Weekly Reflections: Modern-Day Slavery


“And now he is not just a slave, but much more than a slave: he is a dear brother in Christ. How much he means to me! And how much more he will mean to you, both as a slave and as a brother in the Lord!” – Philemon 16

Mary Jane Veloso’s Case

Some say it’s a miracle; others say it’s an answered prayer. This is about the last minute reprieve of Mary Jane Veloso, an overseas Filipino worker convicted of drug smuggling and supposed to be executed by firing squad along with other eight men from Australia, Brazil, Africa, and Indonesia on the midnight of April 29, 2015 at the prison island of Nusakambangan, Indonesia. The eight men were finally executed, while Mary Jane was spared.

According to reports, it was about five years ago when Mary Jane was asked by her recruiter, in keeping with the Filipino culture of “padala”, to carry a luggage in her flight from Malaysia to Indonesia. It was at the airport in Yogjakarta that authorities discovered about 2.6 kilos of heroine stuck inside the luggage. Mary Jane was arrested, tried, and convicted and scheduled to be executed by firing squad.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo explained that his country has to impose stricter laws on illegal drugs because about 40 to 50 Indonesians are dying everyday due to drug-related cases. However, militant groups like Migrante International saw Mary Jane as a victim of drug trafficking rather than a drug trafficker herself, and that she was convicted though she claimed to be innocent simply because she was not given adequate support and representation from the Philippine government. In short, Mary Jane is a victim of gross injustice.

Thus, hoping against hope militant groups did their best to pressure government and non-government organizations, including the church, here and abroad, to look seriously into Mary Jane’s case and do something to spare her from a cruel death. Even Pope Francis and Manny Pacquiao joined the voices worldwide to prevent the execution.

Miraculous Event

As the event unfolded, no one would expect the Indonesian authorities to give in to pressures. But something unexpected happened. Mary Jane’s recruiter, Maria Cristina Sergio,and her live-in partner, Julius Lacanilao, surrendered to Philippine authorities allegedly to save their lives from death threats. This surprising development gave the Indonesian government reasons to give reprieve to Mary Jane and take a second look at her case and hopefully get into the real culprits.

In the eyes of faith, what happened is a miracle, indeed. A miracle is an event wherein we experience the reality of God. It shows God working in wondrous ways, sometimes in ways we cannot fully understand. God is a God of surprise. And this is what makes us stand in awe and wonder before God’s presence.

Miracle as Responsibility

Miracle is not just an affirmation of faith; it is also a call to responsibility. The ball now is in our courts. It is now the responsibility of our judicial system to prove that Mary Jane is, indeed, innocent and a victim of drug syndicates. It is now the responsibility of our courts to dig deeper into the reasons why a person like Mary Jane, a single mother of two, has to leave her country and her children in order to earn a living in distant lands. For unless we look into the roots of the problem, Mary Jane Veloso would not be the last victim to land on death row.

Sometime ago, Hillary Clinton, mentioned in her speech on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the emancipation of US slaves that human trafficking is considered as modern-day slavery. It is estimated that as many as 27 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking. Hence, the work to eradicate slavery remains unfinished. Mary Jane is not only a victim of drug syndicates; she is also a victim of human trafficking or modern-day slavery.

Slavery in the Bible

Slavery is an ancient inhuman practice dating back to Biblical times or perhaps even before that. As a matter of fact, the Israelites were former slaves who were set free from the bondage of Egypt through a miraculous event called the Exodus Event led by Moses.

Slaves were not regarded as human beings, but as properties or commodities to be bought or sold by the owner.

However, the Israelites were admonished by the Deuteronomic Writers not to enslave their fellow Israelites or to set free their slaves, because they were once upon a time slaves in Egypt and God rescued them by His mighty hand (cf. Dt. 15). In the New Testament, Christians were instructed to treat their slaves as brothers or sisters in Christ (cf. Eph. 6). This was the context of Paul’s letter to Philemon. In his letter, he was literally pleading to Philemon to treat his runaway slave Onesimus as a brother in Christ. He said,“And now he is not just a slave, but much more than a slave: he is a dear brother in Christ. How much he means to me! And how much more he will mean to you, both as a slave and as a brother in the Lord!”(cf. Philemon 16).

The Early Christians were not able to put a stop to slavery, but at least they were able to develop some basic principles on how to deal with Christian slaves. Christian slaves should be treated as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Modern-day Slavery as an Economic Issue

Like slavery in ancient times, human trafficking or modern-day slavery is an economic issue. Most often than not, people would become slaves because they were victims of droughts or pestilence. And so they borrow money from usurers who would take advantage of their misfortune rather than helping them.

Human traffickers today are like that: they would take advantage of the misfortune of poor people by promising them non-existent jobs in exchange for large amount of money.

Hence, human trafficking could only be addressed adequately by developing the economy and provide sufficient jobs so that there is no need for people to leave our country and their loved ones in order to earn a living. # nordis.net