Duterte’s contradictions

What’s the difference between a joke and a dirty slip showing? How do you distinguish hyperbole from a person’s genuine worldview?

In the case of the Davao strongman Rodrigo Duterte, the offensive comments come too regularly to be dismissed as careless witticism.

Credit Duterte for defending indigenous peoples hounded by henchmen of corporations out to wrest their ancestral lands. Credit him for condemning the massacre of hungry folk in Kidapawan. Praise him for wanting to expand agrarian reform to ensure farmers get the support they need. Hail his commitment to resume stalled peace talks with communist rebels and provide meaningful autonomy to the Bangsamoro.

But do not ignore Duterte’s record in justifying the killings of people he considers social pests – juvenile delinquents, addicts, pushers. 

The Davao mayor has not admitted to any extrajudicial killings. He claims the criminals killed under his direct supervision were all gunned down in battles with law enforces.  No case has been filed against Duterte for these extra-judicial killings.

His supporters stress this to debunk charges of selective justice. But there is no doubt that people have been summarily executed under Duterte’s watch.

Duterte applauded these killings, encouraged these, defended these, verbally attacked and threatened those who rang alarm bells. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has doggedly reported on this for years; its country researcher Carlos Conde has received threats for his efforts.

Duterte may not have actually pulled the trigger. But speech after speech – to cheers and ovation – Duterte, a lawyer, spits on the nation’s laws, including the Constitution, presenting murder as legitimate law enforcement policy.

Who judges the innocent?

In his April 12 rally at the Amoranto stadium, Duterte said he has never killed an innocent person. But who judges innocence or guilt? The courts do, not the mayor, not the President. To deny suspects a chance to defend themselves in court does not solve the problem of injustice.

In the same rally, Duterte expressed sympathy for the plight of the Bangsamoro.

“I have to swear to the flag. My duty to the republic is to protect everybody, including the Moro people,” he promised disappointed leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

That’s impressive. But government officials swear to protect the rights of everyone, including people suspected of committing crimes.

The military routinely tramples on these rights where suspected militants are concerned, including the Lumad fighting to keep their lands free of abusive extractive industries. Officials of the Aquino government routinely justify these abuses. They are wrong. And so is Duterte in his equally selective notion of human rights.

Duterte talks about the evils of corruption, of how top leaders have made a rich, small segment of the population more equal than the rest.

digong alabang
There is no denying Rodrigo Duterte’s popularity. Whether he campaigns in Metro Manila or the provinces, the Davao strongman draws huge, ecstatic crowds.

His followers also cite the same – criminals coddled by lawmen, judges, other officials – as a reason for their impatience with legal niceties and their support for death penalty sans any check and balance, except a leader’s righteousness.

I will not disabuse them of the belief that injustice stalks the land. It does; my Facebook page is filled daily of examples, from tragi-comedy to full-blown horror.

Nor will I try to paint Davao City as the country’s crime capital. It isn’t.

But there is no excuse for murder. There is no reason on earth that justifies state-sanctioned murder.

My rights are everybody’s rights

Dutere asks, “anong mawala sa inyo kung patayin ko ang criminal?” (What would it cost you if I kill criminals?)

I have seen state security officials kill people on simple suspicion of being criminals. I have seen friends die, seen them arrested and tortured. I have seen people languish in jail even when the courts have cleared them of alleged crimes.

I cannot agree that others do not deserve the same rights I fight for, the same rights government officials are sworn to defend.

Duterte isn’t a neophyte politician. He  has had decades as local chief to provide an alternative to instant-gratification, vigilante justice.

He offers higher wages for law enforcers. They certainly need it – like the rest of the country needs it.

But Duterte should be detailing steps needed to ensure that cops and soldiers do their job right, like trainings to lessen their use of shortcuts that then lead to lost cases.

He could list steps he’s done and will do to ensure the poor – defendants and plaintiffs – are guaranteed legal aid by efficient and honest government lawyers.

He could talk about workable rehab programs for young people who fall prey to drug abuse. He could talk about imposing harsher penalties for corrupt prosecutors who throw cases, or work with citizens’ groups to keep watch on hoodlums in robes.

It’s not that he hasn’t helped drug addicts. He has, as witnessed by  Clarisse Le Neindre, who know runs a rehab facility after recovering from addiction with Duterte’s help.

Watch Le Neindre’s testimony https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fforwardwomen2016%2Fvideos%2Fvb.1671955399731080%2F1690853824507904%2F%3Ftype%3D3&show_text=0&width=560

Why then stress shortcuts as solutions to problems? Duterte is doing people a disservice by pandering to the worst of our instant gratification tendencies.

He presents the sona – the whole-scale round up of suspected addicts and community pushers – as the swift response to the scourge of drugs. That blueprint misses the fat cats who control the entry, the manufacture and the deliveries of drugs to affected areas.

Double standards, too

duterte contractualizationDuterte says poor Filipinos will come first under his presidency. He opposes contractualization.

Yet he promises to create an enclave where foreign investors can stay safe from the reach of the country’s laws.


He personally commits to keep them safe from inconvenient truths – like the fact that workers have the right to unionize.

