Candles lit in bid to save Filipina in death row in Indonesia

Veloso family joins progressive groups as they put to task the Aquino government to look into Mary Jane's case. (Photo by J. Ellao /
Veloso family joins progressive groups as they put to task the Aquino government to look into Mary Jane’s case. (Photo by J. Ellao /

“Mary Jane Veloso is not only a victim of drug trafficking syndicates but also of government neglect.”


MANILA – Members of progressive groups lit candles as they put to task the Aquino government to save the life of Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino sentenced to die in Indonesia.

“This is yet another case of the Philippine government doing too little, too late,” said Garry Martinez, chairperson of the overseas Filipino workers group Migrante International.

Veloso was arrested in April 2010 in Indonesia for allegedly bringing with her 2.6 kilograms of heroin, reportedly amounting to at least $500,000. Her family back in the Philippines said she was recruited by a certain “Tintin” to work as a domestic helper in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Upon arriving there, however, Veloso was informed that the employer has already hired someone else.

Veloso was then told that another job awaited her in Indonesia, where she proceeded, only to be arrested as a drug mule. It was too late when she found out that the luggage bag that she was told to use was packed with illegal drugs.

Five years since she was arrested, migrant groups, along with her family, decried the neglect of the Aquino government on her case. Migrant rights advocates and activists were joined by the Veloso family in their candle-lighting protest on Monday, April 6.

Martinez, in a statement, said the government did not provide Veloso with a proper lawyer but was, instead, given an interpreter.

“Had it not been for the international criticism that accompanied her fellow foreign inmates’ cases, we have reason to believe that the Philippine government would have once again opted to keep her case hushed to evade public censure,” he added.

‘A good, sweet kid’

Emotions were high during the candle lighting program. Most were teary-eyed as the Veloso family recounted how good Veloso is.

Her sister Maritess, during the program, said they teased Veloso when they were still small. Whenever their parents were not around, she said, they would play tricks on her sister.

“When she called us, we did not answer and hid from her,” Maritess said, adding that it was that easy to scare off Veloso and she almost always ended up crying.

Her sister, she added, always reminded them to pray before meals.

“Sometimes, we forgot to pray and would only remember as soon as we were finished eating. But when she is with us, we do not forget,” she said.

Veloso is also a good dancer. As a young kid, she joined village programs or performed during weddings. And when she got married, Maritess recalled, she sold ice candies or cook soup and go around the village to sell it.

Her family found it hard to believe Veloso’s fate.

“Every time I see her name, I cannot help but cry,” Celia, Veloso’s mother, said pointing to a hand-painted poster from Migrante International.

Maritess said her sister was handed another bag when she was heading from Malaysia to Indonesia. Veloso complained that the bag was too heavy but was told by her recruiter that “authentic bags” are usually heavy. When she arrived in Indonesia, however, the customs police found nearly three kilos of heroin stitched inside the luggage that she was asked to carry.

In one of their conversations, she asked her sister whether she was really guilty or not and Veloso answered, “Ate (big sister), I am about to die. Why would I lie?”

Maritess maintained that her sister is innocent and only put her trust on the wrong people.

The Indonesian government plans to execute Veloso, along with nine others, all at once. This has drawn their recently-elected President Joko Wododo international flak after it rejected their appeal for clemency.

UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Christof Heyns noted that those accused faced unfair trials and were given no legal representation during all the stages of their trials.

No to another ‘Flor’

Migrante said Veloso’s case reminds them of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipino domestic helper, who was falsely accused of murdering another Filipino worker and Singaporean ward in 1991. Contemplacion’s case was only brought to public attention before her execution in 1995.

Martinez said Veloso did not understand the proceedings as she was only given a student translator during the course of her trial. This, he added, is the same reason Contemplacion and other OFWs in the Middle East were sentenced to die.

“Veloso is also a victim. She should not be executed. She is not only a victim of drug trafficking syndicates but also of government neglect,” he said.

Martinez said keeping families of Filipinos in death row in the dark has seemingly become a regular fare for the government. Citing the case of another OFW, Joven Esteva, Martinez said his family was dismayed as they only learned of his execution in Saudi Arabia in news reports.

Esteva is the seventh OFW executed under the Aquino government, which has the most the number of OFW executions in its term.

“There are at least 125 more OFWs in death row, and at the rate the Aquino government is going, are we expected to accept more executions in the next few months?…How many more can we expect to suffer the same fate?” Migrante said.

“The government has not shown transparency or accountability for failing to save the lives of our OFWs in death row. They are all for last ditch efforts. We would only learn the case when they are already in death row or already executed,” Martinez quipped.

During the program, leaders of progressive organizations and churches expressed their support to the Veloso family.

They were also joined by OFWs who were victims of maltreatment from their employers abroad. Riza Reyes, 33, a resident of Pampanga, left for Taiwan on Oct. 14, 2014 to work as a caretaker of a house. Her employer, however, maltreated her and abused her both physically and verbally, forcing her to return to the Philippines.

As she expressed dismay over Veloso’s condition, she said her mind was also racing on how she would be able to pay off the lending company from where she borrowed money for her recruitment fees.

Martinez said that one of the many things they learned from Contemplacion’s execution is that they cannot solely rely on the government to act on the case. He urged Filipinos worldwide to join them in pressuring the Indonesian government to stop Veloso’s execution, adding that it has worked before and many Filipinos were saved from the death row.

He said, “we do not want more OFWs to die of government failure and criminal neglect. We want Aquino out.” With reports from Katrina Manuel (

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5 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. I’m all for shooting those to Australians,Chan and sukamaren.there just con men and drug dealers ,but the case of Mary Jane valeso needs to be looked at more closely.shes obviously been set up.its ashamed to be a human being….

  2. Governments are the number one murderers. You should stop going to those stupid governments like Indonesia. Same thing with China. Close their embassies. Learn to live by your means.

  3. The old humarabi law: A tooth for a tooth. If they (the Indonesian Government) murdered her for nonsense stupid drug offense by all means revenges the sweetest.

  4. Indonesia similar to other Asian countries like China, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines etc, are subservient to UN idiotic laws imposed by the Pharmaceutical companies.
    Judges in these countries are paid off to follow the stupid drug laws. FOR some reason they forgot about the basic tenets of Magna Carta. If you harm someone you pay. But drug users and drug dealers does not harm anyones except themselves. Cigarettes, coffee, and alcohol are the number one addictive as well as destructive drugs but they are not banned and no death penalty because one will just from it. And it is good for the business and does not infer with Pharmaceutical billion dollar filty profit. So just like the Philippine government drug enforcer is being paid by U.S. via UN to keep Marijuana, cocaine etc to be illegal because it cuts to the profit of the Pharmaceutical companies. All drugs have effects good or bad. But only drugs from Pharma that grease the palms of politicians will be illegal and will severe penalties.
    US and EU have already legalize some of the drugs that is previously prohibited. Like Marijuana or Canabis – a natural plant with medicinal and cancer curing properties which Pharmaceuticals doesn’t want regular poor pheasants to have.
    That being said, just look at Netherlands, and Portugal after 14 years of legalizing all drugs. Amazing result but pharmaceuticals, judges, lawyers, police, drug enforcers hated it because it is bad for their cash flow.
    Finally, government is the criminal here not the user nor the pusher.
    So the Philippine government should sue the Indonesian government for human rights violation in international courts. You see, when someone put you to court one have to counter sue. Vigilance doesn’t work evil government.

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