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Even as the government scrambles to save the necks of Filipinos facing capital punishment all over the planet, we should also be doing our homework.

The first task is to improve the campaign against drug trafficking. Drugs such as heroin and cocaine are smuggled into the country for regional distribution while the Asian triads have set up shabu laboratories even in Metro Manila. The shabu is exported as far away as Hawaii.

Drug traffickers have learned to exploit poverty, unemployment and inadequate education to recruit Filipinos who are clueless, reckless or desperate enough to smuggle drugs into countries with tough drug laws such as China.

The next task is to make sure all Filipinos bound for China, Singapore and other countries with capital punishment, where drug trafficking is considered at par with murder, are fully informed about the risks of breaking the law in those countries. Use video clips, use newspaper reports of previous cases that led to executions – anything that will put the fear of God, or the fear of Chinese justice, into the hearts of prospective drug mules.

It must be drummed into the head of every traveler – and every Filipino for that matter – that if you can’t respect another country’s laws, you shouldn’t go there. And if you defy the Philippines’ own travel ban to certain countries, you must be prepared to suffer the consequences, instead of being rewarded with a house and lot and scholarships for your children.

Similar warnings must be given to anyone dreaming of making a quick buck as a drug mule in South America, where several Filipinos are also in prison for drug offenses. Even in places where there is no capital punishment, imprisonment, especially in a foreign land, is a humiliating, traumatic ordeal that Filipinos must be warned against.

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If the warnings are still disregarded, those arrested and convicted should not be surprised if their Philippine compatriots feel they should just be left to rot in a foreign prison or suffer worse consequences.

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The disregard for other country’s laws is a sad reflection on Filipinos’ blatant disregard for many laws in their own country.

Once caught, Filipinos are used to negotiable justice. The guiding principle in this country is it’s good to know the law, but it’s better to know the judge. Lawyers study the law to find ways of going around it.

The father of an accused murderer, for example, might approach a cousin who knows the barangay captain, who goes to the mayor or congressman, who talks to the judge handling the case to ask for leniency for his constituent. Unless the murder victim is a friend or relative of the judge, the request is likely to be granted. The law applies to all… with the exception of the rich, the powerful, and the well-connected.

A foreign diplomat told me that our justice system is “malleable.”

This is not the case in certain other countries. Some of our reckless, irresponsible, stupid or desperate citizens have received the shock of their lives after finding this out.

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In addition to the three Filipino drug mules saved temporarily from death, 72 Filipinos are facing capital punishment in China, Malacañang has confirmed.

All 72 have received reprieves averaging two years and some could see their sentences commuted, Palace officials said. In many of those cases, this is just wishful thinking. Unlike our Supreme Court, which has opened the door to perpetual litigation with its bizarre flip-flopping on the Cityhood Law, the highest court in China is not known for changing its mind, and its political leaders tend to bow to the court. At best, the executions might be spaced over a long period because too many within a short span could look like a massacre.

When the Chinese say the law applies to all, they tend to mean it. They have a point when they say that if they spare the three Filipino drug mules from death, what would other countries – among them Malaysia, Thailand and the UK – that have seen their drug traffickers executed in China say?

Migrante International counts 120 other overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) facing execution in other countries, mostly in the Middle East. P-Noy can’t keep sending Vice President Jejomar Binay and troubleshooter Mar Roxas to put out all the fires as the two men engage in an early pre-2016 game of one-upmanship.

Of course Binay promised no concessions to Beijing in exchange for the reprieves; the concessions had been delivered in advance, in the Philippines’ Nobel Peace Prize boycott and the deportation of 14 Taiwanese to China.

As of yesterday the troubleshooting appeared to have been a failure. Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou expressed his people’s fury and demanded an official apology from Manila. Mar not only lacked instructions to do so, he also lacked the official status to deliver a formal apology in behalf of the Philippine government.

The word from Taipei was that there would be a freeze in hiring of OFWs, and life isn’t going to be easy for the 70,000 Pinoys now in Taiwan. Our government also can’t disregard their welfare and Taipei’s fury can’t be ignored.

Maybe a nuanced apology to Taiwan could work: We’re sorry this has put a strain on our friendly ties, which we value, but it was a call that was made by the Philippine government, in line with international law enforcement cooperation, and you have to respect our decision. And since you’ve just signed a landmark trade agreement with Beijing, why don’t you two just solve this problem by yourselves and leave our workers out of it?

Okay, maybe that last line can be omitted.

So three Filipino lives are saved in China, for now, and 70,000 OFWs in Taiwan will suffer indirectly for it?

These types of problems will be minimized only when more Filipinos understand responsible citizenship and realize that justice isn’t malleable everywhere. 

When we respect our own country’s laws, it is easier to respect the laws of others.

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