For all Duterte’s talk about the poor’s right to prosper, he sees the struggle for economic rights as an enemy of development. And, indeed, in his first official campaign speech, he threatened to kill labor leaders who would not heed his “appeal” for a moratorium on union work.

He banners his credentials as a dear friend to the LGBT community. By all accounts, he treats them well.

Yet he uses the word “bakla” as an insult, a synonym for “coward”.

Some gay friends who support him say they see nothing wrong with it.

If he uses it as an adjective that reflects your self-identity, there is nothing wrong with it. If you slam others for using bakla as a slur, why is Duterte suddenly exempt from those standards? His use of the word only encourages the bitter, hateful homophobia that have harmed so many of your peers.

And then there’s rape and his attitude towards women. He and his wife have a unique relationship and I will not impose my standards of fidelity on them. I must also acknowledge that, unlike ousted president Joseph Estrada, no one has charged Duterte with stealing public funds to subsidise his womanising activities.

Davao also has many pro-women policies.

And yet, he opens his mouth and something else comes out.

Duterte recently shared this tale of criminals in detention twice grabbing hostages. The second incident involved a bunch of Christian prayer warriors, including an Australian woman who was raped and then had her throat slashed, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune.

Duterte used the anecdote to stress how incorrigible some criminals are and also to show his willingness to risk life for the sake of victims.

Then he debased everything that mattered. His anger towards rape was almost secondary to dismay that criminals used the woman first before the mayor did.

He was joking? Maybe. But he also used the same line earlier in his talk.

Cops who commit crimes for personal reasons deserve to be punished, he said. He made an example of a cop who kills his mistress – especially a pretty one — and implied  the mayor should have first dibs on the beauty.

It’s not the first time he used that anecdote on the hostage-taking, ending with a similar line. Watch Noemi Dado’s video at the 38:43 marker.

You can slog through the entire Duterte speech, including some moving performances by Freddie Aguilar here.


And this admittedly moving paean to change. Which, indeed, this country needs.

We all should be outraged that the haves in this country get away with all kinds of abuses while the rest of us suffer indignities daily.

Yes, innocent people get killed and innocent people rot in jail. Hungry people are left to starve; when they protest, they die.

We all should rage.

But in cheering for Duterte’s warped logic, in playing blind to his contradictions, we might just visit more of the same on this nation.


Fans and missing heroes I– OFWs (SONA 2015)

President Benigno Aquino III’s use of real people in his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) was a good thing.

President Beningo Aquino III delivers his last State of the Nation Address (SONA). Photo by gov.ph
President Beningo Aquino III delivers his last State of the Nation Address (SONA). Photo by gov.ph

The President’s strength has always been his folksy speech. His skilled use of colloquial Filipino allows him to break through media filters to address the majority classes D and E. They would relate to the videos of ordinary citizens.

Reports have greater punching power when you weave in case studies of people speaking in their own voices. It’s hard to demolish a young student’s words or a former rebel combatant’s views. They may not show the whole picture – vignettes seldom do – but their perspectives are as real as yours or mine.


It’s natural for a President to show his winning side. The dissection of the President’s claims can wait for another day or two. I’d like to focus on just a small part of the President’s litany of thanks and self-praise to highlight some important things missing in his SONA.

‘Modern Heroes’

Let’s start with this.

Tackling rising employment in the country, Mr. Aquino mentioned overseas Filipinos (OFs).

Idagdag na rin po natin diyan ang naiulat na pagkaunti ng Overseas Filipinos. Noong 2011, nasa 9.51 million ang naitalang Overseas Filipinos ng Department of Foreign Affairs. Sa huling datos naman ng Disyembre ng 2014, nasa 9.07 million na lang ito. Hindi kalabisang isiping marami sa tinatayang 440,000 nabawas sa kanila ay bumalik sa Pilipinas, at nakahanap ng trabaho

(The number of Overseas Filipinos is decreasing. In 2011, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported there were 9.51 million OFs. It’s not a far stretch to think that the 440,000 that disappeared from their ranks returned to the Philippines and were able to find jobs. )

Most OFs, especially contract workers, will take comfort knowing they may be able to come home and earn well without having to brave the hardships they now undergo.

Various OF groups and pages on social media, however, bewail that Mr. Aquino’s SONAs always fail to discuss issues faced by “modern heroes.”

dollarsIt’s a legitimate plaint. After all, the sector contributes one-tenth of the country’s gross domestic product. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reported at the end of 2014 that OFs had sent home $26.9 billion, an all-time high. (This is way higher than just above $20 billion recorded in 2010)

Modern heroes beleaguered

If the number of OFs has dropped, their monetary value has grown. The World Bank says the country accounts for the third-largest global remittance by nationals working abroad; in 2007, the Philippines ranked fourth.

READ Migration and Remittances: Recent Developments and Outlook* Special Topic: Financing for Development

Distressed OF families from Saudi Arabi   Photo by Raoul Esperas for abs-cbnnews.com
Distressed OF families from Saudi Arabi Photo by Raoul Esperas for abs-cbnnews.com

For all the good news OFs are vulnerable to a lot of factors, some of which have hogged the headlines lately.

