“I should have noted every word and every promise they gave our family. All along, I really thought they were handling my sister’s case.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Today, April 25, marks the fifth year since Mary Jane Veloso was apprehended in Indonesia and, six months later, she was meted with the harshest penalty – death sentence.
Her family, since then, has been doing the rounds of Philippine and Indonesian government offices, but to no avail. This year, they sought the help of Migrante International and has gone to the parliament of the streets, hoping that their last ditch efforts could save their loved one from execution.
“I remember our conversation back in May 10, 2010, during our father’s birthday. She said that her employer was good to her. The following day, she sent me a cryptic message, saying that she loves us very much and that we should take good care of her two sons. We were worried. A few days later, we were able to contact her again. It was then that she told me and my sister Darling of her situation. She said that she did not want to ruin our father’s birthday,” Maritess Veloso-Laurente, Mary Jane’s sister, told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
Laurente flew to Jakarta last week, along with Migrante Sectoral Party chairperson Connie Bragas-Regalado, in the family’s bid to save Mary Jane. Their father Cesar and two lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), and their mother Celia and Mary Jane’s two sons, soon joined them.
They were hopeful that they would be able to visit Mary Jane yesterday, April 24, in the jail in Yogyokarta only to learn later that, at around 2 a.m. that day, she was already transferred to Nusakumbangan prison island, dubbed as “execution island,” where the death penalty is being carried out in Indonesia.
In the wee hours of April 25, Mary Jane’s family received the order of execution but date has yet been set.
Apart from Veloso there are 20 more Filipinos facing death row in three Southeast Asian countries. The Department of Foreign Affairs said in a report that there are 18 Filipinos in Malaysia and two in Vietnam who are sentenced to die for drug-related crimes.
Trusting the wrong person
Laurente said she and her sister Darling had a hard time telling their parents about Mary Jane’s ordeal. When their parents got home from a day’s work with their rolling store, she said, they waited for them to rest. Their parents, on the other hand, found it strange that their two daughters did not even greet them when they entered the house.
“Tatay (father) was really angry at first. And then when we finally explained to him what happened, it was then that he really cried. He ran outside and even attempted to hit his head hard against our wall,” she recalled.
The Veloso family then headed to Ma. Kristina Sergio’s house, which was a half an hour ride from their village.
“She hugged my parents. She apologized and claimed that she was clueless about what happened,” Laurente said, “But then she said we should hush the issue up first. She told us to believe and trust her. She said Mary Jane would be out of prison in three to five months because they are capable of paying millions just to save her.”
Laurente said her family trusted the wrong person. Before they learned about Mary Jane’s arrest, they even visited Sergio when they learned that she was back in the country. Sergio, she said, told them that her sister was doing fine and that her employer, who bought Mary Jane a new cellphone, clothes and gave her $500, was good.
In her handwritten account, Mary Jane said she was promised a good paying job in Indonesia. She was, at the time, just back from Dubai where she worked as a domestic helper and was nearly raped by her employer. The need to send her two sons to school pushed her to accept the opportunity, describing it as a “blessing.”
The family waited for three months, trusting Sergio’s promise that they would get Mary Jane out of prison. After knocking on doors of local politicians in Nueva Ecija, their family finally had money to head to Manila. Their first stop, Laurente related, was the Malacañang Palace.
She said that she could no longer remember which office received their concerns regarding Mary Jane. They were asked to write their statement thrice. “I should have noted every word and every promise they gave our family. All along, I really thought they were handling my sister’s case.”
The family then headed to the Department of Foreign Affairs where they first met Patricia Macam, the case officer assigned to Mary Jane. Reading from a document, Macam informed the family of the basic fact of the case – Mary Jane was arrested for carrying 2.6 kilograms of heroin.
It was then, Laurente said, that they were promised that her sister would be provided with a lawyer.
The family later on learned that Mary Jane did have a lawyer during the trial stage, but a court-appointed lawyer. The Philippine embassy-retained Rudyantho and Partners lawyers only came into the picture during the appeal stage of her case, when Mary Jane was already sentenced to die.
