Several Philippine newspapers were caught out Wednesday by a last-minute reprieve for a young woman facing execution in Indonesia, running front-page headlines bidding her farewell and accusing the government of failing to save her.
“Death came before dawn,” read the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s dramatic headline, above a large photograph of condemned Filipina maid Mary Jane Veloso, 30, whose plight has captivated the nation.
Filipino-language tabloid Abante Tonite ran a black-themed front page together with a picture of Veloso, head bowed, and a headline in capitals that translates as: “Paalam [Farewell], Mary Jane.”
Indonesia defied global anger to execute seven foreign drug convicts and a local man by firing squad in the early hours of Wednesday but spared Veloso at the 11th hour in a decision her ecstatic family welcomed as a “miracle.”
Veloso claimed an international trafficking gang tricked her into bringing 2.6 kilograms (5.7 pounds) of heroin to Indonesia from Malaysia five years ago as she chased a non-existent job as a domestic worker.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo granted an 11th-hour reprieve after a woman suspected of recruiting Veloso turned herself in to authorities in the Philippines.
News of the canceled midnight execution, however, came too late for most Filipino newspapers rushing to put out their final print editions.
“PNOY IS TO BLAME,” the Standard’s headline read, referring to criticism over the supposed “negligence” of the government of Benigno Aquino, using media shorthand for his nickname–President Noynoy.
“All hopes fade,” The Manila Times concluded, while the Manila Bulletin reflected the drama across three editions with the evolving headlines “We’re hoping for a miracle,” “No delay in execution” and finally, “Veloso granted reprieve.”
The erroneous print-edition headlines swiftly became fodder for ridicule, with the online news site Coconuts Media running an item chiding the media for “killing” Veloso.
One Facebook user posted a composite picture of the frontpage snafu together with one of US President-elect Harry Truman holding a copy of the famous Chicago Tribune headline “Dewey Defeats Truman”.
“Proof that journalism hasn’t really changed much in the past six decades,” the caption read.
The Manila Times managing editor Ares P. Gutierrez said “there is nothing wrong or erroneous with our headline.”
“The headline accurately depicts the situation at the time we went to press,” he said.
“Nonetheless, our Web team stayed up till the wee hours to monitor the developments in Indonesia and were able to break the reprieve at 2:32 am. The Times also updated the banner story on its website’s landing page first thing in the morning,” Gutierrez added.
The Inquirer in a statement admitted the mistake and issued an apology.
“In our April 29, 2015 issue, the Philippine Daily Inquirer ran an erroneous headline. We deeply regret the aggravation this may have caused Mary Jane Veloso’s family.
“Our mobile, radio, social and Web platforms were able to report Mary Jane’s last-minute reprieve,” the newspaper said. “We promise our readers to do a better job.”