The Indonesian state news agency broke the news: Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that during his meeting with President Duterte last week, the latter had given the “green light” for the execution of death row inmate Mary Jane Veloso.
Veloso is on death row after being found guilty of smuggling 2.6 kilograms of heroin into Indonesia in 2010. She got a last-minute stay of execution in April 2015 after human rights groups pointed out to President Widodo that the person who had tricked her into carrying the drugs had been in police custody in the Philippines.
That Veloso’s conviction was for trafficking of drugs is viewed differently now under a Duterte administration, which promises no mercy to those involved in the illegal drug trade, than it was under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.
What exactly was said between the two leaders? Palace Spokesman Ernesto Abella said Mr. Duterte simply told Mr. Widodo to follow the laws in his own country.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay echoed this Monday. According to the Foreign Affairs department, Duterte told Widodo that he “respects their judicial processes and will accept whatever final decision they will arrive at regarding her case.”
That these words could be construed as a green light for Veloso’s execution would depend on who is uttering and who is interpreting them.
At the outset, the idea that Mr. Duterte—or any foreign leader for that matter—can tell another government to proceed or not with the execution of a prisoner is absurd, no matter the nationality of the person on death row.
If Abella’s and Yasay’s accounts were accurate, it would appear Mr. Duterte said the right—and only—thing to say without impinging on the sovereignty of the other country.
Of course, it is easy for the media to fixate on the phrase “green light.” Veloso’s story is a harrowing, emotional one that resonates with many Filipinos who find themselves making sacrifices and taking risks just to provide for their families’ needs. Throw in the angle about Veloso being duped by somebody whom she trusted with her life, and you have the makings of a poignant human interest story.
But could Duterte even try to speak otherwise when he is hell bent on cracking down on drug traders in his won country’s borders?
Then again, this is not about whether Indonesia should execute convicted drug traffickers. That is its own business. We can only look at the process that has led to Veloso’s conviction: her being asked to carry that suitcase, her gullibility—or desperation—and the ineffectiveness of the translator assigned to her during her trial.
It is of course tragic that Veloso should suffer her fate. This is a reminder, however, that in any country, laws are laws and nobody—not even the president—should trifle with them.