Human trafficking and possible official collusion in the crime continues to place the Philippines on Tier 2 of the US Human Trafficking Index. http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/countries/2015/243514.htm

The report notes the conviction of 54 traffickers and cites other efforts – mostly domestic – to crack down on syndicates.

But it is blunt:

“Public officials, including those in diplomatic missions abroad, law enforcement agencies, and other government entities, are reported to be complicit in trafficking or allow traffickers to operate with impunity.”

It also cites problems faced by distressed OFs in the country’s embassies and consulates and reports that officials have curried sexual favour from syndicates in exchange for protection or from the those seeking an end to their plight.

Saving Mary Jane

maryjane-finalThe President could have acknowledged this very serious problem hounding modern heroes. He could have laid out what steps his administration has done for them. The SONA is a platform for doing just that.

The silence is glaring. The nation was recently galvanized by the travails of Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipino facing possible execution in Indonesia for drug-smuggling.

The silence is startling. Malacanang originally claimed it was Mr. Aquino’s last-ditch efforts that saved Mary Jane. (He did talk with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.) It was that claim that actually caused grief for Mary Jane’s feisty mother, Nanay Celia, who was mobbed by netizens for not being grateful enough towards her daughter’s saviour. READ: A Mother’s Righteous Rage

You’d think the Palace would want to wave that flag. It didn’t because that claim comes with heavy baggage – the fact that practically all agencies that could have helped, ignored or dismissed Mary Jane’s cries for help.

Mary Jane claimed to be a victim of human trafficking. She had sworn testimony. Her family was willing to file charges. They had witnesses eager to help the government go after her recruiter, Christina Sergio.

They went to the DFA, the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). They were told there was no case – even with witnesses. They were told making noise would endanger Mary Jane, ordered to trust their betters.

Mary Jane’s Indonesian lawyers also urged our government that getting Sergio was crucial to save Mary Jane. They were frustrated.

Mr. Aquino did his part. But he could not cite saving Mary Jane (although the case remains open-ended even with Sergio’s indictment) as an achievement. There is no denying that the system and his government failed Mary Jane, and that ordinary Filipinos and Indonesians and various peoples and, yes, pesky activists did the bulk of saving, including finding independent channels to the Indonesian leader.

READ Questions amid Save-Mary-Jane good news http://indayvarona.com/2015/07/09/questions-amid-savemaryjane-good-news/

Mary Jane is not alone. Migrante is presently handling the cases of eight (8) OFWs in death row and 121 in jail . Not all are victims of human trafficking. But like Mary Jane’s family, their anguish is compounded by being left out of the dark as the government follows up (or fails to) their cases.

Remittance woes

OFs are also burdened by some countries decisions to shut down some non-banking remittance conduits because of alleged flow of fund to terror groups.

While terrorism is a legitimate concern, there are suspicions that the crackdown may be on the behest of large banking conglomerates. In 2012, the Asian Bankers Association (ABA) estimated that as much as 40% of all OF remittance passed through informal channels or the beleaguered non-bank firms.

For many OFs, who come from poor families that need to conserve resources, the big banks are associated with prohibitive service fees.

Mr. Aquino could have reported on ways his government is trying ease OFs’ situation under these circumstances. His failure is a disservice to OF heroes.

(Next: Those who gave up their lives)

Pope Francis and the Song of Apad

“Namulat sya sa kandungan ng mahihirap at sunog sa araw na mga magulang… Kaya malinaw nyang naintindihan at naranasan ang hagupit at dahas ng kahirapan… habang lumaki, kanyang nasasaksihan ang pagwasak sa ninunong lupa at kalikasan.”

“Parang kalayulayo ng pagkaiba ng salitang katutubo at aktibista, ngunit ang panlulupig, pangangamkam at pangalipusta ang sing bagsik ng bagyong nagtulak sa kanya upang sumanib sa kilusang layong ay lumaya.”

(He woke up to the world, in the embrace of poor, sunburnt parents. He learned to understand the cruelty and lash of poverty and, as he grew, saw the destruction of his ancestors’ lands. There is a vast difference between the word lumad and activist, but oppression and thievery, plunder and humiliation were storm winds that drove him to the movement of people who seek to be free.)

The middle class audience stirred at the start of this poetry of rage, discomfort clear as they listened to the slight, 12-year-old boy. But as Apad Enriquez went on, kerchiefs came out to wipe eyes filled with tears.

This was a child, talking about blood spilled on the land of his people, the Manobo of Surigao del Sur. This was a child who cried himself to sleep at night, wondering whether his father would be given one more night of freedom or be caught in the enemy’s trap.

This was a boy, the same age as their own children, who had just made a 300-km trek from the mountains of his hometown to the national capital.

“My boy complains that he lacks ‘load’ for his cellphone,” said Tess, a banker. “Apad talks of schools burnt and bullets raining on their homes.”

apad-011415Despite regular disruptions to his schooling, the son of wanted indigenous leader Genasque Enriquez chatted easily about math and science (the stars and planets and the universe) to his new friends in Manila. He and his cousin, Ben, and 14-year-old Angeline also got praise for their flawless English and Filipino.

