State owes this mother an apology

By Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at May 10 2015 01:15 PM | Updated as of May 11 2015 04:26 AM

“Maniningil ako.”

Social media crucified Celia Veloso because she demanded accountability.

Now victims or would-be victims of Mary Jane Veloso’s recruiter are coming out to testify against Ma. Cristina Sergio. Law enforcers spit out details of Sergio’s frequent travels to countries known as hubs for narcotics smuggling. They reveal database inputs, harking four years back, tagging Sergio and her partner as suspected drug mule handlers and human traffickers.

Read: Mary Jane Veloso's recruiters admit being part of int'l drug ring

In the middle of an interview at the headquarters of Migrante, supporters relay to Nanay Celia the latest details on the Sergio case, including one victim authorities are still trying to trace.

Mary Jane’s mother wipes her eyes. She sighs. Her fists clench.

“Ilan pa ang mga biktimang di natin alam? Ilan pa ang nawawala?” (How many other victims are out there? How many more are missing?)

National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) probers say Mary Jane Veloso seems to be what she has always claimed to be – a woman desperate for work, “set up” by the woman masquerading as a friend.

Sergio, it turns out, actively recruited victims even after an Indonesian court meted out the death sentence on Mary Jane. She was probably among the first victims of Sergio. Authorities are still trying to track down one of the latest victims.

Read: NBI says Mary Vesolo may have been set up.

We must ask, what took the government so long to act?

Enough red flags were waved in officials’ faces.

Four years ago, lawyers for Mary Jane urged the Philippine government to investigate Sergio. That route, the lawyers said, was the best way to bolster Mary Jane’s defense.

For five years, her family pleaded, went the rounds of government agencies, asking the same thing.

Officers of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) insisted there was no case against Sergio. The PDEA interviewed Mary Jane only at the end of March this year. Indonesian lawyers said they received the agency’s report only days before the scheduled execution.

Other agencies said the illegal recruitment charge would not stand either, although the family said there were enough witnesses who’d heard Sergio admit she had brought Mary Jane to Malaysia. Officials were also told other individuals would be willing to attest to Sergio’s illegal recruitment activities.

(Read full resolution of the Department of Justice here.)

At the Department of Foreign Affairs, Nanay Celia was told nothing could be done for Mary Jane. And for five years, DFA officials told the Velosos to keep silent so as not to jeopardize Mary Jane’s case.

The government hired private lawyers after the sentencing. But it refused to heed the same lawyers’ recommendations or the repeated appeals of the Veloso clan.

The Velosos cooperated. They followed instructions. They initiated moves – only to be dismissed by the state.

Only when that ordered silence brought Mary Jane to the brink of execution did the Veloso family opt for noise and rage and protest.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo consulted with Indonesian activists who are partners of Filipino migrant workers advocates. They told him exactly what the Veloso family was saying: That a woman was about to die because the system in her homeland had spat her out.

At the last minute, facing outrage and the exposure of how it had failed Mary Jane, the Philippine government told Indonesia it would to investigate Sergio as a start to the dismantling of narcotics syndicates. That was when Widodo gave the Filipino another reprieve.

Hours before her daughter’s scheduled execution, Sergio, who had allegedly subjected the Velosos to threats, ran to the Philippine National Police (PNP) to seek “protective custody.”

The government approved the charges against Sergio days after Mary Jane’s scheduled execution.

Some sectors insist Nanay Celia should be “grateful.” Her daughter’s life was spared.

But had this mother and others not raged against the dying of the light, one life would have been snuffed out unjustly.

The result of the belated probe on Sergio vindicates the Veloso matriarch. We cannot begrudge this mother’s rage or lynch her for seeking accountability. Unless we pursue accountability, ferret out the why’s and push for reforms, more Filipinos will end up like Mary Jane.

Nanay Celia apologize? The state owes Mary Jane, her mother and her family an apology.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.