Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of collective and personal privilege to give thanks to the Filipino people who stood behind Mary Jane Veloso and to reflect on the actions of our government which many Filipinos, especially OFWs, have found wanting even as it now basks in the front pages in grabbing credit for the reprieve that Mary Jane got from the Indonesian government.
Last week, while this House was on break, the Filipino people showed up in the streets to actualize their support for Mary Jane Veloso who was sentenced to death by the Indonesian government and was scheduled to be executed, along with nine others, last April 28. Led by Migrante International who staked it out in front of the Indonesian Embassy since Sunday, April 26, Filipinos held vigils and lighted candles in other parts of the country. Our kababayans also held vigils in Hong Kong, Malaysia, USA, Australia and in several countries in Europe. Filipinos in Indonesia, joined by a sizeable contingent of concerned Australians and the local organization of Indonesian overseas workers (Migrant Care), braved the harsh anti-assembly laws of Indonesia and held candle-lit vigils in Cilacap and Yogyakarta.
For four days, the Filipino people stood united to save a kababayan from imminent death. Out of this unity, the call for sparing Mary Jane from execution reverberated not only in the country but through-out the region and provided the warm muscle to the last minute efforts of members of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, led by Atty. Edre Olalia, to squeeze from the Indonesian government a second review of the case of Mary Jane on grounds of newly-discovered evidence.
When the people are united, even mountains can be flattened. It is this unity which made Indonesian President Joko Widodo change his mind and stopped the clock ticking on Mary Jane. Just one hour and 23 minutes before 3 PM (Philippine time), the hour of execution, Atty. Olalia called Migrante International to convey the good news that the Indonesian government had reconsidered the case of Mary Jane and given her another reprieve, suspending thereby the execution until all proceedings in the Philippines would be finished. The country heaved a collective sigh of relief and, even as tears flowed, broke into national jubilation. Migrante International sounded the theme of the jubilation: the fight to save Mary Jane has just begun and it now extends to making those officials who were sworn and paid to protect our OFWs, accountable for their acts of omission. It is along this theme that I wish to make a reflection.
Mr. Speaker, since the Marcos regime in the 1970s, the Philippine government has been pursuing the export of Filipino labor such that there are now some 10 million Filipinos working abroad either as immigrants or as OFWs. These burgeoning millions have been remitting home an average of P20 billion/year since 2010 and the figure is steadily rising.
OFW remittance constitutes about 18 % of our GDP, a contribution acknowledged as the ‘rubber boat’ that has kept the national economy afloat even during the worst of times.
The government also extracts from OFWs various processing and pre-departure fees that contribute a large share to the national revenues. These fees are mandatory. According to Migrante International, these various processing and pre-departure fees now total P31,000 per departing OFW. Given that some 5,000 Filipinos depart daily, Migrante International estimates that those fees could total in trillions.
But where the Philippine government is good in extracting assorted fees and raising revenues from OFWs, its record of providing them with holistic support services in times of need, from cases of repatriating OFWs in conflict regions to providing legal services to OFWs with legal problems in foreign jurisdiction, has been found wanting. At present, there are 3,732 OFWs in jail in 53 countries. Of this figure, 88 are in death row.
Had the execution of Mary Jane proceeded, she would have been the eighth (8th) OFW to have been executed under the present regime. From 2010 up to last week, there had been 7 Filipinos who were executed in China and Saudi Arabia, the highest number of execution of OFWs under a single regime. According to Migrante International, their cases, from their arrest up to their execution, had the same pattern where official intervention is concerned. More often than not, the Philippine government intervenes only at the last minute when the fate of the OFW in death row has already been sealed and exceedingly hard to reverse. In fact, this pattern of response dates back to the case of Flor Contemplacion and ran through the cases of five Filipinos executed in China. As if the government has not learned any lesson from all these sad experiences, it was repeated in the case of Mary Jane Veloso.
From the account that Mary Jane had personally written that Rappler published unedited on April 24, it is very clear, Mr. Speaker, that she is a victim of human trafficking and illegal recruitment; that she knew nothing of the 2.6 kilos of heroin that her recruiters had stashed in the false bottom of her luggage. This was crucial to her defense and should have been submitted to the Indonesian court at the first opportunity when her trial proceeded in 2010. But to be able to advance such defense, she badly needed an interpreter and an able articulator of her thoughts because, being only a high school drop-out, she could only speak broken English. This defense fell through the cracks because the Department of Foreign Affairs did not provide Mary Jane a Filipino lawyer who would have identified with her plight as a kababayan in distress and defended her with the determination of a kababayan. Instead, the DFA left her defense to the charge of court-appointed Indonesian lawyers and lifted not a finger to provide her an interpreter.
