As March 30 nears, Filipinos, especially relatives of the three Filipino migrant workers who are set to be executed in China, are still hoping for a miracle: to be able to bring them back home alive.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Relatives and sympathizers of the three Filipinos sentenced to die in China held a vigil at the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, a day before the scheduled execution. Hopes are high that through collective action, a miracle could happen.
“If there is anything that keeps our morale high is a text message from Jason,” referring to the brother Sally Villanueva, 33, one of the Filipinos in death row, “where he said that, ‘Kuya, we are going to China. But we are not going there to witness (my sister’s) death. We will go there in the hope that we can bring her home alive,'” Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, said in the vigil.
Jason, and his parents Geronimo and Basilisa Ordinario, together with the kin of the other Filipinos who were also sentenced to die left for China last weekend to see their loved ones for the last time should they be executed early morning of March 30.
Martinez added that if Villanueva’s family still hopes for a miracle, “Who are we to give up?”
Villanueva, Ramon Credo, 42 and Elizabeth Batain, 38, were convicted separately in 2008 and if last ditch efforts fail, would be the first Filipino nationals to be executed in China, for carrying 4,410 grams, 4,113 grams and 6,800 grams of heroine, respectively. They were originally scheduled to be executed earlier – Credo and Villanueva were set to be executed last February 20 while Batain’s execution was originally scheduled last February 21 – but the strong protest action in the Philippines against the government’s seeming neglect on the case of the three Filipinos pushed the administration to send Vice President Jejomar Binay to China on a last ditch effort to plead for their lives.
Basilisa said that despite the postponement of the death penalty meted on her daughter’s life, a day would come when they are to face their lives without her. But she said that their hopes are high that a miracle would save Villanueva. After all, she said, no parent could ever be prepared to lose a hardworking and good daughter who dreamed for nothing more than to be able to help her family but had, unfortunately, entrusted her life to a wrong person.
Villanueva, as eldest among five children, learned at an early age to shoulder the responsibility of helping her parents not just by doing household chores but in earning extra income to support their family’s needs. She worked as a cook in a cafeteria that their family used to own. She also, later on, sold vegetables and barbecue and ran a sari-sari store on the side.
“She is industrious and ingenious,” Basilisa said.
Her father Geronimo, for his part, said Villanueva is the life of the party, adding that she enjoys family gatherings not just because it is fun but also to keep tabs on her family’s problems. “She would advice her siblings if they had problems,” he said.
“I have nothing to complain about (Sally). I love her. I love her very much” Basilisa told Bulatlat.com. “She is my favorite.”
Their life, however, turned for the worse when Villanueva was offered a cellphone business in 2008, months after she returned from Macau where she worked as a domestic helper. It was Mapet Cortez, also known as Tita Cacayan, who offered the business. The said cellphone business would entail traveling to China to bring home cellphones that will be sold in the country. Villanueva accepted the offer since, she was jobless at that time.
Cacayan, according to the Villanueva’s sworn statement recently published in a national daily, asked Villanueva to use her silver-grey suitcase that “appeared to be empty” which obviously was not the case. Villanueva was apprehended by Chinese authorities upon arrival at Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport after they discovered bags of heroine that were reportedly hidden in the lining of the suitcase.
“I cannot allow this to happen,” Geronimo told Bulatlat.com, “My life would never be the same again without her.”
While Derrick Arnold Carreon of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency told Bulatlat.com that they acknowledge that poverty, poor education and unemployment are some of the reasons why Filipinos are tricked to be a drug mule, he said that “At the end of the day, easy money or the idea of traveling,” he said, serves as motivation for Filipinos to become drug mules because “no body goes for it for the thrill alone.”
But Martinez said no Filipino would dare go out and leave the country only to become a criminal. He said Filipinos who leave the country for work, like Villanueva, do so to uplift her family’s living condition. Gina Esguerra, Migrante International secretary general, added that drug mules are not only victimized by illegal drug syndicates but also of poverty and hopelessness.
According to Migrante International, there are 195 Filipinos who were arrested in China as of February 2011, where 10 were sentenced to death without reprieve, 56 were given the chance for reprieve in two years, 30 were sentenced to life imprisonment, 44 were sentenced to imprisonment for 15 years while the remaining 55 are still undergoing court hearings.
“The execution of Credo, Batain and Villanueva does not solve the problem of narcotic trades which is run by syndicates,” said the Samahan ng mga Migranteng Manggagawa sa Korea , an alliance of Filipinos in South Korea said, “Sparing their lives would make them into witnesses who can provide more information on the big-time narcotic syndicates operating in the Philippines, China and many other countries in Asia.”
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus said the number of Filipinos who are in death row, not only due to carrying illegal drug but also other crimes as well, reflect the vulnerability of Filipino migrant workers. She added that there is a need to investigate how the heroine was carried out of the country despite the security procedures in Manila airports.
“We earnestly beg Your Excellency for commutation. We believe our loved ones are victims of larger drug syndicates that take advantage of the lack of awareness, vulnerability and desperation of our people. We are pained that they are meted the death penalty while the big drug operators and syndicates go on wild abandon,” Migrante International said in their open letter to China’s President Hun Jintao. “Our appeal is thus an appeal for compassion.”