“This is not just about Mary Jane. We do not want other families to go through the same ordeal. It is painful to be in an island, waiting for my sister’s remains.” – Maritess Veloso-Laurente
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Jesus Yabes apologized for the agency’s shortcomings on the ordeal of Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipina on death row in Indonesia, at a congressional hearing today, June 10.
“If we have shortcomings, we are asking for apologies. It is not as if we do not want to help,” Yabes said, looking at Mary Jane’s parents, Celia and Cesar Veloso across the room, during the deliberations of the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs.
The apology came after ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio and Rep. Nicanor Briones said they found it inexcusable that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has failed to provide timely and complete updates to the Veloso family on Mary Jane’s case.
Earlier in the hearing, Yabes was also swamped with criticisms from the Veloso family, their private lawyer Edre Olalia and overseas Filipino workers group, Migrante International.
Briones, chairperson of the committee, said the Veloso family could not be blamed for being “makulit” (persistent) as they were worried. The family, he added, was expecting swift action on the part of the government and should not have been neglected.
Mary Jane’s sister, Maritess Veloso-Laurente, was in tears, when she recalled to the committee the ordeal her family went through.
“This is not just about Mary Jane. We do not want other families to go through the same ordeal. It is painful to be in an island, waiting for my sister’s remains,” she said.
Mary Jane’s execution was stayed at dawn of April 29, to give way to the legal proceedings of the cases filed against her recruiters, Ma. Kristina Sergio and live-in partner Julius Lacanilao, here in the country.
No gov’t representation
Migrante International deputy secretary general Mic Catuira said during the hearing that based on the cases they are handling, the government has done “too little, too late in securing and ensuring the rights and welfare of overseas Filipinos.”
Catuira said the DFA has failed to provide “representation and intervention in the period of arrest and investigation.” In Mary Jane’s case, embassy officials visited her three months after her arrest in Yogyakarta.
He said that they also observed a “general pattern” in government assistance to OFWs: “The Philippine government only hired private lawyers after the convictions have been meted out.”
“In cases where OFWs were given the death penalty or life imprisonment, the common track of the Philippine government was to appeal for executive clemency, while not considering other possible legal options, when there are strong indications that the OFWs are innocent,” Catuira said.
Lastly, he said, families of OFWs in distress “were kept in the dark and were not actively engaged in the processes of the cases.”
Laurente told the committee that there were times when it was her sister who provided them updates and not the DFA. Tinio responded, saying that he found it “inexcusable” given the available communications technology.
Yabes, for his part, said the DFA has a standing policy that its consular posts should provide updates within 48 hours of a development in the case. But the volume of their work, he added, has kept them from doing so.
Of the 10,000 Filipino workers in Indonesia, Mary Jane is the only one on death row.
Early in the hearing, Yabes said the government, particularly the DFA, is committed to protecting the rights and welfare of OFWs. He also said that embassy officials were engaged in both “low-profile” and “high-level” intervention that led to the stay of execution.
But Olalia, who is also National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers secretary general, said there is a “disconnect on what is being said and what is happening on the ground.”
Olalia asked what was the basis of Aquino’s appeal for clemency — was it only on humanitarian grounds or did the government assert she was innocent?