Govt determined to prove MJ’s innocence
INDONESIAN President Joko Widodo on Wednesday clarified that the 11th hour reprieve given to Mary Jane Veloso is just temporary, a report in the Jakarta Post said.
“There’s a letter from the Philippines [explaining about]human trafficking. It is a postponement [of the execution], not an annulment,” he said.
The Post report said the Indonesian leader denied that the decision to spare the life of the 30-year-old Filipina resulted from a last-minute telephone conversation minutes before the planned execution.
“[Widodo] had discussed the issue with Philippine President Benigno Aquino 3rd on the sidelines of the Asean Summit in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday,” according to the report.
Agus Salim, one of the Indonesian lawyers helping defend Veloso, said the Filipina’s family were told that “this doesn’t mean her execution is canceled.”
He added that they will attempt to file a third appeal on the Filipina’s case.
“We want to prove that she was just a migrant worker who was trafficked and became a drug courier,” Salim said.
“Everyone knows she had no intention [to bring the drugs]. She does not have to be free, we are just trying to find the lightest sentence we can get for her and avoid the death penalty,” he added.
In a news conference, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Indonesian authorities did not set a deadline for the resolution of the cases filed against Veloso’s recruiter.
“It is indefinite until further notice,” she added.
“It ‘s temporary but hope springs eternal,” de Lima said.
In a separate briefing, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras recalled the frantic phone exchanges between Filipino and Indonesian officials hours before the planned execution, which saw President Aquino break protocol when he phoned Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.
“The initiative, that time, became a minute-to-minute game,” he said.
Aquino kept telling officials at the time all seemed to have been lost that “life is precious … we will not stop.”
“The President’s original and continuous order was: We will not stop, we will do everything we can until they execute her,” Almendras told reporters
“Even if he got the news already that the last request was turned down and his personal discussion with President Widodo was also turned down, the instructions were, tuloy pa rin [let us continue trying to save her life]. Let’s try everything that can be done to save Mary Jane,” he added.
Almendras said de Lima is planning to fly to Indonesia to discuss with the attorney general how the Philippines would prosecute Veloso’s alleged recruiter, Maria Kristina Sergio.
“We need to act and prove the case that we have, that she [Veloso] is a victim,” he added.
Drug ring leaders are the “bigger problem,” not an unwitting “courier” like Veloso, Almendras said.
De Lima, in a briefing on Wednesday afternoon, said she is crossing her fingers that the situation would eventually develop and result in Veloso eventually being granted an executive clemency by President Widodo.
“If we could get additional evidence that validates Mary Jane’s claims, we might find a way to save her from the death penalty,” she added.
“There is such a thing as executive clemency and executive clemency may not be total absolution, like pardon, maybe commutation? That would help, but we’re not yet there,” the Justice chief said.
Veloso has maintained that an international human trafficking and drug gang tricked her into bringing 2.6 kilograms of heroin to Indonesia from Malaysia five years ago.
She won an 11th-hour stay of execution after Maria Kristina Sergio, the person suspected of asking her to carry the drugs, unexpectedly turned herself in to Philippine authorities on Tuesday.
Veloso, the only surviving convict tagged by the international media as part of the so-called ‘Bali Nine,’ was in good health and was already transferred from the Nusakambangan correctional facility in Cilacap, Central Java, to Wirogunan prison in Yogyakarta.
A separate Jakarta Post report, quoting the warden of Wirogunan penitentiary, said she was moved to a different prison facility as Nusakambangan–infamously known as Indonesia’s execution island–does “not have special cells for female inmates.”
“As soon as she arrived in Wirogunan, Veloso underwent a string of verifications similar to what were required for a new inmate in a penitentiary.
One of the examinations was a comprehensive health test, including a urine test required for any female inmate who enters or leaves the prison,” the report said.
Tony Spontana of Indonesia’s Attorney General’s Office said Manila’s request for a stay in the execution was meant to give Filipino prosecutors the time to charge Sergio, her live-in partner Julius Lacanilao and a foreign cohort identified only as Ike with illegal recruitment, human trafficking and estafa.
De Lima, meanwhile, said the Asean Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) was instrumental in convincing Indonesian authorities to grant a reprieve to Veloso.
She added that she invoked the MLAT in a letter she sent to Indonesia’s Attorney General’s Office late Tuesday afternoon or before the lapse of the 72-hour notice for the execution to proceed.
De Lima refused to divulge details of her letter as MLAT matters are supposed to be confidential.
“I will not yet give out details. That’s the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs. No details yet. Maybe in [the]future, but not now,” she said in a news conference.
The DOJ chief, however, disclosed that she had advised the President to invoke the MLAT.
“Veloso is technically a complainant against her recruiter. So the President asked me, ‘What happens if she’s executed?’ I told him, ‘Sir, the case will not proper,'” de Lima said in Filipino.
“I told the President, the best option available it to target a temporary reprieve by citing that. We can invoke the Asean MLAT, to which Asean-member countries including the Philippines and Indonesia are parties and signatories,” she added.
‘Mama will live’
The Veloso family said their prayers had been answered. “Miracles do come true,” Veloso’s mother, Celia, told a Manila radio station by phone from Indonesia.
In Manila, supporters who had been keeping vigil outside the Indonesian Embassy shed tears of joy, hugged each other and raised clenched fists in the air.
Veloso’s sons, aged six and 12, in Indonesia to say goodbye to their mother, yelled: “Yes, yes! Mama will live!” according to their grandmother.
The Philippines is a deeply Catholic country and Filipino priest Harold Toledano, who had been counseling the Veloso family, said she never lost hope she would be spared.
“It’s like a resurrection for us. She is alive. It is like an experience of knowing someone has died and then, just risen,” Toledano told Agence France-Presse in Cilacap, where Veloso’s family kept vigil.
In Veloso’s hometown in Nueva Ecija province , relatives heaved a sigh of relief.
“This is nothing short of a miracle. We are overjoyed. Praise God,” Veloso’s aunt, Imelda Magday, told local television.
“I felt this surge of energy when I heard the news. I thank the Lord. Mary Jane, don’t worry, we will see each other soon,” Veloso’s grandmother, Milagros Fiesta, said in a separate television interview.
Veloso has become something of an iconic figure for many — 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.
Born to trash-collector parents, she dropped out of high school and married in her teens before going to work as a maid in Dubai in 2009, but was forced to return home after her employer tried to rape her, according to her family.
She was later recruited to work as a maid in Indonesia by a townmate, Maria Kristina Sergio, whom the family accused of conniving with an international drug ring to hide heroin in her suitcase.
Sergio, 47, sought protection as she walked into a police station in Cabanatuan City, claiming she had been receiving death threats because of the Veloso family’s allegations, provincial police chief Senior Supt Rey de la Cruz said.
Sergio had no previous criminal record and was not under arrest, he added.