“Thank God, it’s a miracle.”
“There is power in prayer.”
These are some of the comments accompanying the news that the execution of Mary Jane Veloso had been postponed. Veloso is a Filipino migrant worker to Indonesia who was arrested last 2010 for allegedly smuggling 2.6kg of heroin to the country, but who maintains she was duped into doing so and was a victim of human trafficking.
Veloso was scheduled to be executed, along with 8 other prisoners, last Wednesday (April 29, 2015), but was spared at the last minute. Many people (including the victim herself) attributed this turn of events as an act of divine intervention (a miracle), and use it as proof of the power of prayer.
Make no mistake, I am as happy as anyone that she was given a reprieve and a chance to prove her innocence. I take no pleasure in the death of someone who was merely a victim, rather than the true perpetrator of a crime.
However, I think that what happened was hardly a miracle, and that prayer had little to do with it, and even if it did, God has to stand in line behind some people whom we ought to thank first.
A miracle, after all, is an event that cannot be explained by natural or physical laws. If Mary Jane had mysteriously disappeared from her jail cell and then reappeared back home in the Philippines, that would be a miracle. If she had stood in front of the firing squad and came out unscathed after the gunmen fired, that would be a miracle. But this is not the case.
As for prayer, if no one had done anything except prayed — no rallies, no appeals, and so on, and yet she was spared, then something might be said for prayer. But that is again not the case. It was human action and human solidarity and human compassion, that stayed the execution. While Mary Jane might have a longer lease on life, it’s not entirely a happy story as the eight other prisoners’ executions did push through. They reportedly sang the Christian hymn, “Amazing Grace,” until they were felled by the bullets. One of them, Australian Andrew Chan, was a Christian and a pastor. What happened to their prayers? Could you face the relatives of those who died and say that what happened was a miracle and that they should thank God for answered prayers?
If we should thank anyone, it is the people who made all of this happen. Thank you to the Indonesian government and president Jokowi Widodo, who literally held Mary Jane’s life on the tip of his finger, and actually still does (as the execution has not been cancelled but merely postponed pending further investigation). Whatever other criticisms are hurled at him, the victim at least owes him thanks because he had a direct hand in sparing her life.
We should also thank our own president for making a personal plea. Again, criticisms abound on how it was his government’s delay in pursuing the case that led to a last-minute effort, but I’m not going into that now. At least, there was effort, even if it came in the final seconds, and it worked.
We should also thank the recruiter, Maria Cristina Sergio, for coming forward and turning herself in. Granted, she did it to save her own skin and to plead innocence against Veloso’s accusation that she was the one who planted the drugs on her — but her act, even if done for selfish reasons, was instrumental in staying the execution. So thank you, anyway.
Then, of course, there are the many concerned citizens and activists both here and abroad who showed their support by holding vigils, rallies, online appeals and so on.
These are the real heroes — people helping people. The sooner humans stop fantasizing about divine salvation and start realizing that no one is going to help us but ourselves, the better off we will be.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.
Send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me. Join our next Filipino Freethinkers Davao Meetup on May 9, 2015 (Saturday) 730pm to 1030pm, Coffee at Yellow Hauz, V. Mapa St., Davao City.