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A very difficult task for the President

IT must have been a very difficult mission for President Duterte – his seeing Indonesian President Joko Widodo in behalf of death convict Mary Jane Veloso.

Mary Jane, it may be recalled, was a Filipina arrested in Indonesia in 2009 with a suitcase found by immigration authorities to be lined with 2.6 kilos of heroin. She was sentenced to death and was minutes away from being executed by firing squad last year when she was granted a temporary reprieve. A woman suspected of recruiting her and providing her the suitcase where the heroin was found had been arrested in the Philippines and the Indonesian government heeded an international appeal to spare her life and granted her a temporary reprieve.

Last week, during his state visit to Indonesia, President Duterte met President Widodo and Mary Jane was on their agenda. On one hand, President Duterte was speaking as a Filipino moved by compassion for a fellow Filipino who appeared to have been an unwitting victim of a syndicate involved in the smuggling of drugs. This is the compassion at the heart of our Christian faith, for which we did away with the death penalty some years ago.

On the other hand, President Duterte today is in the midst of an all-out campaign to eradicate the drug problem in our country. Over 3,000 have now been reported killed in the campaign, many of them drug pushers resisting arrest, many others the apparent victims of rival gangs. The killings have drawn international criticism from human rights groups, and concern has been expressed by US President Barack Obama as well as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. President Duterte has staunchly defended his anti-drugs campaign against all criticism.

In his meeting with President Widodo, President Duterte must have made his appeal for Mary Jane’s life, but ultimately, he told Widodo that he respects Indonesia’s judicial processes and will accept whatever the Indonesians finally decide on her case.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said the execution has been “indefinitely deferred” while the Philippine government continues with the case against Mary Jane’s alleged recruiter who got her into trouble. If at the end of the trial, it is shown that she was a victim of human trafficking and an unwitting drug carrier, the Philippines will petition Indonesia for a judicial review of her case.

This is the best that can be done under the circumstances. President Duterte has carried out a most difficult task and now we can only wait and hope.

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