Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Victimized many times over


My May 5, 2015 column.
Barely a week ago, the whole country was united as Filipinos across demographic profiles—young and old, pro- or anti-administration—prayed that overseas Filipino worker Mary Jane Veloso be saved from imminent death by firing squad in Indonesia.  Veloso was given reprieve at the eleventh hour by the Indonesian government.  What was expected to be an occasion for joyous celebration and thanksgiving however degenerated into a bitter exchange of recriminations.  In what can only be described as very ugly turn of events, it soon seemed as if many people regretted having rushed to the aid of Veloso.  There were those who openly castigated Veloso and her family calling them “ingrates,” among other unsavory names.  Even more shocking, there were those who actually expressed their desire to see Veloso hanged, along with her mother.  How did we all find ourselves in the gutter in so short a time?
What triggered the outrage were the rather intemperate words of Celia Veloso, Mary Jane’s mother.  In a press conference a day after their arrival from Indonesia, the elder Veloso castigated President Benigno S. Aquino III for claiming credit for the Indonesian government’s decision to spare her daughter’s life.  To make matters worse, she let out a mouthful of incendiary statements about how they were out to collect payback, accusing the government of having tricked their family many times.
The statements did not sit well with many Filipinos who felt aggrieved that someone ruined what was for many a spiritual moment; after all, the decision to spare the life of Veloso was being likened to a miracle, it was a victory that was snatched from the jaws of certainty.  The fact that it was the mother of Veloso, no less, that ruined the moment was inconceivable.  Adding aggravation was the fact that most have pictured the Velosos as defenseless martyrs and the fighting stance of Celia Veloso was a jarring inconsistency.  So in a way, it was like being betrayed.
In the first place, I think that the mad scramble to get credit for the decision to spare the life of Mary Jane Veloso was unnecessary.  Saving lives and taking care of the welfare of constituents are inherent in the job description of leaders so the crowing done both by the left and by the bright boys in the Palace was a bit jarring.  As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, the best leaders are those who, when the work is done, allow people to say they did it themselves. Unfortunately, this is what happens when partisan politics get in the picture. 
I would like to think that people everywhere likewise prayed for the life of Veloso without preconditions.  I want to think that the value we attach to human lives is not affected by perceptions about what kind of people they or their families and friends are.  And certainly, I would like to think that while we may have expected the Velosos to conduct themselves in a manner that conveyed a certain amount of gratitude, we certainly did not demand that they repay everyone with obsequiousness.  So yes, we can express our disappointment and our anger.  But calling for execution for both the Veloso mother and daughter, and vilifying and demonizing them are uncalled for.  There can be room for empathy for anyone if we rein in our emotions.
It’s too bad our leaders and the political groups who claim to have the Velosos’ welfare at heart do not seem to care about what happens to Mary Jane in the long-term.  The President’s “I did not create your problem” statement and the subsequent attempt of other people to wash their hands of the issue seem to be a portent of things to come, which will be a repeat of the indifference that attended Veloso’s case in the last five years.  The deafening silence from the groups that coddled the Velosos at the height of the crisis is also jarring; surely, they have more experience at crisis management that can be put into effect at this point to help the Velosos. 
I, too, was sorely disappointed at the Velosos, but mainly for allowing themselves to be used as pawns by political forces.  I doubt if Veloso’s cinematic dialogue was something she conjured all by herself; those words aren’t easily strung together.  But then again, like she said albeit belatedly, most really didn’t know what the Veloso family had to go through in the last five years. Nobody really knew them apart from the way they were being forced to fit the poster image of poverty and victimization.  So I feel it would be unfair for anyone to make wholesale judgments about her and her family.   I still hold on to the view that the Velosos, despite the seemingly newfound militant orientation, remain victims in the whole scheme of things. And it looks like they will continue to be victimized many times over.

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