They thanked teacher Anabelle Campos, with them on their Lakbayan, for her dedication.

Work exacts a tough price from Campos, who was also schooled in alternative learning centers managed by faith groups.

Manobo women at the funeral rites for New People's Army commander, Leoncio Pitao.
Manobo women at the funeral rites for New People’s Army commander, Leoncio Pitao.

Campos has been threatened with arrest. Whenever forced to evacuate to the town center, she faces a barrage of taunts: “There goes the teacher of the children of the NPA.”

The communist New People’s Army is strong in the hinterlands of Mindanao, as it is in the country’s poorest provinces. Other rebel groups, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), traditionally find recruits amid a vacuum in governance and the struggle over land and natural resources.

Children ask, ‘Why?’

Despite the poverty of their lumad community, Campos and children managed to keep tabs on Pope Francis’ January visit to the Philippines.

In havens for children of militarized communities, rooms fell silent as the Pope embrace Glyzelle Palomara, a former street waif, who broke down asking why God allows children to suffer.

Campos’ Manobo wards come from a different milieu but they, too, struggle with emotional scars from early exposure to violence.

Ben’s brother was tortured.

One of the children had braved interrogation by armed men on the hunt for his neighbor.

A few minutes after Angeline wowed her Manila audience with a lyrical Filipino poem, she learned that parents and siblings had fled their village for the nth time. She would be going home to an evacuation center.

Apad laughed when asked why he was on the streets, not in school.

“Bakit doon, bakwit dito, walang katapusan” he replied. (There is no end to our flight.)

Like Gizelle, like the indigenous people of South America forced into subjugation by colonizers, the children of the Manobo wake up asking, “Why?”

Why does death haunt their people? Why do strangers want their land?

Why do fathers have to leave and mothers have to weep when husbands and children are brought home bloodied?

Why do their calls for help, for justice go unheard?

Pope urges action

Mother and child at the Guindulungan Evacuation centre. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching
Mother and child at the Guindulungan Evacuation centre. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching

Nardy Sabino of the Promotion for Church People’s Rights (PCPR) says that in Bolivia, Pope Francis spoke to all the world’s indigenous peoples.

The Pope, he says, did not just call for a stop to injustice. He actually asked Catholics – and anyone who cares to listen – to actively work for change.

The Pope, he adds, was emphasized the need for a “preferential, evangelical option for the poor”.

The world’s first Latin American Pope traced his call for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Sabino asks, “Will the faithful follow Pope Francis?”

Marian Ching, a young development activist who has worked with lumad and Muslims, says Filipino IPs need Pope Francis.

“Reading Pope Francis’ support for indigenous peoples in his second encyclical, where he says ‘for indigenous communities, land is not a commodity, but a gift from God, a sacred space,’ meant a lot to me given my work here in Mindanao, where indigenous peoples are among ‘the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged’ and constantly subjected to human rights violations as they struggle for land and their rights. “

Taking testimony of 'bakwit', people forced to leave their homes due to conflict, in Sultan Kudarat. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching
Taking testimony of ‘bakwit’, people forced to leave their homes due to conflict, in Sultan Kudarat. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching

It is important to heed the Pope’s call to recognize those of the faith who dedicate their lives to the people’s struggles, “often standing alongside the native peoples or accompanying their popular movements,” says Ching.

She cites the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel that has “tirelessly supported the B’laan’s fight for land and rights in Tampakan, South Cotabato.”

That struggle against foreign corporation Glencore and its local allies has led to the murders of at least ten indigenous leaders in the area.

Ching also credits church leaders who “voice “their support for the peace process, which hopes to address injustices committed against our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters, who may also be considered a minority population in our country.”

Tradition of service

Clemente Bautista, the national coordinator of environmental group Karapatan has another question. “With the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) take up Pope Francis’ challenge?”

Philippine IPs face a crisis, say Bautina, Sabino and Ching.

Photo of Manobo elder courtesy at funeral honours for Leoncio Pitao of the New People's Army courtesy of Obet de Castro
Photo of Manobo elder courtesy at funeral honours for Leoncio Pitao of the New People’s Army courtesy of Obet de Castro

Karapatan reports that more than 30 of the 48 environmentalists killed in the last six years are indigenous leaders. The trail of killings sprawls from northern Luzon and Palawan and to the provinces of Mindanao.

In Northern Mindanao alone, 23 IP leaders have died since October 2014, according to the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. That’s three IP leaders every month. In most cases, the suspects are big corporations or political clans out to wrest IP land.

Sabino believes Pope Francis will galvanize religious of all faiths and the laity.

The Pope apologized in Bolivia for the Catholic Church’s role in the subjugation of indigenous people’s. But he also took pride in clergy who risked their lives to serve oppressed communities.

“We cannot believe in God the Father without seeing a brother or sister in every person, and we cannot follow Jesus without giving our lives for those for whom he died on the cross,” Pope Francis said.

Photo by Obet de Ca
Photo by Obet de Ca

The Philippine churches have a rich tradition of serving the rural poor. Priests, nuns and lay leaders in basic Christian communities have all fallen to death squads while campaigning against human rights violations and other abuses.

