Drug syndicates game the legal system, tap even kin of arrested drug mules—DFA
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday justified its slow assistance to Filipino workers incarcerated abroad, particularly for drug trafficking, saying it has been careful not to let international syndicates using drug mules take advantage of the legal process.
“We know that the Philippines has been a source of drug mules by international syndicates… so we have been very cautious,” Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Jesus Yabes told a congressional hearing on the Mary Jane Veloso case.
He cited the case of a Filipino drug mule who was imprisoned in China on drug trafficking charges.
“The family went to our office asking for assistance to visit the OFW, so we requested the embassy of China, which issued the visas,” Yabes said, without providing details.
But at the airport, drugs were found in the luggage of the relatives, who were not apprehended by Philippine authorities because they had members who were too elderly or too young.
“They even used their family members to smuggle drugs out of the country,” he said. “We know that many are being enticed to do that, so we are very careful,” Yabe said.
Speaking at the hearing by the overseas workers’ affairs committee of the House of Representatives, he also defended the DFA against accusations of neglect in the case of Mary Jane Veloso in Indonesia, and other Filipinos on death row abroad.
Yabes said the government was not remiss in providing assistance to Veloso and other OFWs contrary to claims by Migrante International.
He enumerated the DFA initiatives that he said “eventually led to the stay of execution” granted to the Filipino death convict.
The 30-year-old Veloso was supposed to have been executed by firing squad on April 29, until last-minute appeals by President Aquino and the surrender of her alleged recruiter, Maria Cristina Sergio and her partner, prompted Indonesia to give Veloso a temporary reprieve.
At the same hearing, a Migrante representative told the committee that the cases of Filipinos on death row abroad reflected a host of problems arising from government’s neglect and apathy towards their plight, such as the denial of due process, delayed response, lack of transparency, and general cluelessness.
Migrante said it saw no sympathy for OFWs from the government.
But Yabes said this was an unfair assessment.
He said it was true that Veloso, who was arrested in 2010 after airport authorities discovered heroin in her luggage, had been initially represented by court-appointed lawyer in accordance with Indonesia’s justice system.
“The Department provided other forms of assistance. Since 2010, the Philippine embassy had constantly been making representations with various agencies, regularly met with prosecutors, held consular visitations with prison officials,” and others, Yabes said.
He described the embassy action as “low-profile representation” that helped obtain the confidence of Indonesian authorities, who gave Veloso humane treatment.
“Through these efforts, Mary Jane could regularly meet her family members,” Yabes said.
On the other hand, he said “high-level representation” led by the President, the Vice President and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs boosted these efforts that ultimately led to the stay of Veloso’s execution.
Yabes also took Migrante to task for seemingly belittling court-appointed pro-bono lawyers.
“We don’t scrimp on payment to lawyers,” he said. But he added that it was true that many OFWs were represented by court-appointed lawyers upon the advice of the courts themselves.
“We secured the release of two seamen using pro-bono lawyers. Those were the recommendations of the courts… We had asked for regular lawyers but the recommendation was to tap the services of the pro-bono lawyers,” Yabes said.
He said Edre Olalia, a prominent human rights lawyer helping Veloso, “is also a pro-bono lawyer.” “Many statesmen are pro bono lawyers like Jose Diokno and Claro M. Recto,” Yabes said.
Veloso’s sister, Maritess Veloso-Laurente, also addressed the committee, tearfully thanking everyone responsible for securing the reprieve on her sister’s execution.
“We hope that other families don’t have to go through what we went through. It was very hard to be on that island waiting for your sister’s corpse,” she said.
The fight is not over, as Veloso remains on death row, according to Laurente. “We remain hopeful Mary Jane will be able to go home,” she said.