Marcos urges Jokowi to grant clemency to Filipina on Indonesia’s death row

Camille Elemia and Jojo Riñoza
Marcos urges Jokowi to grant clemency to Filipina on Indonesia’s death row Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo signs the guestbook as Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. looks on during his visit to the Malacañang presidential palace in Manila, Jan. 10, 2024.
Ezra Acayan/Pool via Reuters

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos urged his visiting Indonesian counterpart Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Wednesday to grant clemency to a Filipina migrant worker on death row before he leaves office in October. 

As Marcos met with Jokowi in Manila, the family of Mary Jane Veloso went to the Malacañang presidential palace to deliver a handwritten letter addressed to the outgoing Indonesian leader that begged him for her freedom.  

Veloso, who turned 39 Wednesday, remains on death row in Indonesia after authorities there stayed her execution in a drug conviction. Her case mirrors the plight of millions of Filipino overseas workers who often face injustice in their adopted country.

“President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. expressed hope that the progression of the case of Ms. Veloso will merit her clemency at the appropriate time,” Foreign Undersecretary Ma. Theresa Lazaro said in a statement after the Marcos-Jokowi meeting.  

Jokowi, who arrived in the Philippines on Tuesday for a three-day visit, received the red carpet treatment the next day at the presidential palace where he met with Marcos. Their talks focused on boosting bilateral relations including energy and trade as well as settling continental boundaries between the two Southeast Asian nations. 

“As immediate neighbors and fellow archipelagic states, the Philippines and Indonesia agreed to continue our cooperation on political and security matters, noting the recently concluded Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) headed by our respected foreign ministers,” Marcos said.

“Our shared historic roots are deep, and thanks to our close kinship and our cultural ties that we continue to promote and we continue to allow to prosper, the Philippines and Indonesia enjoy this affinity for one another,” Marcos said.

On the eve of the meeting between the two presidents, the foreign ministers of the two countries held talks in Manila under the auspices of the JCBC.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi issued a statement highlighting her discussions with her Philippine counterpart, Enrique Manalo. The top Indonesian diplomat said the two sides had agreed to firm up trade and commit to exploring new opportunities. 

“[W]e welcomed the enthusiasm of investors from both countries to strengthen investment,” she said in a statement.

Marsudi said she and Manalo also agreed to strengthen cooperation in combating cross-border crime. 

An infamous incident occurred in January 2019 when an Indonesian couple linked to Abu Sayyaf militants in the Philippines were blamed for a suicide bombing at a Catholic church on Jolo island that killed 21 other people.

Maritime concerns

Marcos said he and Jokowi discussed developments in the disputed South China Sea.

China claims nearly all of the sea including territorial waters of both nations. Manila and Beijing spent much of 2023 in a spat over the China Coast Guard and other ships attempting to block Philippine efforts to resupply its military outpost on the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

“[T]he Philippines and Indonesia affirmed our insistence on the universality of UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea], which sets out the legal framework that governs all activities in the oceans and in the seas,” Marcos said.

Jokowi noted Jakarta’s commitment to work with Manila on defense, security, trade and infrastructure development issues.

“I’m delighted about positive progress [on] implementation of our two countries’ action plan which needs to be followed up with concrete steps to strengthen collaboration, especially in two areas of cooperation,” Jokowi said.

Marcos pledged to continue working closely with Jokowi’s successor.

Indonesians go to the polls next month and the president’s successor will take office in October. Jokowi will be exiting office because of term limits after leading Southeast Asia’s largest and most populous nation since 2014.

“As you conclude your term as the president of the Republic of Indonesia in the coming months, I am optimistic that your successor will continue the momentum of the positive trajectory in both our bilateral and regional partnership,” Marcos said in his luncheon toast to Jokowi.

10 PH-ID-presidents2.jpg
Celia Veloso uses a megaphone to address supporters gathered near the Malacañang presidential palace in Manila after delivering a letter asking Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to free her daughter from death row over drug charges, Jan. 10, 2024. [Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews]

Family’s appeal

The handwritten letter to Jokowi from Veloso’s family was brought to Malacañang by the labor group Migrante International.

“Honorable president Joko Widodo. I am begging and pleading with you to help free my daughter who has been suffering innocently in jail for fourteen years now,” Veloso’s mother, Celia, wrote in Tagalog, a copy of which was provided by the labor group.

“I am begging you. I hope you will understand me as a parent and as a mother. I hope you will release her for the sake of Mary Jane Veloso’s two children,” she said. “Today is the birthday of my daughter Mary Jane Veloso, I am hoping that she will be released.”

Veloso was sentenced to death following her arrest at an Indonesian airport in April 2010 while carrying 2.6 kg (5.7 pounds) of heroin in her suitcase. Her scheduled execution in 2015 was postponed at the last minute after appeals by the Philippine government. 

She has maintained she had no knowledge that the suitcase given to her by her recruiter contained illegal drugs. Her lawyers argued that Veloso was trafficked by fellow Filipinos who were both sentenced to life in prison in 2020. 

The Philippine government has maintained she is a victim of human trafficking and has sought clemency.  

In a statement, Migrante International cited the need to address the growing human trafficking problem in Southeast Asia.

 “[W]e hope that the Indonesian government works closely with the Philippine government in combating the rising cases of human trafficking in the ASEAN region and punishing big time criminals, not the victims who are often poor,” it said Wednesday.

“We are one with Mary Jane’s parents in presenting an appeal letter to presidents Marcos Jr. and Widodo and we hope that Marcos Jr. meets them in person to listen to their pleas,” the group said. 


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