NEARLY overlooked in the avalanche of news developments related to our recent elections was the report last week that the Indonesian government had announced that it was preparing to execute several prisoners. The report again raised fears about Filipina Mary Jane Veloso, who was saved from execution last year after the Philippine government appealed to President Joko Widodo.
It was in April last year when Indonesia executed eight convicted drug traffickers, including seven foreigners, ignoring appeals from Australia and Brazil. Fortunately for Mary Jane, who said she was duped into carrying a suitcase containing heroin by a godsister, there was an international outcry against her execution. Appeals were made by several notable figures, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Nobel Peace Prize winner and former East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta. A petition for her release was signed by over 250,000 in people in over 125 countries. During the 2015 ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, representatives of the ASEAN Youth Forum met with President Widodo to plead her case. Our own Manny Pacquiao went to visit her in prison.
President Aquino made a final appeal for clemency on the ground that her testimony was needed in the trial of her alleged trafficker. At midnight on April 29, a few hours before she was scheduled to die by firing squad, she was given a stay of execution.
That was a year ago and the case against her alleged trafficker has been moving at the usual slow pace through the Philippine judicial system. Mary Jane, meanwhile, remains in Indonesia’s death row. Suddenly she is again remembered by Philippine officials following the announcement in Jakarta that the Widodo administration is about to resume executions. Fortunately for her and for all those who joined in appealing for her life last year, the Indonesian Attorney General’s Office announced that she has been excluded from the round of executions that will soon take place.
On our side, the Philippine government should look into the case of Mary Jane’s alleged trafficker, which President Aquino cited in his appeal to President Widodo. When the time comes, new President Duterte should be able to add his voice to those of the thousands who appealed for her life in 2015.
In the meantime, the government should consider a proposal made in behalf of all overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) – that there should be a separate Department on Migration and Development, to attend exclusively to the needs of OFWs.
The Department of Labor and Employment attends only to the routine needs of departing OFWs, including the legality and propriety of their contracts. The Department of Foreign Affairs steps in when an OFW is convicted of a crime. It has been charged that OFWs do not have help when they need it most – at the time of arrest and during trial, when they need a lawyer from the host country.
A Department of Migration and Development, as proposed recently by Susan Ople, founder and president of the Blas Ople Policy Center, should be high on the agenda of the next administration and the next Congress. Such a department would be of great help to the over 10 million OFWs all over the world today, most of all to those like Mary Jane Veloso who have gone afoul of the local law and are now suffering in prisons of several countries.