While there are many reasons to celebrate the temporary stay of Mary Jane Veloso’s execution, there are still many reasons to seethe with rage.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – In 2015, there is perhaps no news more dramatic than the so-called miracle that saved a Filipina abroad from execution at the eleventh hour. While the Philippine government was quick to claim all the glitz and glory, the people knew she was spared due to their relentless, collective action.
Mary Jane Veloso, victimized into bringing 2.6 kilograms of heroin, convicted and sentenced to death in Indonesia, was saved when Indonesian President Joko Widodo stayed her execution, just hours before she was to face the firing squad at dawn of April 29, 2015. Her case caught public attention just weeks before her execution, but the Veloso family has long before asked the Philippine government for help and received virtually nothing.
“In five years that we were dealing with the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs), I could count with my fingers the number of times that their officials initiated a call to update us on my sister’s case. But the number of times that I called them for updates? You can include my toes and it still would not suffice,” her sister Maritess Veloso-Laurente had told Bulatlat.com.
For five years, the Veloso family suffered in silence as they went from one government office to another. They said DFA officials have ignored them and were almost always out for a meeting or lunch whenever they would call for an update.
Veloso became a rallying point for many overseas Filipino workers, whether in distress or not, and to their relatives in the country, who have endured government neglect. They have noticed the seeming “pattern” that government assistance to OFWs is always “too little, too late.”
Understandably, people refused to give sole credit to the Aquino administration for the temporary stay in Veloso’s execution.
Members of progressive groups from all sectors marched on the streets to call on the Indonesian government to spare Veloso in the weeks and days leading to her scheduled execution. Even Filipino migrant workers and immigrants abroad protested in front of Indonesian consular offices there.
“As sons and daughters of migrants, we understand that Mary Jane Veloso migrated to work in order to feed her two children. We understand that forced migration is the reason why we exist as Filipino Americans. We understand this because our own families were forced to migrate here to find better lives that they did not have in the Philippines,” Filipino-American activist Janella Lopez said.
As the support for Mary Jane gained ground here in the Philippines and in other countries where there are strong Filipino migrant organizations, it also swelled in Indonesia, a country that has its own share of the bitter taste of labor migration.
Although Indonesia’s remittances from its migrant workers are not as high as that of the Philippines, it has continued to soar every year. Indonesian migrant rights activist Iwenk Karsiwen, in an interview with Bulatlat.com during this year’s International Migrants Alliance meet in Quezon City, said their compatriots are also forced to leave their families, to work mostly as domestic workers.
The International Labor Organization said about 700,000 documented Indonesians leave to seek employment abroad. But the number of undocumented migrants is estimated to be two to four times higher. About 75 percent of Indonesian migrant workers are women who work as domestic helpers.
“We share the same reality – the Philippines and Indonesia. We are both a migrant-sending country. In fact, during the time when we were holding a protest action to save Mary Jane, two Indonesian domestic helpers were executed in Saudi Arabia. We also included them in our demands,” Iwenk said.
Like Mary Jane, she said, many Indonesians were also meted out the death penalty. At least 60 percent of the 284 Indonesians in death row abroad were convicted due to drug-related cases.
Days before Mary Jane’s execution, they lighted hundreds of candles in front of Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s residence.
And while there are many reasons to celebrate the temporary stay of Veloso’s execution, there are still more reasons to seethe with rage. Just barely a month after, another Filipina was sentenced to death in the United Arab Emirates for killing her employer who was about to rape her.
Jennifer Dalquez, who was sentenced to death last May 20, is among the 92 OFWs in death row, according to the DFA. The migrant rights group, Migrante said Dalquez is also among nearly a hundred OFWs languishing in jail who are about to be executed without receiving due assistance from the Philippine government.
Meanwhile, Migrante International said there are about 7,000 OFWs in jail in the Middle East alone.
Just before 2015 ended, on Dec. 29, OFW Joselito Zapanta was beheaded in Saudi Arabia. Zapanta accidentally killed his Sudanese landlord back in 2009. The latter’s family had agreed to accept blood money but Zapanta’s family, with hardly any aid from the Philippine government, was not able to raise the much-needed $490,361.
To date, there have been eight OFWs executed under Aquino – the highest under one administration. With this, Migrante Middle East coordinator John Monterona dubbed the president as the “OFW Bitay King” and “OFW Executioner.”
Migrante International has long blamed the government for spending too little on government assistance for OFWs in distress, in spite of the ever increasing OFW remittances which keep the country’s economy afloat. Under Aquino, an average of P30 million ($680,000) has been allocated to the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF), a far cry from the supposed P100 million ($2.27 million) fund, as stipulated in Republic Act No. 10022 or the Magna Carta for Migrant Workers.
Last December 2014, Aquino even vetoed LAF and placed it under “conditional implementation,” which subjects it to the approval of the Department of Budget and Management.
Migrante International said that despite the meager amount allocated for the legal assistance of OFWs in distress, the DFA had at least P52 million ($1.1 million) in unused funds, as it cited a “ceiling” in the amount of assistance for an OFW in distress, under the Magna Carta for OFWs. But this provision is not stipulated in the law.
As 2016 begins and the electoral fanfare is soon to take over, Mary Jane continues to languish in jail abroad and, sadly, remains in death row. There are others more suffering the same fate – perhaps even worse without the public attention that could push the Philippine government to provide them their due assistance.