“When we give succor to communities, we do not ask if people are Catholics,” says Spanish Claretian missionary Angel Calvo, who has spent decades in the island-province of Basilan.

Thirty years ago, Bacolod Bishop Antonio Fortich thundered at military officials who accused his priests of feeding communist rebels.

“A hungry stomach knows no color,” said the prelate who braved threats, and even a grenade attack on his residence, and succeeded in convincing the more conservative Pope John Paul II to confront the Marcos dictatorship on the issue of human rights.

Listening with his soul

The religious continue to serve and they continue to minister under grave threats in Mindanao. No less than the Philippine Secretary of Social Work, Corazon Soliman, has attacked their work with the IPs.

Seeing lumad children among a crowd protesting militarization in Talaingod, Davao Oriental, Soliman accused the church groups of violating children’s rights.

Piya Macliing Malayao, secretary general of the indigenous alliance KATRIBU), said the official was trying to gloss over the government’s responsibility for lumad children’s plight.

“The children were at the rally because they had lost their schools,” Malayao pointed out.

Pope Francis, a hugger to all comers, is very much a people’s prelate, eschewing abstractions for messages that reflect on people’s daily lives.

Campos earlier said the Pope seems to have the ability to listen “at the level of soul.”

In Bolivia, he spoke of names and faces, of hearts breaking because of sorrow and pain. Praising community organizers and those to live with indigenous people, the Pope stressed the difference between “abstract theorizing” and the empathy borne of seeing and hearing the pain of others and absorbing this as one’s own.

“That emotion which turns into community action is not something which can be understood by reason alone,” said the Pope. “It has a surplus of meaning which only peoples understand, and it gives a special feel to genuine popular movements.”

He could have been talking of Apad of the Manobo and other youth of other tribes and ethnic groups across the country.

Apad may never get the chance to meet this Pope. But in his pain-wracked nights, this young man can take comfort knowing that Francis believes in what little people can do.

This is a Pope who hears Apad’s song and understands that his people need to fight for their land – or die as slaves.

Questions amid #SaveMaryJane good news

If Manny Pacquiao’s visit to Mary Jane Veloso‘s Yogjakarta prison pushes through tomorrow, they will be celebrating some good news.

The Department of Justice today indicted Kristina “Tintin” Sergio and Julius Lacanilao for illegal recruitment, estafa and human trafficking.

Mary Jane Veloso's family joins a candelight vigil for the migrant Filipino worker facing the death penalty in Indonesia. (photo courtesy of bulatlat.com)
Mary Jane Veloso’s family joins a candelight vigil for the migrant Filipino worker facing the death penalty in Indonesia. (photo courtesy of bulatlat.com)

The news from DOJ comes on the heels of the Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court’s decision to reject the suspects’ motion to dismiss the large-scale illegal recruitment case filed by other witnesses.

The partners are supposedly responsible for offering Mary Jane a job in Malaysia and then sent her to Indonesia with new luggage — and heroin hidden in its lining.

The help they offered the desperate mother of two, who’d fled from an abusive employer in the Middle East, landed Mary Jane in Indonesia’s death row.

It’s great news for Mary Jane and her family and the many Filipinos worried that the end of Ramadan next week could prompt another round of Indonesia executions that could include the Filipino.

Mary Jane’s Filipino lawyer, Edre Olalia says via text message:

“There is presently no A1 news, report or information either way on her indefinite reprieve… Our counterpart Indonesian lawyers we have real time contact (with) say there is no significant update yet. Indonesian migrants and women’s organizations with (whom we) have real time coordination are keeping their eyes on the ball always.”

“Mary Jane is naturally anxious about the progress of the cases in the Philippines against her remorseless and quite arrogant illegal recruiter,” Olalia adds. “Otherwise she is fine and holding up.”

11083945_10206177494654153_1422238296516788771_nLet’s all be optimistic. Indonesian President Joko Widodo gave Mary Jane this reprieve because Indonesian migrant rights activists argued that the Philippine government had failed a victim of human trafficking. Mary Jane, after all, was a sister to thousands of Indonesians worldwide suffering the same plight.

With the Philippine government finally giving credence to Mary Jane’s defense, he will probably find it in his heart to wait for justice to take its course. Read: No Choice But To ‘Break Protocol’ For Mary Jane

You see, Mary Jane’s Indonesian lawyers were not remiss in telling the Philippine government that going after Sergio was critical to saving their client. Mary Jane had sworn testimonies. Her family also coordinated with the government. Several times.

They went to the Department of Foreign Affairs. They went to the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency (PDEA). They went to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). They were willing to file charges. Witnesses were willing to testify on Sergio’s direct role in Mary Jane’s tragedy.

They were told there was no case – even with witnesses. They were told that making noise could endanger Mary Jane, told to trust in the system.

President Benigno Aquino III did his part at crunch time. He did his part at crunch time. But there can be no denying that the system, this government – his government – failed Mary Jane big time.

