Lawyers ask: Is Widodo’s word to Aquino worthless?
The Indonesian district court judge hearing the cases of convicted foreign drug smugglers has dismissed the second appeal for judicial review filed by the Philippine government on behalf of Mary Jane Veloso, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and a lawyer helping the Filipina said on Monday.
The second appeal, which was submitted last Friday, argued that the 30-year-old Filipina was not part of a drug smuggling syndicate, but is instead a victim of human trafficking.
Veloso, a 30-year-old single mother to two boys, is due to face an Indonesian firing squad on Tuesday.
She is among eight foreigners facing execution in Indonesia, which has come under international pressure to spare them.
Veloso was arrested at Yogyakarta airport in 2009 after security screeners found 2.6 kilograms of heroin sewn into the lining of her luggage.
She insists she went to Indonesia for a job as a maid and was duped by an international drug syndicate.
Veloso was transferred last Friday to high-security prison island of Nusakambangan, where Indonesia puts condemned prisoners to death.
Charles Jose, the DFA spokesman, last night confirmed an earlier statement by Edre Olalia, the Filipino lawyer tapped by the Veloso family for help, that the Sleman District Court has rejected the second appeal.
“Our embassy has confirmed that the second appeal was rejected,” Jose said.
“According to the Sleman District Court, the second appeal was denied based on Supreme Court rule that only one appeal is allowed.”
Olalia, secretary-general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, who is in Jakarta earlier said, “We received a report, which we’re also validating, that a spokesman had said that our application for a second judicial review was already rejected.”
The DFA spokesman said diplomats and consular officials tdeployed to oversee Veloso’s case are consulting Filipino and Indonesian lawyers if the assurances earlier given by Indonesia President Joko Widodo to President Benigno Aquino 3rd would have a bearing on the case.
“[The Philippine] Embassy [in Jakarta]is now asking the lawyers to determine whether President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s discussions with President Widodo may open another window,” Jose told reporters.
Earlier in the day, Malacañang said Aquino has made a personal appeal to President Widodo who was “sympathetic” and has promised to look into Veloso’s case.
Aquino made his appeal in person at the sidelines of the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) being held this year in Malaysia, according to Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.
“President Aquino talked with President Widodo earlier this morning and appealed for humanitarian consideration for Mary Jane Veloso, who was apparently duped into being an unwitting carrier of illegal drugs,” Coloma said in a text message.
“The President said President Widodo was sympathetic and was consulting the Indonesian Attorney General on the legal issues.”
Coloma said Widodo promised to discuss the issue again later on Monday, when the summit that started in Kuala Lumpur in the morning shifts to the resort island of Langkawi.
When asked if there was hope Veloso could be spared, Coloma said, “So long as there is life, there is hope.”
In a separate interview, Malacanang Edwin Lacierda said they are hoping that President Widodo will have a “change of heart.”
The Indonesian President earlier rejected an appeal for clemency, saying countries should respect Jakarta’s harsh stance on drug-related cases.
Indonesia has some of the toughest anti-drugs laws in the world. In January, Jakarta executed six drug convicts, including five foreigners, sparking international outrage.
NUPL’s Olalia said the Philippines should now shift its focus and press Indonesia to heed countless appeals to halt the executions.
“The government should now force the issue. We have to press President Widodo to heed mounting, worldwide calls to either commute the death sentence or free the convicts,” Olalia told GMA News in Filipino.
The families of the convicts including the Velosos arrived at Nusakambangan on Monday for what could be one of their last visits.
The Sydney Morning Herald said prosecutors had informed the convicted prisoners’ families that they must leave Nusakambangan for the last time on Tuesday afternoon.
“We beg you to give my younger sister, as a mother of two young boys, one last chance,” Veloso’s sister Marites Veloso-Laurente told reporters in Cilicap, near the island prison.
Led by the hand through a scrum of the six-year-old Mark Darren Veloso looked confused and frightened as he made one of his final visits to his mother.
During the visit, Mary Jane Veloso gently explained to Mark Darren and her second son, 12-year-old Mark Danielle, that she would not be coming home.
“She tried to explain again,” Veloso’s elder sister Marites Veloso-Laurente told Agence France-Presse.
“If Mama does not go home, just think Mama is in heaven.”
As her family wept and prepared to cross to Nusakambangan for what could be the last time on Monday, supporters turned out waving “Save Mary Jane” banners and urging them to keep their spirits up.
But the show of support could do little for Veloso’s mother Celia. Her calls for Widodo to spare her youngest child are growing increasingly desperate.
“She says ‘My daughter is innocent… it’s not easy to lose someone like her’,” Father Harold Toledano, a Filipino priest assisting the family, also told AFP.
