FILIPINOS gave a collective sigh of relief upon hearing news that Mary Jane Veloso’s execution was postponed, even as eight others were carried through despite appeals from world leaders. But celebrations are on hold as we determine whether what happened was a miracle or something else that only prolongs the agony. What we have as of this writing is a Jakarta Post report saying that the reprieve was granted after the woman who recruited Veloso as a drug courier had surrendered to Philippine authorities. Clearly, Veloso is, as they say, not yet out of the woods.
It is also becoming evident that President Aquino deserves credit for the reprieve. Before this development, the Aquino government was lambasted for supposedly acting too late and not doing enough to provide assistance to Veloso. It turns out that President Aquino had written letters and made personal appeals as early as when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was Indonesia’s president, way before the present-day media fanfare. In fact, Migrante and its allies have been exploiting the looming execution to lob political attacks at the administration, conveniently forgetting that a crime was committed albeit unwittingly.
Still, we agree that the government could have done more. But what exactly? Migrante claims that the government could have provided legal assistance earlier in Veloso’s trial, but officials argue that they have done just that. Tit for tat is unproductive. We should not forget that anywhere from 41 to 80 Filipinos are reportedly on death row worldwide. Agence France-Press also reports that about 800 Filipinos are in detention for drug-related offenses around the world. The point is, Veloso’s case is the symptom of a larger problem. The reality is, the solutions that could help her and many others are not as simple as we may glean from the sound bites coming from the government and its critics.
Without giving up on Veloso, we should place our collective focus on the root of the problem, which is poverty. Remember that it was the false promise of a better income that lured Veloso to leave under the guise of a tourist and eventually fall prey to a criminal syndicate. It is the insufficiency of economic opportunities here at home that pushes millions of Filipinos to take huge risks abroad.
With his term winding down, though, President Aquino has yet to produce a policy for overseas workers. Also, the impact of his dole-out program, the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), on poverty can be hardly felt even after its budget has ballooned to more than P62 billion. And the economic growth that the country has been experiencing could have been even bigger if not for the consistently slow public spending, a vital part of the aggregate economy.
We concede that addressing those economic and political issues will do little for Veloso. But our collective focus should be broader than her case, no matter how tragic it may still turn out. President Aquino and his team should do more than react to crises that crop up. Even if they are successful in making the reprieve permanent, that does little to help the scores of other Filipinos on death row in foreign prisons. Good governance means more than dousing fires, like Veloso’s case. Good governance should be about effective administration that leaves a legacy of meaningful reforms that prevent or at least mitigate similar events from happening at all.