Vice President Jejomar Binay flew to Jakarta on Wednesday hoping that he would be given a chance to ask Indonesian President Joko Widodo to spare the life of Filipina drug convict Mary Jane Veloso.
“We are going to appeal,” Binay told reporters at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport
before his delegation of five boarded a Philippine Airlines flight to Jakarta.
Veloso, 30, was caught with 2.6 kilograms of heroin in her luggage upon arriving at Adi Sutjipto Airport in Yogyakarta in 2010. A court sentenced her to die by firing squad.
Reports said Veloso may be executed later this week when the April 24 deadline set by Jakarta lapses.
But with Widodo seemingly determined to execute Veloso and the other foreigners under his war on drugs, happiness may not be what tomorrow brings.
Veloso is held at a jail in Yogyakarta, and is yet to be transferred to Nusa Kambangan where death convicts are executed..
Binay, also the presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers’ concerns, will be attending the 60th Asian-African Summit or the Summit or the Bandung Conference where he expects to be able to squeeze in an audience with Widodo and make a last-minute appeal to spare Veloso’s life.
Malacanang remains hopeful that the Indonesian leader would heed the Philippine government’s appeal to spare the Filipina’s life.
“We can only promote, we can only request, we can only convince them of the rightness or the justness of the case of Mary Jane Veloso. And, hopefully, President Widodo will be able to look at this matter separately and independently and based on the merits of the case,” Malacanang spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
Lacierda at the same time announced that the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has already identified the recruiter who sent Veloso to Indonesia.
“This is a law enforcement operation. We have identified who was the recruiter and, certainly, we will go after the recruiter who caused a drastic change in the life of Mary Jane Veloso. That is something that we will not countenance. Putting a Filipino who wanted only to have a decent working job elsewhere and putting her in harm’s way,” he said.
Echoing horror stories told by hundreds of other Filipinos in jails around the world, the 30-year-old single mother claims she was duped into ferrying narcotics.
Veloso insists she would never have gambled her life and two sons’ futures on a bag of heroin. But she is one of several foreigners whose executions for drug crimes are drawing closer.
According to her parents, she was tricked by a criminal gang as she desperately sought work overseas as a maid.
Her father, Cesar, 59, said those involved in setting up his daughter had repeatedly contacted him and other relatives to warn them against going public.
“My daughter’s recruiters have been threatening us… they threatened to kill us one by one,” the father said as he cried and his grandsons sat silently next to him during an interview in Manila.
Veloso fell prey to a common scam, according to Garry Martinez, chairman of overseas workers’ rights group Migrante.
There are roughly 10 million Filipinos working overseas — many as maids, laborers and in other lowly paid professions — because there are so few job opportunities at home. With many coming from poor farming areas and lacking in street smarts, they are easy pickings for international crime gangs on the hunt for drug mules, Martinez told Agence France-Presse.
“The ones who are victimized by the drug syndicates overseas are already often the victims of illegal recruitment or maltreatment,” he said. “They are already vulnerable.”
The drug syndicates are generally run by Africans, according to Migrante and the PDEA.
Five Filipinos have been executed in China since 2011 for drug trafficking, foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose also told AFP.
There are another 41 currently on death row overseas, almost all in China and Malaysia, and more than 800 others in jails abroad serving lesser sentences for drug offenses, he said.
Jose added that the government and police have worked hard to educate Filipinos heading overseas about the dangers of drug gangs, and there were warnings at Philippine airports.
But the quick cash on offer is too tempting for some, according to the PDEA.
The gangs typically offer between $3,000 and $15,000 for carrying drugs between countries aboard an airline, it said in a fact sheet sent to AFP.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, who recently visited a Filipina “drug mule” imprisoned in Thailand, said the 62-year-old woman virtually went around the world enjoying the freebies and chasing the interviewer to get a job–only to get arrested for drug trafficking and is facing a death sentence.
“She just wanted a job as an Executive Assistant, a job opening she found on the Internet.
She pursued it, and she was made to go to Hong Kong for the interview, all-expenses paid.
She was very glad since a company still wanted her even if she’s already 62 years old. But when she got there, the interviewer left for a South American country that doesn’t require a visa, and she was asked to follow the boss. And quite predictably, it’s all-expense paid so she indulged,” Colmenares said.
“When she reached South America, she was then again asked to leave for Thailand because the interviewee is now there. She went ahead, but not before asking her to bring a bottle of dye presented to her as a trade secret of the company that she needs to take care of. When she reached Thailand, she was arrested. It [dye bottle]turned out to be drugs,” he added.
WITH BENJIE L. VERGARA, LLANESCA T. PANTI AND AFP