Veloso is hoping for an 11th hour miracle and Laurente is appealing directly to Widodo to spare her sister.
“I would like to convey to you it’s only God who has the right to take away the life of anyone,” she said in her message to the Indonesian President.
Laurente is particularly fearful for Veloso’s young sons, who played happily with toy cars at their hotel, oblivious to the family’s mounting desperation and officials swirling around them.
But she knows Mark Danielle will always keep a watchful eye over his younger sibling, recounting a pledge he had made to his mother in recent days.
“He promised his mother that he will take care of his younger brother and they will study hard,” Laurente said.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTRAD) of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) recommended to the Justice department the prosecution of Veloso’s recruiters for human trafficking and illegal recruitment.
The NBI identified Veloso’s recruiters as Maria Kristina P. Sergio alias Mary Christine Gulles Pasadilla, Julius Lacanilao and a certain “Ike” who reportedly hails from Africa.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima also on Monday said she has endorsed the NBI’s report together with Veloso’s complaint to Prosecutor-General Claro Arellano for preliminary investigation.
“That is supposedly for preliminary investigation already so NBI-AHTRAD is recommending prosecution of the alleged recruiter and two individuals for illegal recruitment, swindling and also human trafficking,” de Lima added.
The NBI based its recommendation on Veloso’s sworn statement.
She said she was recruited by Sergio who promised her a job in Malaysia.
Upon arriving in Malaysia, she was allegedly taken to a hotel–Sun Inn Lagoon–where she met “Ike”.
Veloso was then told by Sergio to go to Indonesia where a job is awaiting her. She said Sergio gave her clothes and a suitcase.
Veloso said she noticed that the suitcase was unusually heavy but Sergio allegedly told her that it was because the luggage was brand-new.
“Victim Mary Jane does not know that there were illegal drugs in the luggage she was carrying and that she was a victim of deception and manipulation by her illegal recruiters,” the NBI said in its endorsement letter to the Justice department.
“Facts surrounding the circumstances of her recruitment, transportation and stay at a foreign country also shows that she is a victim of human trafficking owing to the fact that her vulnerability was exploited by her recruiters through manipulation and deception, in order for her to unwittingly transport a contraband without her knowledge,” the NBI said.
Australia urged Indonesia also on Monday to ensure the trials of two men sentenced to death on drugs charges were corruption-free before their executions go ahead.
“Bali Nine” drug traffickers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan could face the firing squad within days, along with others from Brazil, Nigeria, an Indonesia and Veloso from the Philippines.
Australian media showed photos of crosses prepared by a mortician that will be used to mark their coffins, inscribed with the date 29.04.2015.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop spoke to her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi on Sunday evening, while Prime Minister Tony Abbott has written to President Joko Widodo to again plead for the executions to be halted.
Bishop said the men should not be shot while legal questions remain.
“I should point out that Mr. Chan and Mr. Sukumaran’s lawyers are pursuing action before the Constitutional Court in Indonesia,” Bishop told ABC radio.
“And there’s also a separate investigation underway by the Indonesian Judicial Commission into claims of corruption into the original trial and both of these processes raise questions about the integrity of the sentencing and the clemency process.
“I’ve asked Foreign Minister Marsudi that no action be taken in relation to the proposed executions until these legal processes have been determined,” she said.
On Monday, Fairfax Media published allegations of corruption by the judges who sentenced the pair in 2006, claiming they asked for more than one billion rupiah–around Australian $133,000 at the time–to give them a prison term of less than 20 years.
It cited their then Indonesian lawyer, Muhammad Rifan, who claimed a deal fell through after intervention by Jakarta, which allegedly ordered the pair be handed the death penalty.
He said he decided to go public given the executions were imminent and the judicial commission, the Indonesian body that safeguards the probity of judges, had yet to complete its investigation of the alleged requests for bribes.
“This is an extraordinary situation because it is about lives. If they are dead, they cannot be brought back again,” Rifan said.
At least one of the judges in the case denied to Fairfax there had been political interference or negotiations about bribes.
One last chance
Judicial Commission chief Taufiqurrahman Syahuri told Agence France-Presse its report was being processed.
“We have 100 days to examine that report of violation of the code of ethics by judges. So we have until May,” he said, adding that only a higher court could change the death penalty verdict.
“The executions will still go on. Our decision has totally no influence on the verdict or the executions.”
Bishop again warned Indonesia its international standing could be damaged by the executions.
“I have made the point publicly and privately that this could harm Indonesia’s international standing and when the secretary-general of the United Nations weighs into the debate, I think that this is a global issue,” she said.