Mary Jane’s mother Celia, in her previous interviews, has long assailed how the Philippine government has kept them in the dark. Whenever they would ask for substantial updates – they would get it from Mary Jane herself and not from DFA officials. She said that every time they called Macam, a staff would always tell them that she is either out for lunch, for a meeting or on vacation.
“In five years that we were dealing with the DFA, I could count with my fingers the number of times that their officials initiated a call to update us on my sister’s case. But the number of times that I called them for updates? You can include my toes and it still would not suffice,” Laurente told Bulalat.com.
At one point, a staff of the DFA has even implied that Mary Jane was either paranoid or losing her senses when her family repeatedly asked if it is true that she was sentenced to die.
Finally, on Oct. 11, 2012, the family received a call from a very hysterical Mary Jane, pleading for help, confirming that she was sentenced to die.
Kept in the dark
Laurente said she immediately rushed to the DFA but was told that they have not heard about it. However, private pro bono lawyers from the NUPL who were retained by the Veloso family later on found out that the Philippine government knew of Mary Jane’s real status early on.
District Court of Sleman sentenced Mary Jane to death on Oct. 11, 2010, only six months after her arrest.
On Oct. 22, 2010, the Philippine embassy reportedly filed an appeal before the Indonesian Court of Appeal. But her death sentence was upheld by the appellate court on Feb. 10, 2011. A few days later, Feb. 21, the Philippine-embassy retained Indonesian lawyers filed a memorandum of appeal before the Supreme Court, which it denied in a decision dated May 31, 2011.
On Aug. 23, 2011, President Benigno S. Aquino III requested clemency to then President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono, who eventually declared a moratorium in carrying out death penalties. But the next administration came into the picture and on Dec. 30, 2014, Indonesian president Joko Widodo issued Presidential Decision No. 31/G – 2014, rejecting the request for clemency in behalf of Mary Jane.
The next judicial move was done only on Jan. 19 this year, when the Indonesian lawyers filed an application for judicial review before the District Court of Justice in Sleman, Yogyokarta on grounds that there were lapses in the proceedings: problems in translations, qualifications of the court-appointed translator and language barrier. This, however, was denied on March 25, after the said district court conducted a hearing.
This prompted Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and head of the pro bono Filipino lawyers retained by the Veloso family, to rhetorically ask during a press conference last April 20 what the government did for three years and eight months – from May 2011, when the Supreme Court denied the petition to Jan. 19, 2015, when the Indonesian lawyers filed an application for judicial review.
Laurente said the DFA did not provide these crucial information to the family, not even when they were able to meet Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Del Rosario a few days before the family’s second visit to Mary Jane in February this year.
The same sentiment was echoed by relatives of OFWs in distress in a protest action outside the DFA office last Apr. 22.
During the times that they were kept in the dark, the Veloso family has been mulling the idea of bringing Mary Jane’s case before the public. There were, however, several problems. Laurente said her sister’s recruiter Sergio warned them that members of the international syndicates would go after them. Another, she added, was that television networks initially refused to air their ordeal because her sister “illegally” left for Malaysia.
On Mary Jane’s recruiter
Laurente said the family has asked the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) twice to arrest or at least question Sergio on Mary Jane’s ordeal.
As early as Oct. 25, 2010, the Veloso family asked Mary Jane to execute an affidavit, which they would bring to PDEA. But the said affidavit was nowhere to be found in a postal mail that the Veloso family received a month later. Mary Jane promised to send them another sworn statement.
In December 2010, the Veloso family received another mail from Mary Jane, containing photos and a bandanna that she received from a priest but not her affidavit. Early in 2011, the family reported the lost contents of the letter to PDEA, which fell on deaf ears.
The Veloso family, in October 2012, once again sought for the help of PDEA, this time urging them to file a case against Sergio.
“But PDEA officials said Sergio must be in possession of illegal drugs so she could be arrested. Another told us that ‘one day’ they would be able to arrest Sergio but five years later, she is still scot-free,” Laurente said.
