Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Thursday thanked Indonesia for granting a reprieve to a Filipina on death row, crediting his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo for his quick action.
Aquino told reporters that he had sent a letter just after midnight that had resulted in the last-minute decision by the Indonesian President not to execute single mother Mary Jane Veloso.
Just hours before Veloso was to be put to death along with other convicted foreign drug traffickers in Indonesia, he had asked that she be spared so she could serve as a witness against the drug syndicate that allegedly duped her into acting as a mule.
“We’d like to thank the Indonesian government for the rapidity of the response on this proposal,” he said.
“This was an idea that happened about roughly before noon, which we communicated to the (Indonesian) foreign minister and from the time we communicated it, it was sent directly to President Widodo and they had to discuss this until the very, very late hours,” he told reporters.
Veloso, 30, maintains that an international human trafficking and drug gang tricked her into bringing 2.6 kilograms (5.7 pounds) of heroin to Indonesia from Malaysia five years ago.
She won an 11th-hour stay of execution after the person suspected of asking her to carry the drugs unexpectedly turned herself in to authorities in the Philippines on Tuesday.
The temporary reprieve caught the Philippine press by surprise, with papers running front-page headlines bidding Veloso farewell and accusing Aquino of failing to save her.
However, the execution of seven other foreign drug traffickers did proceed as scheduled, resulting in a surge of criticism against the Indonesian government.
Aquino said he realized “how major this thing is”, with Widodo’s government being hit by a backlash, so he appreciated the Indonesian government’s efforts.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima will now talk to the Indonesian attorney-general to discuss procedures for investigating the syndicate.
But Aquino warned that 14 Filipinos are caught each year for allegedly acting as drug mules overseas, adding that this showed the need for further action.
The situation of Veloso had gained nationwide attention as it was seen as representative of the hardships suffered by the 10 million ordinary Filipinos, or a tenth of the population, who work abroad, to escape poverty and scant job opportunities back home.