It took a global crusade, a last-minute petition on Change.org (almost half a million signers now) and plenty of hustling from Migrante and its Indonesian allies, and Olalia and an international group of lawyers, to get Philippine authorities finally moving against Sergio.

News that the human trafficking suspect was finally in law enforcers’ custody was a tipping point for Widodo.

Cops were somber as they listened to narratives of Mary Jane's ordeal. Photo by author
Cops were somber as they listened to narratives of Mary Jane’s ordeal. Photo by author

Only later would it come out that authorities confirm that they had already had their eyes on Sergio. And, finally, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) acknowledged that Mary Jane could have been set up.

I’m happy to see the government moving, though this case could still drag on.

But I’d be happier if another probe body, maybe the Senate – because it IS an issue in aid of legislation – investigates why nothing was done for Mary Jane before it was almost too late? Read: Celia Veloso’s Righteous Rage

Were there previous efforts from some quarters to protect Sergio? If so, who were these groups or individuals?

Mary Jane’s family followed the advice to keep silent – until despair made them grab Migrante’s helping hands. That silence could have swept the truth aside, especially if Mary Jane’s execution had gone through. It was the noise, the spotlight suddenly thrust on the case that brought the truth out.

Malacanang says President Aquino told his Indonesian counterpart, that the world would be a better place if they go after the big fish. I totally agree with that.

But if the government really wants to show the world it is determined to take down narcotics lords, it must provide the answers to questions surrounding Mary Jane and Sergio.

Until protectors of criminals are flushed out, we will never run out of Mary Janes.

Celia Veloso’s righteous rage

The Philippine State owes Celia Veloso an apology celia veloso1

“Maniningil ako.”

Social media crucified Celia Veloso because she demanded accountability.

Now victims or would-be victims of Mary Jane Veloso’s recruiter are coming out to testify against Ma. Cristina Sergio. Law enforcers spit out details of Sergio’s frequent travels to countries known as hubs for narcotics smuggling. They reveal database inputs, harking four years back, tagging Sergio and her partner as suspected drug mule handlers and human traffickers.

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In the middle of an interview at the headquarters of Migrante, supporters relay to Nanay Celia the latest details on the Sergio case, including one victim authorities are still trying to trace.

Mary Jane’s mother wipes her eyes. She sighs. Her fists clench.

“Ilan pa ang mga biktimang di natin alam? Ilan pa ang nawawala?” (How many other victims are out there? How many more are missing?)


WATCH : NBI: Veloso may have been set up. 

READ: Mary Jane Veloso’s recruiters admit being part of int’l drug ring sergio - latest victim

No choice but to ‘break protocol’ for Mary Jane

The personal touch has always been one of President Benigno Aquino’s greatest strengths. It has also been a major weakness of the Philippine’s incumbent Chief Executive.

When it moves him, Mr. Aquino can be dogged, emphatic, unleashing the Aquino charm. Conversely, the President comes off as unfeeling and uncaring, and prone to convoluted logic when put on the defensive. (Read, Mamasapano and the SAF 44).

recruiterIn the temporary stay of execution granted Mary Jane Veloso, Mr. Aquino must be credited for reaching out to the Indonesian government and for suggesting that targeting big narcotic fishes, instead of little mules, would be in the best interests of both countries.

No less than Indonesia’s Attorney General confirmed that Veloso was spared after Aquino’s appeal that Veloso be used as a witness in the impending case against her recruiter Maria Kristina P. Sergio, also known as Mary Christine Gulles Pasadilla.

“There was a request from the Philippine president regarding the perpetrator who’s suspected of committing human trafficking and surrendered in the Philippines. Mary Jane is needed for her testimony,” Tony Spontana, the spokesman for Indonesia’s Attorney General, said in a text message to media.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) had remained silent following a personal appeal from the Philippine President during the ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur.

Based on a Reuters report, the reported “surrender” of Mary Jane’s alleged recruiter tipped the scales for the hapless Filipino woman.  The Indonesian Cabinet secretary has also acknowledged that activists, who helped in Jokowi’s rise, played a major role in their President’s change of heart.

Keeping one’s eye of the big fish is, by the way, a strategy long practised by the best intelligence units — whether dealing with illegal drugs, human trafficking or terrorism. Sometimes, zeal gets the better of them and they find themselves abetting illegal, criminal actions while trying to hook the big fish. There are laws that ban such practices and, if caught, law enforcers may see their target walk.

11083945_10206177494654153_1422238296516788771_nMr. Aquino’s aides note, rightly, that he was so adamant he broke protocol  to save Mary Jane’s life. That means talking to officials other than Jokowi, his counterpart.

I’d laud him for that, too.

I’ll also point out that it was the least he could do.

Failing Mary Jane

You see, a big part of why Mary Jane found her self on the verge of execution was because the Philippine government had done nothing to follow up her claim that she was duped into carrying narcotics.

It started as a human trafficking case.

Cops were somber as they listened to narratives of Mary Jane's ordeal. Photo by author
Cops were somber as they listened to narratives of Mary Jane’s ordeal. Photo by author

As many hapless Filipinos have experienced in the Middle East, Mary Jane was abused by an employer and forced back home. Bereft of any hope for a productive job, probably still in the process of paying off debts incurred in her first trip, she sought the help of Kristina Sergio.

