Just my opinion
By Raïssa Robles
I was kept awake thinking how she could have been saved by simple transnational police work on the day she was arrested.
If only there was some kind of a mechanism, procedure or protocol among ASEAN countries that could have verified what Veloso had told airport security the day she was arrested.
The problem with nabbing drug traffickers is that their crime starts in one or two countries and is perpetrated in a third.
For instance, Veloso was — unwittingly — recruited as a mule in Manila. But she only really became one in Kuala Lumpur. And she was caught as one in Jakarta.
How do you investigate that kind of crime and catch the real perpetrators?
Only an agreement signed by countries under the ASEAN umbrella can help, alongside with China. Ironically, the year 2015 is supposed to be the target set for a “Drug Free ASEAN” (see at the end of this piece).
Here’s how it might work.
The moment Mary Jane was caught in Jakarta a case officer would try to gauge whether Mary Jane was really a mule, and if so, if she could be used to take the police up the food chain so that instead of merely nabbing a (probably innocent) foot soldier authorities can target the masterminds, or at least try to round up the contacts she was instructed to meet.
For this approach to work ASEAN must agree collectively that the imprisonment (and execution) of mules is not the priority, that they can be used to help arrest the actual members of the drug syndicates who run this operation. Cooperation means they would get leniency.
The second thing that (theoretical) ASEAN police coordination could have done in Mary Jane’s case is extraction of actionable intelligence. An officer could have drawn out all the details from Mary Jane. For instance, she said she had stayed for three days with her neighbor named Christine at the Sun Inn Lagoon Hotel near Pyramid Mall in KL. She had met Christine’s boyfriend and the latter’s brother whom she named “I.k” at the hotel parking lot. And it was “I.k” who had bought her the bag found with heroin.
Each country-member of ASEAN could have a quick reaction force dedicated to collectively fight cross-border drug-trafficking. In Mary Jane’s case, the quick reaction force based in KL would be quickly contacted and told to look for “I.k”, Christine’s boyfriend and the latter’s brother. The same QRF will alert immigration authorities in KL and other airports to be on the look out for all four and to nab them for questioning. In addition, KL’s immigration will draw from its databanks everything they have on Christine. The airline which Mary Jane and Christine took from Manila to KL will be asked to look for the true identity of Christine and who paid for the airfares. In the case of airlines, the ASEAN will draw up agreements with all the airlines which fly in and out of the region’s airports.
In this way, the airlines’ cooperation with the QRF would become routine. Under the agreement, each airline will assign someone at each airport to process QRF requests.
Immigration authorities across ASEAN would also be routinely advised of any person of interest in connection with cross border drug arrests. [NOTE: It is the same system that banks use to flag deposits which exceed certain thresholds.] In Mary Jane’s case, Manila’s immigration would be asked to watch out for Christine’s arrival at any airport and hold and question her the moment she arrived.
ASEAN should not stop its efforts there, though. The institution should produce ads that can be played in all the TV sets of airport terminals warning passengers – in various languages – to beware of becoming unwitting and even willing mules of drug syndicates. The ad should also warn passengers not to give in to strangers’ requests for them to check in anything for them through the airport gates.
This warning is particularly important for women travelers from Manila. I remember that a fellow traveler once asked me to hold for her a package at the weigh-in gate because she said her luggage was already overweight. I was about to do it out of kindness when better sense told me not to. When I turned down her request she looked offended and left.
The ad should also give out information that there is a specific counter at the airport where a mule who is having second thoughts could report her situation and turn herself in, cooperate in getting the drug traffickers arrested and convicted, and get leniency for doing so.
Drug traffickers nowadays do a lot of recruiting on Facebook. I think that if a woman is facing the death penalty in another country and her only defense is that she was duped into falling in love with a man who recruited her as a drug courier through Facebook, then Facebook should seriously consider handing over evidence of their online communications to be used for her defense in her court trial.
That is the case with an Australian mother named Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto. She now faces a possible death penalty in Malaysia after a bag she was carrying was found to contain over 50 grams of ice (shabu). She said a man who had romanced her online asked her to carry a bag containing documents from Shanghai to KL.
Considering that Exposto could be hanged for the crime, will the site where she met the man online now be willing to provide her lawyers evidence and even a way of tracing the man’s real identity?