STANDPOINT | Spare the peddled, punish the peddlers

Sep. 14, 2016

Statement by the National Union of People’s Lawyers on the case of overseas Filipino worker Mary Jane Veloso

We believe it is quite politically palatable to plead for the life of one of the poor Filipinos whose ill fates made President Duterte say in exasperation, “My God, I hate drugs.” Is it not because of them that we precisely abhor the drug menace, of which we must rid society (in the right way)?

Indeed, it satiates overwhelming appetites for both justice and mercy to ask for clemency at the right time on top of cogent humanitarian grounds. Beyond divergent language and semantics, asking for compassion for the victimized does not quarrel with hitting hard on the victimizer.

We urge the President not to confound who Mary Jane truly is: a poor, young mother of two young boys whose vulnerability was taken advantage of and exploited for the criminal purpose of drug smuggling, which she had no knowledge of doing. Despite being convicted and put on death row, she is in truth not the criminal but the victim, the peddled and not the peddler, not only of drug trafficking but also of trafficking in persons.

Simply put, the context is: Mary Jane is a victim of dire poverty, of lack of real opportunities for a decent job, of pernicious drug and human trafficking. The law may be the law but it should not be blind or deaf to reality.

At any rate, her final conviction, temporary reprieve and now indefinite suspension of execution, and the issue of possible clemency are matters all within the ambit of the laws of Indonesia in the same way that the ongoing trial of the cases against her recruiters and the plea for clemency are also matters in accordance with the laws of the Philippines. They do not cancel each other out.

As a matter of fact, Indonesian and Philippine domestic laws as well as international law, when duly applied, prohibit punishment and guarantee protection for trafficked persons like Mary Jane. There is thus nothing inconsistent with “following the law” in pleading for clemency at the right juncture and through the proper channel for Mary Jane.

As the leader of this nation and as the pater familias of all Filipinos, President Duterte is expected to rise to his bounden duty and fight for her, and fight hard as he does for all victims of this transnational infection.

In lieu of passive acquiescence towards her fate, Mary Jane needs compassion as a victim of the drug menace while we run after the real perpetrators. We thus call on the President and his government to not give up on Mary Jane, in the same way that the people refused to break their vigil at the time her life was almost snuffed out for a crime she did not commit.

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