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.

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