“I became resolute because of all of you.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – At the Labor Day rally in Mendiola,the family of Mary Jane Veloso was introduced one by one as they climbed up the stage. They were met with loud cheers by May Day protesters. Celia, Mary Jane’s mother, thanked each sector who participated in the protest – the church people, workers, students, the youth and even, the elderly.
“I became resolute because of all of you,” she said.
Celia said their life was hard – without their own home and a steady income. This, she said, was the reason why Mary Jane dreamt of leaving the country to work abroad. She recalled how excited her daughter was when she was offered a job in Malaysia, where she was supposed to earn P25,000 per month.
When it was her turn to speak, Mary Jane’s elder sister, Maritess Veloso-Laurente, reacted to President Aquino’s statement that he did not create the problem of Mary Jane ending up in death row.
“Did we create the problem? My sister who dreamed? Who created this problem?” Laurente said.
“If there are jobs here, if there are decent salaries here, OFWs would not think of leaving the country,” Laurente said.
The Veloso family, along with their lawyer Edre Olalia and migrant rights activists Connie Bragas-Regalado and Pam Pangilinan, arrived in Manila aboard Philippine Airlines at 5:52 a.m. today. They headed to Migrante International office, where a press briefing was held later in the morning.
At the press conference, Celia said, “It is time for us to make them accountable,” referring to government officials who neglected Mary Jane’s case.
Mary Jane was arrested and sentenced to death in Indonesia in 2010. She was lined up for execution by firing squad at dawn of April 29, but got temporary reprieve at the last minute. Her family described it as a “miracle.”
Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson of Migrante Sectoral Party, said the mass movement both in the Philippines and Indonesia were essential in saving Mary Jane. She said the mass movement in Indonesia helped her and Mary Jane’s sister Maritess to reach out to churches there and tell their story to the public.
But when they talked to Philippine embassy officials to look for Mary Jane’s handwritten account, they were told, “We will look for it in the files.” Regalado said Philippine embassy officials also boxed them out from the Veloso family and even demonized them before Mary Jane despite pronouncements from no less than Philippine Ambassador Lumen Isleta that “we are open to any help.”
“At least 30 percent of our time was wasted as we were boxed out. Despite the NUPL’s engagement letter, they were kept in the dark,” she said.
Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, said the family, despite having lawyers, were being fed lies by government officials.
“How much more for those like Editha Dacanay? How would she believe their pronouncements now?” she said.
Editha Dacanay’s daughter, Rose, has been detained in Saudi Arabia for almost two years for allegedly murdering her employer. At the press conference, Editha said the government has not helped her work for ways to get her daughter released.
In an earlier statement, Olalia said Aquino’s “last-ditch effort” was not a key factor as the government appeal was already denied by 8 p.m., April 28.
“So this did not tilt the balance but the cumulative collective legal and political movement and pressure over time was the key,” he said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said the stay in the death penalty was “purely legal” and has nothing to do with the strong pressure from both local and international community.
Supporters of Mary Jane both in the Philippines and in Indonesia and in many countries around the world held protest actions in a bid to save her from death penalty. Online, #SaveMaryJaneVeloso trended worldwide in the Twittersphere on April 28.
Laurente, for her part, belied Aquino’s credit grabbing, saying that her sister’s stay in execution was “due to prayers, relentless movement, continuing the struggle, principle, and to everyone.”
“With everyone’s help, we will bring Mary Jane home before the year ends,” she added.
Olalia said a stay in execution only means a postponement, which could be temporary but may eventually become permanent. He added that it does not void the conviction on the alleged drug trafficking or the death penalty sentence.
“Technically and legally, the implementation of the sentence remains very much alive,” he said.
Both Indonesian lawyers and the Filipino pro bono lawyers have yet to get a copy of the suspension order. But based on the announcement, he said, the stay in the execution was to give way to the legal proceedings here in the country. But up to what stage the “legal proceedings” – from the preliminary investigation or the conviction of the recruiter – the lawyers have yet to know.
Indonesian authorities said Mary Jane could provide her testimony via teleconferencing. As far as Indonesian attorney general HM Prasetyo is concerned, Mary Jane remains a convict and has committed a crime for bringing heroin into their country. But Makabayan lawmakers said it would be better if Mary Jane herself can provide her testimony.
Olalia said they will also coordinate with concerned government offices, such as the Department of Justice, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Foreign Affairs even if they were repeatedly excluded by government officials in the Philippines and even when they went to Indonesia.
“We are here to help, we are not interlopers out to grab credit. We are just here to save the life of the client,” he said.
Olalia explained that the application for a second judicial review was “not accepted” by the Sleman District Court because the two available courts, the Cassation Court and Constitutional Court could accept only one petition for judicial or allow numerous applications for judicial review as long as there are at least three grounds, respectively.
The NUPL, he said, has long been pushing for the fact that Mary Jane is, primarily, a victim of human trafficking. Olalia told Bulatlat.com at the sidelines of the Labor Day rally that there should never have been a case that was filed because victims of human trafficking should be repatriated.
“We have already said that a long time ago,” he said during the press briefing, “Let her tell her story.”
Olalia said they will continue other meta-legal efforts. They will seek “amici curiae” or friends of the court from international lawyers group. They will also seek out available mechanisms in the United Nations human rights bodies.
He stressed that Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s clemency remains independent of these legal procedures.
“It is not enough that you hold on to laws. The struggle is not limited to the four corners of the court but in all forms of struggle, from the countryside to the streets,” Josalee Deinla, assistant secretary general for education of NUPL, said.