When no job materialized in Malaysia, she was invited to try out her luck in Indonesia, given a new luggage, some new clothes.

Mary Jane’s Indonesian lawyers were not remiss in telling the Philippine government that going after Sergio was critical to saving their client. Mary Jane had sworn testimonies. Her family also coordinated with the government. They were told that making noise could endanger Mary Jane, told to trust in the system.

That is the context around President Aquino’s last-minute efforts to reach out to Indonesia.

He did his part at crunch time. But there can be no denying that the system, this government – his government – failed Mary Jane big time.

Sin of Omission

Even after Mr. Aquino wrote Indonesian leaders to request clemency for Mary Jane, NOTHING WAS DONE?  What were those letters premised on, simple mercy?

Mary Jane’s lawyers and allies were clear: their request for a review, for a step back hinged on the tenet that with death so final a punishment, it is but just to exhaust all remedies that allow a sentenced person to prove her case.

In Mary Jane’s case, flaws in the Indonesian system (a lack of translator that confused Mary Jane, among other things) and the greater flaw at home — nothing was ever done to follow up her claim.

Governments should not be even staging last minute saves – unless during a clear, sudden accident. Governments should ensure that citizens get the best possible service, especially when their lives are at stake, especially when they find themselves toiling in harsh, dangerous and hostile conditions.

Well, this is what the government will do NOW.

“Our Department of Justice will do a case build-up and provide the information to the Indonesian authorities, so that the position of Mary Jane may be clarified, that she was a victim of a human trafficking and illegal drug trafficking syndicate,” Coloma said.

The question is, despite documents, why wasn’t it done BEFORE?

I understand private lawyers and migrant groups are closing in on a paper trail that could shed light on why Mary Jane was abandoned on the most important part of her defense, even as the government went through the motions of “helping out”.

The least of the cases

I heaRd Kristina Sergio over dzMM. She, of course, denies having anything to do about narcotics. She also denies she is an illegal recruiter.

In the interview I heard, she claimed to be a legitimate representative of a legitimate and credible employment agency. No names were given (and none asked by the anchors).

Sergio claimed Mary Jane approached her. I’ll buy that. The countryside gossip network is vast and operates overtime, especially on matters of livelihood.

Her later interviews, however, give lie to the story of being a legitimate employment agent.

A legitimate manpower agent deals directly with clients, ensures that a job and a proper contract are available and waiting, and that all government requirements at home and abroad have been met, before sending an OFW to greener pastures.

A legitimate employment agent is not an escort service, not someone who shells out considerable funds for someone’s plane fare, hotel accommodation, plus some pocket money, for a possible job. That is a classic human trafficking set-up.


If only on that score, the government’s inaction in the case of Mary Jane is criminal.

That the human trafficking eventually turned out to be narcotics smuggling only makes the omission more grave.

Even on the day the Indonesians bent back to give Mary Jane a chance to make good her story, Serigio was not under arrest. She was under protective custody because of alleged threats received in the run up to the scheduled execution.

If the government really wants to show the world it is determined to go mano-a-mano with narcotics lord, it must also provide the answers to questions surrounding Mary Jane and Sergio.

You see, that was the crux of the matter: The Philippine government was begging Indonesia to save Mary Jane after it failed to do so.

Ten percent of our nation is scattered to the winds. Mary Jane could have been a sister, a friend, a parent, a spouse, a partner.

I’d have broken protocol, too, if I were the President. There was no other choice.

You can help save Mary Jane Veloso

A lawyers’ group and various Christian churches are struggling against all odds to save the life of Mary Jane Velasco, a Filipino facing execution in Indonesia.

Velasco was convicted for smuggling heroin into Indonesia in April 2010. This is what happened, according to Mary Jane and her family.

Betrayed by a friend

The mother of two had just returned from a traumatic stint as a domestic worker in Dubai where, she says, her employer attempted to rape her. Desperate to help her children and her parents, she accepted a friend’s offer of a job in Malaysia.

“Christine” was the daughter of Mary Jane’s godfather. She brought Mary Jane to Malaysia. There was no job. She offered an alternative in Indonesia. Then she bought Mary Jane new luggage for her meager clothes. Mary Jane says she did not know the luggage also contained 2.6 kilos of heroin. She was nabbed at the airport by Indonesian authorities.

It is a story told too often. It is a story that has made Filipinos cynical.

We know there are Filipinos who knowingly accept offers to be drug mules. We also know many others are duped by smugglers of various contraband.

We can sniff and say, beh, buti na. But not too long ago, in more innocent times, we good-natured Filipinos thought nothing of accepting requests by strangers to accommodate their luggage.

I’ve done that before on trips where there was only a small bag to check in and someone next on the check-in line, with too much baggage, would beg to be relieved of the dreaded excess charge. I haven’t done that for years, of course, even when the person requesting the favor is a nice, sweet, 70-year old woman. Too dangerous.

Helping hands

But I’ve seen Filipino migrant workers in airports around the world and their host countries.

