Recruiters’ surrender may be Mary Jane’s ‘last chance’ — Aquino
Indonesia made final preparations on Tuesday to execute Mary Jane Veloso, together with eight others convicted, by firing squad, as weeping family members paid last visits to their loved ones and ambulances carrying white coffins arrived at the drug convicts’ prison.
The nine death convicts held emotional farewell meetings with their families at the prison after Jakarta rejected last-ditch pleas from around the world for clemency and ordered their mass execution to proceed within hours.
Aside from the 30-year-old Filipina, prisoners, including citizens from Brazil, Australia and Nigeria, and an Indonesian are facing imminent execution.
Authorities in Indonesia have refused to disclose exactly when the executions will take place, but the mother of one of the convicts tearfully told reporters that her son would be put to death at midnight of Tuesday.
Jakarta has said all the convicts will be executed at the same time. The executions were widely expected early Wednesday after inmates were given formal notice on Saturday, after which authorities must wait a minimum of 72 hours.
Executions are traditionally carried out just after midnight by a 12-man firing squad, with the condemned prisoner led to a clearing and tied to a post.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who believes Indonesia is facing an emergency because of rising drugs use, has signaled his determination to push on with the executions despite mounting international condemnation led by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Attorney-General Muhammad Prasetyo repeated the government’s tough stance also on Tuesday, telling reporters: “This is not a pleasant job, but it has to be done… to save this nation from drugs.”
A report in the Jakarta Post said Prasetyo has confirmed that they already have a date and hour of executions this week.
“I have already set the date and even the hour,” he said. “I will not publish the execution time to avoid unwanted matters. The executions will be conducted this week.”
Protesters gathered outside the Indonesian Embassy in Manila, where they have been holding regular candlelight vigils for Veloso, while there was also a rally urging clemency for her in Hong Kong, home to many Philippine domestic workers.
At the Manila protest, Sol Pillas, head of Filipino migrant workers’ advocacy group Migrante, said Widodo “wants to portray himself as a strong leader but by executing an innocent woman, he will portray himself as an evil man.”
Arriving late Tuesday from Kuala Lumpur after attending the Asean Summit, President Benigno Aquino 3rd said he had made one last appeal to the Indonesian government to spare Veloso, arguing that she could be a vital witness in prosecuting drug syndicates.
Aquino, in a briefing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, said the Indonesian government might give Veloso a reprieve as a result of filing of charges against her recruiter in the Philippines and others who arranged her trip to Yogyakarta in 2010, including an alleged member of an African drug syndicate.
Calling it Veloso’s “last chance,” the President said he had communicated with Indonesia’s foreign minister and informed him that a case was already filed against the suspects, and with Veloso as principal witness, may uncover the details of the drug operation and uncover the “big fish” behind the drug problem in Indonesia.
“So I’m sure they are interested in maintaining very good relations with us and they will give a fair hearing to this proposal of ours. Now, whether or not they will subscribe to our idea that it’s important to keep her to be able to testify against the bigger fish will be subject to their national interest,” Aquino added.
He said he has directed Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to ensure that he gets information on the response of the Indonesian authorities to the proposal.
Aquino added that they came up with the idea after Indonesian authorities rejected their plea to grant clemency to Veloso.
He said he asked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to explain why it took so long before they could file complaints against the suspects. De Lima reasoned that Veloso was uncooperative at first, probably for fear of her own safety and that of her family in the Philippines.
“It was very difficult to get her to testify against all of these people previously. So [now she filed a]complaint, that means she’s willing to talk [about]everything she knows. She’s the primary witness,” Aquino noted.
Worse, the Justice department claimed that it was never informed of the Veloso case.
“Now, [Veloso’s] testimony has to be reduced to an affidavit,” the President said.
He added that an appeal for a possible reprieve for Veloso is important in the new case because “if she’s no longer around to do that, then your avenue of trying to unveil this drug syndicate gets like even more difficult.”
The President, however, said he was optimistic that the Indonesian government will heed this final appeal because their main interest is the issue on drugs.
“If this person [Veloso] can help uncover this drug syndicate, and it is of value to them, we can help… extend her life at the very least, that’s the hope,” he pointed out.
“They might consider… They have to allow it because the gist is that Miss Veloso has just filed the illegal recruitment case etcetera. Now, she has identified the people involved [including]the illegal recruiter. There is an African national who gave her the luggage. Our view is Veloso was the mule and maybe what’s more important is to [get]those behind human trafficking and the drug syndicate,” the President said.
Relatives of the death row convicts arrived at Nusakambangan prison appealing for mercy for their loved ones.
The Veloso family also arrived in Cilacap en route to Nusakambangan to pay a final visit, racing past waiting reporters in a van.
As they got out of the vehicle, Filipino priest Fr. Harold Toledano gave them each a blessing before they headed to the island. Among the group were Veloso’s two sons, aged six and 12.
“The family was so silent. It’s really very sad. We see a kind of deep pain,” he told Agence France-Presse.
The spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said Veloso and her family, although hoping for a miracle, have already accepted her fate.
In fact, she told her family that she wanted a simple make-up and dress for her funeral, Charles Jose, the DFA spokesman, added.
Veloso, according to her sister Marites, had asked for durian. At first, the guards were against it, but they gave in after a short meeting, to the delight of Mary Jane or MJ to her friends.
The DFA said two sisters of Veloso will proceed to the island prison facility to be with her for the last time.
Jose said the repatriation of Veloso’s remains will be attended to right away after the execution.
Meanwhile, despite active preparations leading to the executions any time from 6 p.m. on Tuesday to early morning the following day, the Philippine government has not stopped exploring all avenues, including talking to Indonesian officials, to at least delay the execution of Veloso.