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More than tears needed to expose drug trade

MANILA (Mabuhay) : The trial in Indonesia of accused drug trafficker, Mary Jane Veloso, has placed the spotlight on Filipinos that have been picked up for acting as drug mules and are now doing time in foreign jails or, in some countries, sitting on death row.

The bishops of The Philippines placed the matter on the agenda for their July 11 to 13 annual gathering in Pasay City. Father Mervin Mejia, the secretary general of the bishops’ conference, pointed out that there is little reporting on the drug trade in local media and, since it really is a growing problem people need to know more about it.

UCAN reported him as saying that there is a special concern over the number of migrant workers who have become involved.

Migrant workers are natural targets for drug barons with an eye out for mules. The desperation of the circumstances in which many find themselves often leaves them easy prey and, as many are not experienced travellers or aware of the possible pitfalls of carrying parcels for unknown, or even known, people, they can land themselves in serious trouble if they are not careful.

The sheer number of Filipino migrants travelling the world as migrant workers helps to avert suspicion and if the person has been kept ignorant of what they are doing there are no tell-tale signs in body language to alert immigration officials.

Drug barons target the poor and often not street-wise, as they can get away with paying them relatively small amounts of money and do not reveal their real identity to them.

Consequently, they do not have to worry much about security, as the profit on one successful run more than compensates for well over half a dozen mules who get busted.

In the long run, it is the mule who wears the cost.

There are approximately 80 Filipinos on death row around the world. Forty-one of them are on drug-related charges; 16 in Malaysia, 21 in China, two in Vietnam and one each in Kuwait and Indonesia.

Over the past four-and-a-half years five have been executed.

The bishops are hoping for more publicity on the nature and mechanics of the drug trade in The Philippines in order that migrant workers may be a bit wiser to the jungle of dangers before it is too late.

Veloso was back in the news when she received a visit from Philippine boxing great, Manny Pacquiao, who had previously appealed to the president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, on her behalf.

Pacquiao and his wife, Jinkee, visited her in Wirogunan Prison, Yogyakarta, on July 10.

Veloso won a temporary reprieve from her death sentence for drug trafficking on April 29. She is now appealing for clemency, which her lawyers say has a better chance of succeeding than filing another appeal for a review of her case.

Veloso has maintained that she herself was trafficked by Maria Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao. The Philippine Department of Justice is preparing to charge them with illegal recruitment, estafa and human trafficking.

“That is a solid and substantial evidence in favour of Mary Jane’s case. A tangible proof that she is an innocent victim,” Bishop Rupert Santos, who has responsibility for the pastoral care of migrant workers, told CBCP News.

In addition, charges will be brought against a person known as Ike, whom Veloso claims handed her the luggage containing the drug cache and asked her to carry it.

However, in addition to the innocent or naïve who are suffering, there are also those who did know what they were doing and the bishops want more information available on the terrible danger they are placing the lives of others in.

A visit from Pacquiao may make good headlines, but unless his visit can be followed up with an extensive exposé on the extent and workings of the drug trade in The Philippines it may do little to protect the innocent.