The nation is in celebration mode. Who ever thought that one woman would have such a uniting effect on our people? Mary Jane Veloso, formerly part of the faceless and nameless Filipino diaspora, is now in the hearts and minds of every Filipino. And for good reason. She represents the modern-day Filipino who was forced by economic hardship to seek employment abroad, was apparently duped, made into a drug mule, and has landed in Indonesian death row for it. And to those who have doubts on the power of prayers- think again. For in the final analysis, it could only have been the prayers of the nation that saved her from the firing squad.
But the reprieve is just that—temporary. What should make it permanent for Mary Jane is to apprehend the people behind the drug syndicate preying on the hardships of others in making them modern-day drug mules. Unless we can prove that Mary Jane’s only fault was to agree to carry that suit case to alleviate her hardship, she may find herself back again before the firing squad.
Government should hopefully also learn from this experience. Despite Flor Contemplacion and the other drug mules already put to death in China, government apparently has not learned it lessons.
First, we need to modernize and rejuvenate our consular personnel. Our humble contribution in saving Mary Jane was an Application with prayer for provisional measures, which we hope would be filed with the International Court of Justice. The ground for it is rather unique—breach of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Under this Treaty, the nearest Philippine consular official should have been informed of the arrest and investigation of Veloso at the outset, and not when the case was already in Court. Although seemingly trite, it was this reason that prompted the International Court of Justice to issue provisional measures directing the United States not to proceed with the implementation of the death penalty against Mexican and German nationals in the case of Mexico and Germany vs. United States, that is referred to as the “Avena” case.
Here, the government should learn that with a diaspora of 11 million Filipinos working overseas, we should have a dynamic and well-funded consular service in every state where there is an OFW. If only because the sweat, blood and tears of our OFWs have kept us economically afloat, we owe it to them that our consuls should have the resources to invoke violations of the Vienna Convention as a ground for vacating judgments against our nationals. Moreover, it is absolutely unacceptable that Mary Jane faced trial being defended by pro-bono counsel. The DFA must have sufficient legal funds to retain the best possible lawyers in foreign jurisdictions to defend our OFWs. This is investing on the goose that has been laying the golden eggs for us. No ifs, no buts. It was wrong that our embassy paid for Mary Jane’s counsel only after she had been found guilty.
With other nationals also facing the death penalty worldwide, we should also now be at the forefront of the struggle to abolish the death penalty worldwide. We are in the best position for this since we too had the death penalty until recently. Perhaps we should focus on the drug syndicates preying on the hardship of our people and using them as drug mules as the theme for our campaign. Perhaps we should highlight that the drug syndicates are the real criminals, and not the drug mules.
Perhaps the biggest lesson that government should heed is: DO NOT WAIT FOR THE ABSOLUTE LAST MINUTE. If you’re going to call in favors and spend goodwill, you might as well do it as early as possible. We might not be as lucky the next time.
Babes Romualdes and I appeared in Malou Tiquia’s new debate program on CNN Philippines. The topic was whether the Philippines’ diplomatic efforts have been sufficient in resolving the West Philippines Sea dispute. I didn’t feel that I was in debate since Babes appears to be in agreement with me on every point that I raised. For instance, I said the problem was not whether diplomatic initiatives have been exhausted. Instead, I argued that the problem is we do not have a concrete policy on the West Philippine Sea, to begin with. I recalled the time when the DFA was split on whether we should resort to arbitration. The policy group thought that arbitration was mutually exclusive with diplomatic initiatives since China, culturally, allegedly does not want to be sued. The maritime group, which prevailed, thought that arbitration was the lone remedy since we cannot continue to negotiate with a superpower that has a gun pointed at our heads. In reality, a concrete policy on how to deal with China should have told us that the Chinese antipathy against all sorts of litigation is a farce given the many cases that it has filed to date with the World Trade Organization. Likewise, a coherent policy would have made us realize that running to Uncle Sam at every opportunity has only further muddled the issue since China today does not eve recognize us as a party to the dispute. In their minds, we are nothing but stooges for the Americans.
Babes wrote about a reader allegedly complaining about persons like me who will talk against the Americans but seemingly oblivious against China. Babes: tell your friend that I am not such a person. All he has to do is to check out my many writings against the Chinese on this issue.
I am a Filipino and will of course only espouse the Filipino interest.