Manila, Philippines - 1 May 2015. The world this week is marked by sorrow over death and suffering from the devastating earthquake in Nepal, and by deep reflection after the mass execution in Indonesia, which also saw an unexpected reprieve granted to Mary Jane Veloso, a domestic worker from the Philippines who is widely considered to be a victim of human trafficking, and who was scheduled to die together with the 8 convicted men.
It has been reported that Ms. Veloso was told of her reprieve just moments before midnight as her fellow 8 male convicts were taken from their cells and moved to the site where they were killed simultaneously by a firing squad of more than 100 policemen, 13 for each prisoner.
The execution, and the process leading up to it, sparked unprecedented responses around the world about the application of the death penalty, with the UN Secretary General stating that the death penalty has no place in the 21st century. It was noted by many that the Indonesian government’s decision to lift their moratorium on executions is a move in the opposite direction from the current global trend towards more governments stopping their use of the death penalty.
Reported remarks by Indonesia's attorney general that “the executions have been successfully implemented, perfectly” added further fuel to the international consternation about how they saw the process managed.
On the positive side—there was the news emerging about the collective actions by many people that allowed Ms. Veloso to escape execution, in a situation where the Indonesian government had for many months categorically rejected requests for clemency. How did this happen?
The (temporary) reprieve finally happened because of people who chose to intervene. The Philippine president, his foreign secretary, activists in Indonesia and the Philippines, and a large number of citizens in more than 120 countries who decided to make their voices heard by joining the #SaveMaryJane petition to the Indonesian president through Change.org—they made this happen collectively, by taking action. At the last moment, did it cause a change of heart?
For me, standing out among the stories was the testimony by Anis Hidayah, the executive director of Migrant Care in Indonesia, who was invited to come to the state palace in Jakarta to personally share her advocacy to save Mary Jane’s life with the Indonesian president in a meeting just hours before the executions took place (read her story here). She cried while doing so.
What I learned is a big lesson with profound inspiration, that taking action and not giving up can bring about results even in the darkest hour, when hope for survival has receded.
When I joined the vigil for Mary Jane Veloso on the streets of Manila before the hour of execution, I was surprised that there were no candles. In stead, there were activists taking turns to clamor loudly for the two governments involved to save her. They believed in their cause and did not appear resigned to the widely expected outcome of death.
Having good intentions was not enough for them, and neither was it enough for Anis Hidayah and the Philippine leaders who chose to personally show up with action in order to save Ms. Veloso's life. They showed us how leadership is about going beyond good intentions to take action and believe that a positive outcome is possible, always.
Since Ms. Veloso's reprieve from execution is only temporary—as was stressed by the Indonesian authorities to date—much more action is needed in the days and weeks ahead to save her life and create a better outcome for her and her family, while seeing justice served under the law. We can start taking our action right away by joining the petition to save her life.