The last-minute miracle came, after all.
The crosses and the coffins had been ready, and Mary Jane Veloso probably never imagined she would even see the sun rise again. Shortly before she was due to be shot by firing squad, however, the Indonesian government gave her a reprieve. She lives, for now.
What happens from here will be entirely up to our officials who appeared to have waited until the last minute before exhausting all options to save Veloso’s life.
It cannot be denied that the surrender of Maria Kristina Sergio on Tuesday to the Nueva Ecija police had much to do with the reprieve. Sergio is the godsister who told Veloso of the supposed job opening, who gave her clothes and a suitcase before going with her to Indonesia, and who disappeared as soon as the drugs were found in Veloso’s possession.
That Sergio has been charged with trafficking and is now in police custody bolsters Veloso’s claim that she is a victim, not an operator.
The Aquino administration is quick to claim credit for the stay of Veloso’s execution. It was because President Aquino spoke with the Indonesian president that the latter changed his mind, they claim. A sister of the President said she was proud of her brother.
Lest we get lost in the jubilation, it would be good to remember a few things.
First, the Philippine government only paid attention to Veloso’s case after she had been convicted. The likely reason she was found guilty, however, was her inability to defend herself. The Department of Foreign Affairs had no hand in providing her with a lawyer; her counsel was an Indonesian who was not conversant in English.
Second, the conviction remains. And unless the Philippine government moves with the same urgency as it has in the past few days – only in the past few days – Veloso may find herself back in that island, saying her goodbyes again, and for real.
We never doubted for a minute that Filipinos could muster enough support for Veloso’s cause. What we doubt is our government’s sustained attention to the case once other issues take prominence. It would be doubly tragic if we lose Veloso anyway after this rare chance was given to her.
Finally, there are numerous other Filipinos on death row in other countries. Their stories share an unnerving similarity with Veloso’s. What happened this week reminds us that waiting until the last minute should never be an option. Veloso was lucky this week, but relying on luck is never enough.
The Palace should now stop congratulating itself; it must face the more tedious work that lies ahead.