The family of death-row convict Mary Jane Veloso returned to the country on Friday with scathing criticism of the Philippine government’s alleged mishandling of her case.
Veloso’s mother said President Benigno Aquino 3rd should not be credited for the 11th hour reprieve that saved her daughter from death by firing squad on Wednesday.
But the family nonetheless expressed hope that Indonesia would commute her death sentence or free her after the Filipina maid’s alleged recruiter turned herself in to authorities this week.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo stayed Veloso’s execution after Aquino asked that she be made a witness against a human trafficking ring that duped her into smuggling drugs.
Veloso was caught with 2.6 kilograms of heroin at Yogyakarta airport five years ago. She claims the drugs were sewn into her suitcase lining without her knowledge.
“We’ve returned home to the Philippines for payback… This is not about money. The government owes us because they tricked us,” 55-year-old Celia Veloso, wearing a “Save Mary Jane” shirt, told reporters.
In an apparent reference to Aquino, she said, “He is telling the whole world that he helped save my daughter’s life. That is not true. Get ready, we are here to charge you. We will fight you.”
Veloso’s sister, Marites Veloso-Laurente, told Agence France-Presse that the Philippine government failed to provide her with a capable interpreter during her trial.
“Had the government not been remiss, my sister would not have been in trouble,” she said.
President Aquino denied the Veloso family’s claim.
Speaking to reporters in Cebu, Aquino said the government did everything to spare Mary Jane’s life.
“We did what we could. We were not involved in the creation of the problem. You must remember she was arrested, if I am not mistaken, April of 2010,” he added.
Aquino enumerated the government’s efforts to save Veloso such as the appeals to Indonesian foreign ministers, the attorney general and President Joko Widodo.
He said the Philippine government also provided lawyers to Veloso and brought her family to Indonesia.
“What more can the government do?” Aquino asked.
His deputy spokeswoman Abigail Valte also denied the charge, saying that as early as 2011, Aquino asked then-Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for clemency.
Aquino also asked Widodo for clemency and a review of Veloso’s case twice, Valte also told AFP.
“The records will bear out the President’s actions very clearly… It is not an issue of who gets credit, but more important, Mary Jane was able to get a reprieve for her sentence,” she said.
Veloso’s alleged recruiter, Maria Kristina Sergio, is under police custody after she sought protection citing death threats.
The Justice department is studying whether a human trafficking and fraud complaint against her would merit filing in court.
“We owe it to the Indonesian government to undertake and complete the investigation as soon as possible,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said this week.
Depending on the outcome of the investigation, Jose added that the Philippines may again seek clemency for Veloso.
Mary Jane’s sister thanked Widodo for the reprieve as she renewed an appeal for compassion.
“President Widodo, please study my sister’s case very carefully. Please keep an open mind and heart,” she said.
Marites Veloso said the family last saw Mary Jane at Yogyakarta prison on Thursday.
“There were lots of hugging and laughing. There was no trace of sadness or worry in Mary Jane’s face,” she noted.
“We left prison with smiles on our faces because we know that we will see her again soon,” Marites said.
While Veloso was spared, seven other foreign drug convicts and an Indonesian were executed as Widodo defied global anger.
Among those executed were Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, ringleaders of the so-called “Bali Nine” drug ring, prompting Canberra to recall its ambassador from Jakarta.
In a news conference after their arrival from Indonesia, Celia Veloso thanked those who supported them, especially those who linked them up with the militant group Migrante.
“I thank all those who introduced us to Connie Regalado, chairperson of Migrante. My daughter’s case was swept under the rug for a long time.
We also thank the priests, teachers, the youth and the migrant workers who supported my daughter. If not for your help, I would’ve lost my daughter,” she said in Filipino.
Mrs. Veloso also accused the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of attempting to keep the media away from them when they were in Indonesia.
“The DFA tried to hide us. We had a difficult time. We wanted to talk to the media so we could thank the President of Indonesia,” she claimed.
President Aquino remains hopeful that the Indonesian government would eventually grant clemency to Veloso, but that he said depends on the extent of her cooperation in zeroing in on the syndicate that took her to Indonesia.
“If Mary Jane becomes very, very helpful in the process, well that might be a basis for extending some clemency,” the President also told reporters in Naga City in Cebu.
The President pointed out the Philippine government’s commitment to run after the international drug syndicate that is believed to have links with a bigger network in West Africa.
“We will run after them and get whatever evidence is at hand and prosecute those behind the case,” Aquino said in Filipino.
Meanwhile, Indonesian authorities will not allow Veloso to come to the Philippines for preliminary investigation of the human trafficking, illegal recruitment and estafa complaints against her alleged recruiter, an Indonesian newspaper said.
In a report, The Jakarta Post said the Indonesian Attorney General’s Office (AGO) would instead facilitate a video conference or written testimony from Veloso to be used in Philippine courts.
A letter from the Philippines dated April 28, the day Veloso was supposed to be executed along with eight other convicts, asked the Indonesian government if she could testify in court.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier said the preliminary investigation of the case would be held on May 8 and 14.