Mary Jane and our drug casualties
WHEN you come to think of it, Mary Jane Veloso, who is still—as this is being written—held captive in an Indonesian jail even as she faces execution on drugs charges, has received better treatment at the hands of her captors than thousands of Filipinos suspected of being either drug pushers or users.
Veloso was arrested in 2010 for carrying 2.6 kilos of heroin, an amount enough to prosecute her for criminal drug possession. She underwent a trial and was found guilty. She was scheduled for execution, along with several other foreigners, but was excluded from the list after the Philippine government assured that it had arrested and was investigating and filing charges against the “real” guilty parties who had deceived Veloso into acting as a drug courier.
Although Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has launched a tough campaign against drug use in his country, it pales in comparison with the “war against drugs” that the Philippines’ President Duterte unleashed even before he took office. To date an estimated 3,000 suspects have been killed in police shoot-outs or in summary executions carried out by unknown and unidentified assassins. Thousands more have surrendered to local authorities, although many of those who reported to their village chiefs have since ended up in the “kill list.”
The stakes for Veloso rose to a dangerously high level recently when it was reported that Duterte, during a visit to Indonesia, had given Jokowi the “go ahead” for the execution of Veloso in accordance with Indonesian law. Jokowi was quoted by the Antara news agency as saying that “President Duterte has given the go-ahead to proceed with the execution.” He explained further that he told Duterte about Mary Jane’s situation “and I told him that Mary Jane [has been found guilty] for carrying 2.6 kilograms of heroin. I also told him about the delay in the execution during the meeting.”
MALACAÑANG has since, by turns, denied such a claim or backtracked on how the exchange really went.
At first, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay denied outright that Duterte and Jokowi had even discussed Veloso’s case.
But when Jokowi himself confirmed their exchange, Duterte spokesperson Ernesto Abella issued a statement strongly denying that the President had consented to Veloso’s execution. “There was no endorsement,” said Abella. “He simply said: ‘Follow your own laws, I will not interfere.’”
Well, I don’t know. It’s an extremely fine line between “I will not interfere” and “giving the go-ahead.”
If I recall right, there was a firestorm of angry comments and outright denunciations when reports reached the country about Veloso’s inclusion last year on a list of drug traffickers scheduled for execution by firing squad. Many, especially Veloso’s family members and leaders of groups working for overseas workers, denounced what they called the government’s “neglect” of Veloso’s case and failure to stop her execution.
But in a face-to-face meeting, then President Aquino was described as “breaking protocol” when he directly appealed for a stay of execution on Veloso. Sure enough, Veloso was given a reprieve, even if she remained behind bars in Indonesia. But even that did not stop Aquino’s critics from harping on what they called P-Noy’s and Filipino diplomats’ neglect of Veloso.
BEFORE his meeting with Jokowi, Duterte told the media that he would plead for Veloso’s life, that she be spared the death penalty.
But in the wake of reports that he failed to put his case for Veloso’s reprieve, if not freedom, more strongly before the Indonesian leader, Duterte seems to be taking a less trenchant stance, softening his previously pugnacious approach to most issues.
Now his spokesperson is saying that there is still no need to plead for clemency for Veloso since she “is still not scheduled for execution.”
Imagine if this had been said under any other president. The comments, especially on social media, would have been scathing. But in the wake of the seeming complacency of Filipino officialdom towards Veloso’s fate, public reaction seems to be strangely muted in turn.
Social media posts from Filipinos even seemed to turn the tables on Veloso, saying that, as a drug mule, she deserved her imprisonment and imminent execution.
Perhaps these are the same folks who excoriate the “bleeding hearts” among us for raising human rights concerns about the thousands of extrajudicial killings and warrantless arrests. And if they see nothing wrong with the relentless series of killings and the climate of fear being created around the issue of drugs, then how could they be expected to feel a bit of compassion for an accused drug mule like Veloso?
HOW could we, as a nation, have felt the stirrings of compassion for Veloso, the mother of two, just a few months ago, and now see her imminent fate as one she fully deserves for supposedly knowingly transporting drugs?
Is it because eliminating the drugs problem has suddenly been elevated to a priority for governance, a problem that obliterates entirely all the other social, economic and political issues we face?
If so, then let’s stop all pretense and tell Veloso that sorry, we may feel bad about your continued stay in an Indonesian jail and the possibility of death by firing squad, but you know, we’ve got problems of our own and bigger fish to fry in our quest for—what?—the peace and quiet of the dead and complicit?
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.