“Mary Jane’s human rights were violated when she was unscrupulously victimized by a drug trafficking syndicate. She should not be punished but given justice.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The private lawyers of the family of Mary Jane Veloso maintained that the Filipina sentenced to die in Indonesia is a victim of human trafficking and should not be penalized for the alleged criminal acts.
“Is it too much to ask of the president to aggressively act so that their daughter be saved from the gallows?” Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said during a press conference today, April 20.
Veloso, he added, should in fact be protected, according to Indonesian laws.
The Filipina was sentenced to die in Indonesia in October 2010, short of six months since she was arrested for allegedly smuggling 2.6 kilograms of heroin, stitched to the lining of her luggage, which was lent to her by her recruiter.
Two members of the Philippine legal team, along with Cesar Veloso, Mary Jane’s father, would fly to Indonesia on April 21. They are scheduled to meet with Indonesian lawyers hired by the Philippine embassy in the afternoon of April 22.
June Ambrosio, national director for legal aid of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said her group, the mandatory national association of Philippine lawyers, is 100 percent behind the efforts of the NUPL in a bid to save Veloso.
“Anyone of them can be Mary Jane Veloso,” said Olalia, referring to the thousands of Filipinos leaving the country to work abroad.
No due process
Lawyer Cristina Yambot-Tanseco said Veloso was deprived of due process when she was not provided with a duly accredited interpreter and a competent lawyer during the trial period.
Tanseco also described the court proceedings as “swift,” even as they have yet to compare the resolution of other similar cases with Veloso’s nearly six-month duration of case, which included the initial investigation, the preparation of the Bill of Indictment, the pre-trial, trial and judgment.
She said the Indonesian court convicted Veloso for violating the anti-drug trafficking law, but did not consider that the Indonesian Law on the Eradication of the Criminal Act on Trafficking in Persons, which stipulates a “non-punishment” provision on criminal acts committed by “trafficked persons.”
Tanseco also cited the three considerations earlier raised by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers namely: primacy of gravity, proportionality of the sentence to the gravity of the crime, and individualization of sentences by considering the personal circumstances of the defendant.
Tanseco said that Veloso should also be spared from execution due to humanitarian reasons.
She said Veloso, a single mother to two young boys, was forced to look for work abroad due to dire poverty. The Filipina on death row, she added, trusted her godsister Kristina Sergio, who, it turned out, only duped her.
Tanseco said the Philippine government also failed to adequately assist and notify not only Veloso but her family.
Much to be done
Ephraim Cortez, NUPL assistant secretary general, said there are more legal and metalegal measures to save Veloso.
So far, he said, the NUPL has launched an international campaign and conducted extensive research to save Veloso. The six-member legal team also interviewed, assisted and vetted the sworn statements of the Veloso family.
The lawyers have also filed letter-complaints before the Philippine Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to look into Veloso’s recruiters.
Cortez said the legal team has yet to coordinate with embassy officials and Indonesian authorities. He said that they will “link, relate, cooperate and collaborate” with the Indonesian lawyer hired by the Philippine embassy.
Olalia, for his part, clarified that the private lawyers will not take over Veloso’s case but would only collaborate with the Indonesian lawyer. He added that he has already spoken with Veloso’s lawyer who welcomed their proposed collaboration.
The NUPL will also avail of remedies before the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and file a complaint before the Indonesian Commission on Human Rights.
Appeal to Indonesian government
Migrante International, an OFW group, called on Indonesian president Joko Widodo to spare Veloso, in light of the Bandung Conference, which, on its 10-point declaration, incorporated respect for fundamental human rights and respect for justice and international obligations.
The Indonesian government had announced that it would postpone executions until the end of the Bandung Conference, the first large-scale Asian-Africa meeting.
“It is in this spirit that we appeal anew to Pres. Widodo to uphold the legacy of the Bandung Conference and spare the life of Filipina Mary Jane Veloso,” Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez said.
“Mary Jane’s human rights were violated when she was unscrupulously victimized by a drug trafficking syndicate. She should not be punished but given justice. We are pained that she has been meted the death penalty while her traffickers and big drug syndicate operators remain unscathed,” he added.
In a statement, Martinez stressed that Veloso is also a victim of dire economic, political and cultural conditions in the Philippines, which forced her to seek employment abroad.
“She was a victim of the Philippine labor export policy, one of the country’s major neo-colonial policies that continues to feed on the desperation of the Filipino people but fails to address the root causes of poverty, landlessness and unemployment,” he added.
Martinez also appealed to world leaders who would be attending the Bandung Conference to join the clamor to save Veloso from execution.
Olalia said the issue at hand is not just about Mary Jane or Flor Contemplacion of 20 years ago, but of government’s failure to assist troubled OFWs.