Just when the Philippine government thought it was the end for Mary Jane Veloso, the people hoped against hope that she would be spared from execution, as they continued their vigil in front of the Indonesian Embassy until dawn of Wednesday.
Veloso, 30, maintains 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 the person suspected of asking her to carry the drugs unexpectedly turned herself in to authorities in the Philippines on Tuesday. The execution of seven other foreign drug traffickers, however, did proceed as scheduled, resulting in a surge of criticism against the Indonesian government.
Mylene Catherine Villatema, 28, of Bagong Silang, Caloocan City (Metro Manila), said she could relate to Veloso because she had also worked abroad to help her family, but ended up abused by her employer and neglected by her recruitment agency.
“She’s innocent, that’s why I believe that God will listen to our prayers to save Mary Jane from execution,” Villatema added.
Rodolfo Malino Jr., whose wife Rochelle Masubay mysteriously died in Saudi Arabia, also joined the calls on Indonesian President Joko Widodo to save Mary Jane.
“No matter what happens to Mary Jane, we’ll be here in front of the Indonesian Embassy to fight for her,” Malino said.
Abner, 53, also of Caloocan City who owns a line of tricycles, refused to believe that Veloso will be subjected to a gruesome death, when all she wanted was to give her children a bright future.
“It is frightening to be in Mary Jane’s shoes right now. That’s why we’re here for her, to show her that her compatriots will not give up until the very end,” he said.
The Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) rallied support from the urban poor community nationwide for the call to save Veloso.
Kadamay said if the whole nation shows its unwavering support for her, she might still be saved from death row, such as in the case of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) Dondon Lanuza, Marilou Ranario and Cecilia Alcaraz.
Erlinda dela Cruz, 62, also of Caloocan City, said she was disappointed with how the government handled the case.
“If they’re really concerned about the welfare of Mary Jane, they should’ve acted from the very beginning, they wouldn’t let this situation reach this point,” she explained.
Their persistence bore fruit as Mary Jane Veloso was granted a stay in execution at the last minute. By 3 a.m. of April 29, those holding vigil were rejoicing upon hearing the news of Mary Jane’s reprieve. The hashtag #SaveMaryJane was replaced by #MaryJaneLives.
Migrante, however, said the fight to save Mary Jane is far from over as what was granted is only a reprieve, and the Aquino government should still be held accountable for its criminal neglect of the case of Mary Jane, as well as those of other distressed OFWs, and for its labor export policy.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Thursday thanked Indonesia for granting a reprieve to Veloso, crediting Indonesian President 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 Maray Jane.
Just hours before Veloso was to be put to death along with other convicted foreign drug traffickers in Indonesia, the President 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,” Aquino 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.
The Veloso family on Thursday visited Mary Jane at the Wirogunan penitentiary where the convicted Filipina was taken after she was given the reprieve, a report in the Jakarta Post said.
Veloso’s family members, comprising her two children, parents and her former husband, arrived at the Wirogunan prison around 8:20 a.m. They were accompanied by Veloso’s lawyers and representatives from the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta.
Penitentiary warden Zaenal Arifin said the visit was aimed at satisfying the family’s longing to be with Veloso, after she was unexpectedly spared from execution on Wednesday, the Post report said.
“The meeting between Mary Jane and her big family was conducted in a special room, not in a hall provided for inmate families to visit their relatives,” he said as quoted by Antara news agency in Yogyakarta also on Thursday.
Zaenal said the Veloso family was allowed to stay until 2 p.m., longer than the usual visiting hours.
Veloso’s lawyers intend to use her temporary reprieve to prove her innocence.
Agus Salim, an Indonesian lawyer tapped to defend the Filipina, said they would exhaust all legal options to seek clemency. He said they are planning to file a third appeal for judicial review.
Veloso’s lawyers had filed two appeals but both were rejected. The second appeal was dismissed on the ground that an Indonesian Supreme Court regulation had stipulated that a case review appeal could only be filed once.
An Indonesian legal expert, however, said filing another appeal would likely be futile.
“Her only hope is to have the President grant her clemency or for the AGO [Attorney General’s Office] to file for a cassation [abrogation or annulment of a judicial decision],” Chairul Huda of the University of Muhammadiyah Jakarta said.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima also on Thursday thumbed down a proposal to bring Veloso’s case to the International Court of Justice.
“Let’s not talk about this for now. What is important, and this is what we told the Indonesian government, is that we respect their laws, their legal processes,” she said in reaction to the suggestion of Harry Roque of the University of the Philippines Institute of International Legal Studies.
“Let’s trust the Indonesian government especially since they are our neighbor and partner. This case must not at all affect the good relations between the Philippines and Indonesia,” de Lima said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is still clueless on the terms of the stay of Veloso’s execution.
“We will inquire from our counterpart in Jakarta on the terms and conditions of the stay order,” DFA spokesman Charles Jose told reporters also on Thursday.
The Bureau of Immigration is investigating if any of its personnel had been involved in facilitating Veloso’s departure from the Philippines.
Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Mison said he has ordered his men to get Veloso’s departure records when she left the country sometime in 2010.
“We are getting the facts, including the identities of the Immigration officers who checked the documents of Veloso at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport,” Mison said.
“We are actually identifying who was the frontline officer who interviewed her,” he added.
Mison said a BI investigating panel is also trying to find out if Veloso passed “secondary interrogation.”
Escort syndicates operate at airports in cahoots with human trafficking syndicates.