Left to their own defenses in hostile surroundings, Filipino overseas workers (OFWs) are torn between the need for caution and the very real need to help one another.

They step into the breach in countries where our embassies and consulates provide little or no aid to hapless peers. They rescue stranded and abused domestic workers. They provide funds, food and tender loving care to Filipinos wounded in the crossfire of host countries’ conflict. As former head of Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo, I have seen so many examples of the Filipino migrant’s innate generosity. So I cannot just dismiss claims of innocents who get into trouble.

Right to fair trial

I do not know whether Mary Jane Veloso is telling the truth. And neither does Edre Olalia, secretary-general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers.

Olalia’s group was approached by Mary Jane’s family two nights ago. They wanted help in a last-ditch attempt to save her life.

11083945_10206177494654153_1422238296516788771_n“I do not know what the truth is. But there are enough credible reports, including one by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which notes that she may been deprived of the right to a fair trial,” says Olalia.

NUPL will ask the DFA tomorrow for the Veloso case file. Among the documents they will request is a hand-written account by Mary Jane of her experience. This has been in the custody of the Philippine Embassy in Indonesia since 2010, says Olalia.

NUPL has also linked with an international lawyers’ group and Indonesian allies. They may file an amicus brief.

The lawyer was present at a forum at the Cubao diocese chancery yesterday, when religious groups and migrant organizations gathered to brainstorm the Save the Life of Mary Jane Veloso campaign.

Mary Jane Veloso's father, Cesar, breaks down as he appeals for help in saving the life of his daughter. (Photo by Inday Espina-Varona)
Mary Jane Veloso’s father, Cesar, breaks down as he appeals for help in saving the life of his daughter. (Photo by Inday Espina-Varona)

Mary Jane’s father, Cesar, broke down seconds into his speech and had to be given some medical aid.

Her mother, Celia, later spoke on behalf of the family, narrating the horror of finding out through television news that her daughter’s appeal had been rejected by indonesia’s Supreme Court.

“We lost hope. We didn’t know who could help us,” Celia said in Filipino before thanking the alliance for the help. “

“Now we have found strength,” she said. “Maybe a miracle will happen.”

The Extra Mile

This is a poor family with little by way of resources and connections to save Mary Jane, and one under threat from the former friend – who remains at large.

By all accounts, Mary Jane is accepting of her fate though not bereft of a will to fight this last fight. 

UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Christof Heyns, had earlier appealed for Indonesia to stop the executions. She cited a report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that said Veloso and other death row convicts did not receive sufficient legal services or the right to translators, and had no legal representation at all stages of their trials.

NUPL is doing research on a case of an Australian national whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on the same grounds invoked by Veloso.

Innocents do get executed by states. Some extra-judicially, some at the tail-end of trials stacked against them. In the United States, just recently, a man walked free after 30 years on death row, after being convicted sans fingerprint evidence, no eyewitness and employers and workings confirming his alibi.

This is all the family asks from you – to help them campaign for another review of her case.

As Olalia notes, “there is no further motion for reconsideration in the afterlife.”

How To Help

If you want to help Mary Jane get another chance to prove her innocence, you can do this:

Send letters, emails or fax messages calling on:

  • Indonesian Pres. Joko Widodo to grant Mary Jane Veloso clemency on grounds of a mistrial and for humanitarian reasons. Letters may be coursed through respective Indonesian embassies.
  • Philippine Pres. Benigno Aquino III to exhaust all means to save Mary Jane Veloso’s life and demand to know why Mary Jane Veloso and others like her were deprived of proper legal assistance by the PH government.
  • The Philippine government to hunt down and prosecute Mary Jane Veloso’s illegal recruiter, “Cristina”, who remains at large to this day. “Cristina” is also said to be harassing and threatening Veloso’s family.
  • The United Nations to investigate why there have been the most number of executions that pushed through under the Aquino regime.
  • Migrants’ and human rights-based organizations to appeal for clemency for Mary Jane Veloso.

Sign the petition calling on Pres. Widodo to stop the executions in Indonesia:

Like and circulate to all networks the Save the Life of Mary Jane Veloso Facebook page

You may send your communications to:

H.E. President of the Republic of Indonesia Joko Widodo

Istana Merdeka
Jakarta Pusat 10110, Indonesia
Fax: +62 21 386 4816 /+62 21 344 2233
Email: ppid@setkab.go.id

Twitter: @jokowi_do2

H.E. President of the Republic of the Philippines Benigno Aquino III

Office: JP Laurel St., San Miguel, Manila, Philippines

Voice: (+632) 564 1451 to 80

Fax: (+632) 742-1641 / 929-3968

E-mail: corres@op.gov.ph / opnet@ops.gov.ph

Twitter: @noynoyaquino

UN Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns on extrajudicial executions

Email: eje@ohchr.org

Please send a copy of your email/mail/fax to the above-named government officials, to the address below:

Save the Life of Mary Jane Veloso

45 Cambridge St., Cubao, Quezon City, Philippines

Telefax: (+632) 9114910

Email: migrante2007@yahoo.com.ph

Facebook: fb.com/SaveMJVeloso, fb.com/migranteinternational

Twitter: @migrante_intl