff on board, would have been dragged out of the vehicles. It was a very scary and dangerous situation.

There were three other Filipinos in the van I rode. When we showed our passports, the youths who accosted us smiled and shouted, “Filipino, Filipino, OK, OK!” They motioned to their companions who were blocking the van to let us through.

The other guests we rode with, whose nationalities I didn’t get to know or even thought of asking because of the tense situation, profusely thanked us, having benefited from the goodwill the Indonesian showed us.

After 30 agonizing minutes, we got to the airport and boarded our flights out of Jakarta. Never had a Philippine passport been so valuable to me than at that time.

Going back to Veloso’s case, the reprieve is a small victory, if not a miracle. We do not know how things will finally play out.

If the leftists and Vice President Jejomar Binay are to be believed, everyone except President Aquino should be given credit for saving Veloso from the gallows for the time being. In my book, the longstanding good relations between Filipinos and Indonesians made a big difference in Widodo’s decision to give Veloso a new lease on life.

Terima kasih (Thank you), Indonesia, for this latest and past favors. We hope we can reciprocate your goodwill in the future.

Raul J. Palabrica ([email protected]) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.

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TAGS: crimes, Death Row, drugs, Indonesia, Joko Widodo, mary jane veloso, reprieve
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