MARY JANE Veloso was supposed to be executed in the prison island of Nusakambangan, Indonesia along with eight other drug trafficking convicts from Brazil, France, Africa and Australia.

According to media reports, the surrender of Maria Kristina Sergio, Veloso’s recruiter, paved the way for the “postponement” of the execution.

The Indonesian government led by President Joko Widodo, at the last minute, decided to grant the appeal to spare Veloso at least until the resolution of the pending Philippine case against Sergio, where she would be tapped as a witness.

After the postponement, Veloso’s case caused uproar from netizens and even key government officials for lack of persistent actions, considering that Veloso was already imprisoned in Indonesia since 2011.

In media reports, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) insisted that it had done what it could for Veloso and her family such as providing legal aid, covering the family’s travel expenses to Indonesia and representing Veloso at the “highest level” of Indonesian government.

In a timeline of events on Veloso’s case released by the Philippine Star, the statement of DFA and Migrante National, an organization with a vision of helping distressed OFWs, were combined to see the different sides of the story and sought to shed some light on the lapses.

The DFA had asserted that it had provided legal aid to Veloso but as seen in the timeline, an embassy-hired law office, Rudyantho & Partners Law Office only represented Veloso during the appeal stage of the case. This means that before and during the trial, Veloso was being legally assisted by lawyers provided by Jakarta.

Midnight fumes

According to the DFA, it has a P100 million fund for legal aid of distressed OFWs. Aside from this, the DFA collects fees from OFWs for “passport issuance, documents authentication and other consular services.”

If it has this big of a budget in carrying out its responsibility of ensuring the protection and assistance to OFWs, then why was it not utilized to aid Veloso since her arrest in 2011?

Earlier this year, reports were released that Malacañang had placed the legal assistance fund “under appropriations approved for conditional implementation.”

If one also examines the constitution, in section 3, Rule IX or the “Legal Assistant for Migrant Workers Affairs” of Republic Act No. 1002 or “An Act Amending Republic Act No. 8042,” otherwise known as the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, the legal assistance fund shall only be used “in the absence of a ‘counsel de oficio’ or court-appointed lawyer.”

Sometimes. especially in this case, bureaucracy causes more harm than what it aims to prevent.

Media reports had also quoted the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) which serves as Veloso’s present legal counsel, for questioning the credentials of the translator given to Veloso during her trial, the missing emphasis on the drug trafficking angle for Veloso at the start of her court proceedings, lack of transparency and continuous communication with the family on updates on the case and the four years late filling of judicial review on Veloso’s case.

The case of Veloso is an example of the mediocre legal assistance by the government to OFWs facing capital punishment.

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To refresh, this was not the first time that an OFW was put on death row in a fellow Southeast Asian country.

In 1995, Flor Contemplacion, a Filipino domestic helper was hanged to death in Singapore for allegedly killing her fellow domestic helper, Delia Maga and a three-year old Singaporean boy whom Maga was taking care of.

It was only after Contemplacion’s death that further investigations and witnesses rallied on Contemplacion’s innocence. After 20 years, the country seemed to have not learned enough from its lapses on the case of an overseas worker.

In the Middle East and other countries, numerous OFWs are awaiting capital punishment.

In an article released by GMA News, the Department of Foreign Affairs tallied more than 80 OFWs on death row, most of which are in Saudi Arabia.

The case of Veloso, Contemplacion and other OFWs on death row must set as a reminder that there is a need for aggressive actions toward protecting the dignity, welfare and safety of OFWs.

Aside from dwelling on repeated safety hazards on publicity materials alone, the DFA along with other government agencies must ensure that its laws are executed well and even amended.

Last April 30, media outfits such as the Manila Bulletin released an article which informed of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago’s passage of a bill “expanding the scope” of the legal assistance fund for distressed OFWs especially those facing death penalty. It is about time something like this is drafted.

There should be amendments to the laws regarding dealings, labor concerns and engagements of OFWs especially, but not limited to, those facing capital punishment.

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It should not boil down to last minute miracles again just to save a life when there can be hope through a long-term process.


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