Back to Forum

A poor woman’s Dignity

‘A poor woman’s dignity’

Sharon A Bong


‘Filipina drug mule spared from execution’.[1] ‘Mary Jane Veloso: Mother of Filipina spared from Indonesia firing squad hails “miracle” reprieve’.[2] ‘Indonesia executes eight drug dealers sparks anger from Australia, Brazil’.[3] 


These recent headlines represent the media spotlight on Veloso, a 30-year old single mother of two who was sentenced to death in 2010 for attempting to smuggle 2.6 kilograms of heroin into Indonesia from Malaysia. A global campaign for clemency and pardon led by church-based groups such as the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), maintained that Veloso was a victim of human trafficking as she “did not knowingly participate in carrying drugs to Indonesia”.[4] That “miracles do come true” – the stay in execution (which suggests that she could be executed at a later date) – follows the surrender of a woman who was suspected of recruiting her and “tricking her” to authorities in the Philippines and Veloso’s own willingness to “give testimony at the trial of the alleged drug trafficker”. The personal appeals for clemency made by leaders of Australia and Brazil did not overturn the execution of eight convicted male drug dealers.    


So what does Veloso represent to us? She is a victim of human trafficking and a means of educating the masses, as the PCPR says, on the “dangerous intersection” between drug and human trafficking. She is a litmus test for the implementation of legislation, as there is an “Indonesian law on trafficking that mandates the government protect victims rather than punish them,” says lawyer Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL).[5] She is a poor third-world woman. As an overseas domestic worker in Dubai, she was victim of attempted rape and when she tried to find employment elsewhere, given the inadequate opportunities in her home country and made more vulnerable with having little formal education, she was unwittingly recruited by a drug syndicate.


And she is a person. Those who believed in her innocence and did not despise her poverty and victimhood, recognise her human dignity. The abundant life that is the fundamental indicator of human dignity (John 10:10), in the case of Veloso, can now be glimpsed, as we recall the reinstatement of fundamental human rights in Gaudium et spes:


At the same time, however, there is a growing awareness of the exalted dignity proper to the human person, since he stands above all things, and his rights and duties are universal and inviolable. Therefore, there must be made available to all men everything necessary for leading a life truly human, such as food, clothing, and shelter; the right to choose a state of life freely and to found a family, the right to education, to employment, to a good reputation, to respect, to appropriate information, to activity in accord with the upright norm of one’s own conscience, to protection of privacy and rightful freedom even in matters religious (Gaudium et spes, 26).




[4] Rappler (2015) ‘Sign the petition: Join global action to #SaveMaryJane’, available at:

[5] Rappler (2015) ‘PH files “stronger” 2nd appeal for Mary Jane Veloso’, available at: .