The family eventually received the handwritten account when Mary Jane sent it via a private courier. But on their way back to Manila, during their second visit to Mary Jane, an official of the Philippine Embassy asked for the said handwritten account.
Investigating Sergio, it turned out, has long been requested by the Philippine-embassy retained Indonesian lawyers to the Philippine government. In their meeting with the NUPL, they said that they have requested the Philippine government to do so even before they first filed their appeal in behalf of Mary Jane.
PDEA, for its part, only visited Mary Jane to get her statement last March 29. The said statement was translated to Bahasa Indonesia and relayed to the Indonesian lawyers nearly a month later, in time for the filing of the second application for judicial review yesterday, April 24.
Her second petition for judicial review will stress how she was a victim of a drug syndicate and not a perpetrator of the crime she is accused of.
Meanwhile, the NUPL said the Indonesian lawyers were also “receptive” to another ground that Veloso, too, is primarily a victim of human trafficking. International law dictates that victims of human trafficking should be protected and repatriated back to her country and should not be held to account the crimes that he or she may have committed as a result.
The Filipino pro bono lawyers, however, are still waiting for the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking to issue a certificate that they have received the letter-complaint that they have filed before their office only last Apr. 16.
The NUPL was retained by the Veloso family only this April 7.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said in a report that they have already filed criminal charges against Sergio – a move that the Veloso family has long asked the Philippine government to do.
Sergio, for her part, denied in a television interview the accusations against her. She said that Mary Jane was talking to someone on the phone during their stay in Malaysia.
“There were times when should would leave me. I saw her in the hotel lobby talking to someone. I even told her not to trust strangers. After five days, she gave me a call, informing that she was off to another country. She did not tell me where she would go,” she said, adding that she only learned of Mary Jane’s arrest when she went back to the Philippines.
She said, “truth will soon come out – I am innocent.”
So far, the Migrante International, along with other progressive organizations, has launched a campaign that has brought Mary Jane’s case to the attention of the public, locally and internationally.
Filipino migrants and immigrants worldwide held protest actions in front of Indonesian embassies, appealing for Mary Jane’s life. Even Indonesian nationals have brought to social media their appeals before its own government to save Mary Jane, according to a Time report, adding that the hashtag #MaryJane ranked second trending topic in Indonesia’s Twittersphere.
Last Monday, April 24, Indonesian president Joko Widodo said in a state news report that it is only a matter of time when the execution would take place. He said that they are only awaiting for judicial process to conclude, “which I will not interfere in.”
Widodo is firm to carry out the executions and despite pressures from the international community. Both France and Australian government, whose nationals may be executed along with Mary Jane, have already warned the Indonesian government that pushing through with the execution would severely damage their bilateral ties.
Aquino, meanwhile, reportedly wrote another request for clemency to Widodo. He has not made any public pronouncement on the said issue.
The Indonesian government, in a letter dated April 23, has reportedly sent a notice to concerned foreign embassies to send their representatives to the maximum security prison, where Mary Jane is being held. They, too, have reportedly ordered for the preparations of the planned execution.
Such pronouncements have been described in news reports as “signs” that carrying out of the death penalty is at hand. But Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, said that as of this writing, it should be taken at its face value as the “transfer is just a transfer” and that the Philippine embassy has yet to be informed, in accordance with the mandatory 72-hour notice.
Not giving up
Before Laurente left for Indonesia last week, she spent most of her time at the Migrante International office in Cubao, Quezon City. She said she witnessed the influx of relatives of OFWs seeking the group’s help. At one point, a staff of the Migrante International office introduced her to a relative of an OFW in distress in Saudi Arabia.
She told Bulatlat.com that she could not help but tell them how very lucky they are that they met Migrante International early in their case. Her one regret, she said, was not meeting Migrante International earlier.
“There is still fear,” she said, referring to the threats their family is receiving since they went out in the public, “But we also found courage from everyone.”
Mary Jane’s mother Celia is not running out of hope for her daughter. In a forum last April 21, a day before she flew to Jakarta, she said, “I will not give up. I know that God is looking after us and a miracle will happen, especially now that many people are extending help.”