The last-minute reprieve of Filipina prisoner Mary Jane Veloso by the resolute Indonesian government last April 29 was a welcome shock to the Philippine community and was heralded by many, including myself, as a miracle.

The miracle I found was not only in the inexplicable and seemingly supernatural shifting of circumstance but in the fact that so many individuals, government agencies, and civil society organizations, who are usually in constant conflict with each other, actually worked together for a common purpose – and succeeded.

This miracle is the best sort. It was borne out of compassion, hard work, and unity despite differences and animosity toward each other.

The President, Vice President, Department of Justice (DOJ), government agencies, human rights advocates, religious groups, leftist groups, Filipinos here and all over the world came together, even Manny Pacquiao called for, and worked to save the life of one Filipina.

And though short-lived, we were willing and able to join our voices and our efforts to create a collective force so strong and so convincing that it stopped the inevitable from happening.

Mary Jane struck a cord in all of us. She became a symbol of the Filipino, who, in desperation to provide a better life for her family, falls victim to abuse for nefarious purposes.

She is just one out of too many Filipinos suffering injustices to build a better life for their family. Her case of alleged drug trafficking is just one out of too many cases in the country victimized by drug syndicates, capitalizing on the poverty of the Filipino family.

She has brought to our collective consciousness the grave injustices suffered by Filipinos around the world. We have been made starkly aware of the tremendous risk our countrymen are willing to take in the hopes of a brighter future for their children.

But her reprieve also revealed that we, in fact, have the power to change the course of history when we set aside our differences and work for a common objective.

There are at least 7,000 Overseas Filipinos (OFs) incarcerated abroad. In their 2014 Annual Report, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) stated that there were 80 death penalty cases being monitored, 45 of which are drug-related.

How many of these prisoners were unjustly arrested and imprisoned? How many of them were actually involved in the drug trade and deserve to be incarcerated and how many were unwitting pawns and scapegoats?

Clearly, there are thousands of Mary Janes out there with cases coursing through the justice system of other countries.

Recently, we filed a resolution to thoroughly look into the cases of our incarcerated overseas Filipinos and, more importantly, evaluate the ways in which the Philippine government can offer more support. At the minimum, we need to make sure they get sound legal advice and a fair and just trial.

We have to get over our deep-seated biases and political rivalries and find it in ourselves to come together to ensure that the rights of the thousands of our imprisoned countrymen are not violated.

First published on Manila Bulletin

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