THE death convict Mary Jane Veloso never wavered in her claim that she was an innocent victim of human trafficking. But when all hopes had seemed to fail, she prepared herself to die. In fact, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which calls itself the country’s leading newspaper, did not hesitate to kill her, in one big banner headline. She told her two young children not to expect her to come home anymore because she was “going to heaven.” This was nothing less than a complete surrender to the “Divine Will.” If she had always been a woman of faith, she demonstrated it here. If she had never been, this showed she had found her faith right there. It was her moment of conversion; her final expiation. No wonder her own mother and so many others have called it a “miracle.”
But the 30-year-old woman’s ordeal is not yet over. Many are still praying that her temporary relief would soon become final and permanent. This does not depend on those who are even now trying to claim credit for her temporary relief; it would depend rather on the review of the case by the Indonesian government. After all, that government suspended the death sentence only after Veloso’s allegedly illegal recruiter surrendered to the police. This provided a lead in tracking down the African syndicate said to have duped Veloso into becoming a drug mule.
Whether one likes it or not, it is inevitable that the intervention of Vice President Jejomar C. Binay and President B. S. Aquino 3rd would come up in the narration of events leading to the reprieve. But any attempt at credit-grabbing would be cheap, vulgar and out of place. Binay, in his capacity as presidential adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Concerns, was the first to make a personal appeal to Jusuf Kalla, his Indonesian counterpart, and a written appeal to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, while attending the 60th anniversary celebration of the historic Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung.
Aquino’s intervention came much later, during his conversations with Widodo at the 26th Asean summit in Kuala Lumpur. By then passions were already running high, and Aquino could no longer afford to ignore the public clamor. Veloso, an OFW from Nueva Ecija, was convicted in 2010 for carrying 2.6 kilograms of heroin inside a suitcase from Kuala Lumpur. She said she had been “sweet-talked” into carrying the suitcase by an alleged “god-sister.” That did not help her at all. She was saved from execution only when then Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared a moratorium on executions.
However, the moratorium ended when Widodo took office. Widodo came to Manila on a state visit last February, but Aquino completely failed to mention anything about Veloso’s case during their official conversations. He also failed to write Widodo a note which Binay could have hand-carried in the course of attending the Bandung celebrations.
Binay had to compose his own letter to Widodo, after a pleasant but mainly ceremonial meeting with Kalla. Now, Malacanang has tried to claim credit for the reprieve. This has been thrashed by critics.
Some have suggested that although Aquino had shown no prior interest in the case, he was finally forced to show some, after emotional outbursts had erupted in Manila and Jakarta, while he had to talk to his Asean colleagues in Kuala Lumpur about China’s reclamation activities in the disputed reefs, islets and shoals in the Spratlys. Since the Asean heads of government were not inclined to take a position against China, Widodo decided that to save Aquino from coming home empty-handed, he should offer him something–Veloso’s reprieve.
I hope it is not as droll as this, but this is entirely plausible.
Veloso is just one of about a hundred OFWs meted the death sentence around the world. Most of them are human trafficking victims. Poverty and ignorance, rather than criminal tendency, drove them to where they are. Had they never left the country, and been arrested for the same crime, the government would have been the one going after them for their crime. But because they are OFWs, the government must help them fight for their freedom, presuming their innocence. At least this is the theory, although Veloso never got any help from government until she was taken to Indonesia’s execution island.
Not too long ago, when it became known that convicted drug lords were running their business under the authorities’ nose inside the Bilibid Prisons, many well-meaning citizens, including some lawmakers, cried for a return of the death sentence as the only solution to drug trafficking. They recalled the execution of the convicted illegal drug manufacturer Lim Seng during martial law, and how it struck terror into the hearts of the drug lords and their operatives.
Whatever happened to those drug lords at Bilibid? Since they were already in prison, they wren’t charged with additional crimes anymore.
But what about their official custodians? Why was no one among them ever charged with any crime? The story just disappeared from the headlines, without any official closure. May we hear from the Department of Justice and from the presidential body on organized crime?
Moving on, how do we, as a nation, help our OFWs on death row while we wage war on drug trafficking? This is not an easy question, but it is the question before us now.
A few years ago, I traveled with Vice President Binay to the Middle East as he pleaded for the release of a death convict and some other OFW-detainees. The OFWs were generally appreciative of Binay’s effort.
But there was one who asked whether Binay was not, in fact, sending the wrong signals in pleading for clemency for OFWs who had been found guilty of drug trafficking. Since the Philippines itself was trying to eliminate drug trafficking, how could it ask foreign governments not to punish Filipino drug offenders? This was the question.
To his credit, Binay replied that first of all the convicts concerned continued to maintain their innocence, and he dared not judge them.
But innocent or not, they were Filipinos, alone in a foreign country; his duty as a Filipino was to show compassion and support for any compatriot needing compassion and support in a foreign land.
Now, except for some European countries, which are trying to decriminalize the use of some dangerous drugs for reasons of their own, most countries are trying to combat drug trafficking. But as the global response to Indonesia’s execution of the eight other convicts from Nigeria, Australia, Brazil and Indonesia itself has shown, the issue is no longer whether drug trafficking or any other crime should be punished, but whether death should be the punishment.
The world has seen enough of the cruelties of the Mosaic Law, the Code of Hammurabi, King Nebuchadnezzar and a long line of tyrants who thought nothing of the death sentence. On the other hand the teachings of Christ, the Apostles and the saints, and the writings of Beccaria, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Bentham, Mill, Romilly, Koestler, Camus, Foucault and many others have shown us the folly of the death sentence.
One of Christian Democracy’s greatest achievements is its abolition in many countries. The International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights and its Second Optional Protocol of Jan. 23, 1987 prohibit signatory states from imposing the death sentence.
For its part, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has refined its teaching to exclude as much as possible the death sentence. This is what it says:
“2266. Preserving the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in case of extreme gravity, the death penalty. For analogous reasons those holding authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the community in their charge.
‘The primary effect of punishment is to redress the disorder caused by the offence. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment has the effect of preserving public order and the safety of persons. Finally punishment has a medicinal value; as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.
“2267. If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”
Does this mean that society should now go soft on crime? Not at all. No crime should ever go unpunished, but punishment should only perform its three-fold role, namely: to obtain retribution, to provide deterrence, and to reform the wrongdoer, all for the good of society. Capital punishment extinguishes the innocent as quickly as it does the guilty. It doesn’t give the state the chance to correct its mistake, if it pronounces an innocent man guilty. Neither does it allow a wrongdoer to make amends and reform for the greater good of society.