The Filipino public’s consuming interest in the execution of Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, Ramon Credo and Elizabeth Batain was both melodramatic and inevitable. The three drug mules were the first Filipinos to be executed by China, and their personal narratives mirrored the stories and the self-image of millions of Filipinos, as hardy but unfortunate creatures of circumstance. Little wonder, then, that the news from China proved riveting, and the response of many Filipinos so personal.
The punishment imposed was also as final as it could get. The death penalty does not only assume that the convicted are incapable of being rehabilitated; it brooks no appeal. If evidence of innocence were to surface afterwards, there is no longer any convict to release. This irrevocable nature of a state-sponsored execution helps explain the event’s grip on the public imagination.
But something else about the executions strikes us. The three Filipinos were caught in different cities and on separate days three years ago, and convicted on drug trafficking charges separately the following year. They were all executed, however, on the same day. Villanueva, 32, and Credo, 42, died by lethal injection in Xiamen; Batain, 38, was executed in Shenzhen.
This does not seem to be a quirk of judicial schedule, but a deliberate decision. Deliberate not only in the sense of China’s rather ruthless bureaucratic efficiency but also in the sense of the Chinese government’s policy intentions. Beijing wanted to send a message.
The Philippines has been identified as a key source of the illegal drug traffic into China. Drug use has long been considered a dangerous menace in China and the target of relentless crackdowns. And executions in China, by far the world’s biggest executioner according to Amnesty International, are often unannounced.
That China allowed such a public spectacle to happen must mean it is deadly serious about the drug problem attacking its cash-rich, transitional society ― and is not afraid to use its geopolitical influence and regional ambitions to flex its muscles. A total of 224 Filipinos remain in Chinese jails, on various charges involving illegal drugs. We can only expect the muscle-flexing to continue.
The same-day execution of Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, Ramon Credo and Elizabeth Batain ought to serve as a wake-up call for both Filipinos travelling overseas and the Philippine government. The most important task, to use Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda’s precise phrasing, is to break the “chain of victimization.”
This means, concretely, preventing more Filipino workers who are travelling overseas, especially those highly vulnerable to economic pressure, from becoming witting or unwitting drug mules. Victimization may come directly through monetary inducements, or through the back door of ignorance. We can all help in the work of prevention, by spreading the word about the sometimes fatal consequences of drug smuggling, by forwarding any information we may have about drug trafficking operations to the authorities, by supporting much stricter pre-departure security checks to flush out contraband drugs.
Breaking the chain also means identifying those immigration, customs or airport officials who enabled drug syndicates large and small to victimize travelling workers. Does it seem likely that many pieces of luggage containing illegal drugs continue to pass through Philippine international airports without the connivance of certain officials? The authorities must conduct this investigation expeditiously and thoroughly, and then either remove erring officials or file the appropriate charges against them.
Not least, breaking the chain of victimization means running after the syndicates themselves. For instance, Villanueva named the person who allegedly recruited her to travel to China with what turned out to be a bag with illegal drugs hidden in it. That person cannot be located, but the Philippine National Police said it is already readying cases. Credo’s alleged recruiter has also been identified. It does not seem likely that these victimizers were one-time drug traffickers; it is more likely that they form part of an international network of drug traffickers. Aided by leads and tip-offs from vigilant citizens, the government can crack down hard on these syndicates. That would be the best way to break the chain.
(Editorial, Philippine Daily Inquirer)
(Asia News Network)