It was only after Mary Jane was convicted and sentenced with death penalty that the DFA hired the services of an Indonesian law firm, Rudyantho & Partners, to undertake the appeal of her case. As early as 2011, Rudyantho & Partners, before filing the first petition for judicial review, already requested the Philippine government to investigate Kristina Sergio, Mary Jane’s recruiter. As the law firm stressed, this would have been instrumental for the appeal. But as Migrante International would later discover to its horror, the Philippine government only attended to the request of Rudyantho & Partners after the Indonesian Supreme Court thumbed down on March 25, 2015 the judicial review.
This is to say nothing, Mr. Speaker, that the DFA has been re-missed in monitoring the up-to-date developments of Mary Jane’s case. It appears that in several instances, the DFA has been the last to know about the decisions of the Indonesian government, such as when Mary Jane phoned the Veloso family, informing them about the Indonesian government’s decision to proceed with her execution. When the Veloso family went to the DFA to verify this information, the DFA case officer for Mary Jane told them that it was false only to change tune later in the day.
Mr. Speaker, it appears that in the cases of Filipinos in death row abroad, our DFA and government follow the single-minded track of giving more premium to ‘good neighbor’ diplomacy over fighting it out to save the lives of our OFWs, a track which embodies the subservience if not mendicancy of our government not only to powerful countries such as the United States but even to countries which are, more or less, our equal, such as Indonesia. At the back of this track is the refusal to ‘rock the boat’ even in times when the life of an OFW is already on the dock. In line with this mendicant diplomacy, the DFA even advised the Veloso family not to go to the media presumably so as not to stir a diplomatic row with Indonesia, depriving the Velosos of a powerful platform for generating support for Mary Jane. Consequently, the country knew nothing about a ‘Filipina about to be executed in Indonesia’ until Migrante International took efforts early this year to verify the report and track down the Veloso family.
Such subservience is in sharp contrast to the reactions of the Brazilian, French and Australian governments which frontally challenged the decision of the Indonesian court, even calling the Indonesian justice system as ‘corrupt and dysfunctional’, and filed strongly-worded diplomatic protests when the Indonesian government decided to proceed with the execution. After the execution of two Australian nationals on April 28, the Australian government recalled its ambassador to Indonesia.
Because of its single-minded track, our government tends to blame our OFWs for the legal problems they encounter in the host countries. It is therefore not a coincidence that Nanay Celia quoted Pres. Aquino as having said, ‘hindi ako ang may kagagawan sa problema nila’. In no uncertain terms, Mr. Speaker, these are the words of victim-blaming.
The other side of this single-minded track is that our government tends to leave the fate of our OFWs entirely to the will of host states, even if their judicial system or the proceedings of the case were known to have flaws that could result in injustice to our OFWs. It treats our OFWs under trial as if they were hot potatoes, to be kept in a distance even if they were in dire need of legal and other support services. It is interesting to note that after the Indonesian court convicted Mary Jane in 2011, the Philippine government asked the Indonesian government for executive clemency for Mary Jane, which means that it accepted the Indonesian court’s decision that Mary Jane was guilty and deserving of death.
Because our government accepted the decision of the Indonesian court, its chosen track of seeking clemency for Mary Jane was ineffectual. When it was denied by Pres. Widodo, it was the end of the line for Mary Jane. It was only when NUPL lawyers, with the help of Indonesia’s Migrant Care, argued for another review based on grounds that Mary Jane was a victim of human trafficking that hopes flickered anew. As Pres. Widodo said, ‘I also listened to human rights activists’.
To set the record straight, Mr. Speaker, Mary Jane Veloso is a victim of the many ills of our society. She is not only a victim of human trafficking and illegal recruitment. She is also a victim of the labor export thrust of this government. As she came from a family of farm workers in Hacienda Luisita, she is likewise a victim of the absence of genuine agrarian reform, of the obstinate refusal of the Aquino-Cojuangcos to distribute the lands of Hacienda Luisita to its farm-workers as ordered by the Supreme Court. She is a victim of the failure of this government to create decent jobs in the domestic front so our kababayans will no longer have to risks their lives seeking employment overseas.
As mentioned earlier, Mr. Speaker, the fight to save Mary Jane has just begun. What she got is only a reprieve. There is still much to be done to save her life and to eventually bring her home. I call on my colleagues and the entire Filipino people to continue supporting Mary Jane and the Veloso family. And let us extend our support to the 88 other OFWs who are facing the same fate as Mary Jane. But to save Mary Jane and the 88 other OFWs in death row, we must compel our government to take stock of its responses to our ill-fated OFWs. This morning, the Gabriela Women’s Party filed a resolution seeking for an inquiry into the totality of government response to the case of Mary Jane and of other OFWs in death row. I call on the Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs to immediately convene in order to review the government’s response to the case of Mary Jane and to come up with recommendations for a comprehensive support and services program for OFWs in death row.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Privilege Speech of GWP Rep. Luzviminda C. Ilagan
May 04, 2015 | Plenary Session of the House of Representatives