Family of Philippine woman on Indonesian death row appeals for mercy

Arie Firdaus
Family of Philippine woman on Indonesian death row appeals for mercy Women’s rights activists hold placards during a candlelight vigil in Manila on Sept. 13, 2016, calling to save Filipina drug convict Mary Jane Veloso who is on death row in Indonesia.
[Noel Celis/AFP]

The family of a Philippine woman on death row in Indonesia for drug trafficking appealed to the national human rights commission Thursday to help save her from execution, while Manila hoped Jakarta would give her clemency.

The Filipina, Mary Jane Veloso, 38, was arrested at an Indonesian airport in April 2010 with 2.6 kg (5.7 pounds) of heroin in her suitcase and later sentenced to death, but her scheduled execution in 2015 was postponed at the last minute after Manila asked that her case be reviewed.

Indonesia has some of the world’s harshest anti-narcotics laws, but in March it granted a rare pardon to a woman who had been on death row for more than 20 years.

“It is very painful for us that Mary Jane has been imprisoned here for 13 years, but we can only visit her a few times,” Veloso’s mother, Celia, told reporters in Jakarta after meeting with officials from the National Commission on Human Rights.

“I know she is a victim of human trafficking,” she said.

Veloso’s parents and two sons traveled from the Philippines to Indonesia last week and were reunited with her for the first time in five years.

The Filipina’s lawyers have argued that she was trafficked by a woman named Maria Cristina Sergio, who was arrested in the Philippines in 2015 and sentenced to life in prison in 2020.

Veloso’s legal team plans to file a petition with Indonesia’s Supreme Court to review her case, based on what it says is evidence from the trial of her alleged recruiter in the Philippines.

“We hope that the Supreme Court will grant our petition and give Mary Jane a fair trial,” said Agus Salim, one of Veloso’s lawyers. “We believe that she is not a drug trafficker but a victim of a transnational crime syndicate.”

Indonesia has executed 18 people, mostly for drug offenses, since President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo took office in 2014, despite international criticism and appeals for mercy.

The last batch of executions took place in July 2016, when four drug convicts were killed by a firing squad on Nusakambangan Island, off the coast of Java. Among those executed were three Nigerians and an Indonesian. There have been no executions since.

Ten other drug convicts, including nationals from India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe were spared at the last minute for reasons that were not explained.

Jokowi has defended the use of capital punishment as a deterrent against drug trafficking and abuse, saying the country was facing a “national emergency.”

He has repeatedly rejected clemency pleas from drug convicts and said that he would not compromise on the issue.

“I have said it before, we must be firm. Especially for the foreign drug dealers who resist, just shoot them right away. Don’t give them any mercy,” Jokowi had said in 2017.

However, some human rights activists and legal experts have questioned the effectiveness and fairness of Indonesia’s anti-drug policy and called for a moratorium on executions.

Under Indonesia’s new criminal code passed last year, judges can impose death sentences with a probationary period of 10 years, after which the sentence can be reduced to life imprisonment.

‘ASEAN member and friend’

Meanwhile, an official at the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs expressed hope that Indonesia would listen to the Philippines’ request for clemency for Veloso, the Philippine Inquirer newspaper reported on Thursday.

Undersecretary Eduardo De Vega pointed out that the two countries have close ties as members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“We think that as an ASEAN member and friend, the Indonesian government will be lenient to our pleas,” De Vega was quoted as saying.

“Every day that she is alive, that means that Indonesia is listening to us.”

On Tuesday, Veloso’s parents met with leaders of the Communion of Indonesian Churches, the country’s largest organization of churches, to ask it to relay their plea for clemency.

“We are poor, but we teach our children to be religious and obedient. They always pray the rosary and do not do evil things,” the communion’s website quoted Celia Veloso as saying.

The communion’s general secretary, Jacklevyn Fritz Manuputty, promised to help.

“Your tears, your pain, are also part of us. Thank you for your strong heart as parents, with such great love for your family,” he said.

“We are committed to supporting you according to our capacity, relations and prayers.”

He also said that he hoped Veloso would be given a pardon by Jokowi, like Merry Utami, an Indonesian woman whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in March.

Merry, a former garment factory worker and mother of two, has maintained her innocence and claimed that she was duped into carrying heroin.

Veloso is one of the many migrant workers from the Philippines who have faced legal problems abroad. In March, the Philippine government said there were 81 Filipinos on death row in different countries.


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