“It was just like before, when we were brought there for her execution… We were in tears.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – They were happily reunited, only to part ways too soon. But the Veloso family was still in high spirits when they returned to the country after a four-day visit to Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipina on death row in Indonesia.
Mary Jane celebrated her 31st birthday last Jan. 10.
Last week, there was news of Mary Jane’s looming execution. Though this was quickly refuted, Mary Jane’s father Cesar told Bulatlat.com they were in tears when they were informed that they would be allowed to visit her daughter for her birthday.
“It was just like before, when we were brought there for her execution. We wondered, ‘what if it was true?’ We were in tears,” he said.
Mary Jane’s execution was temporarily stayed at dawn of April 29 to give way to the court proceedings against Maria Kristina Sergio and live-in partner Julius Lacanilao, whom Mary Jane said recruited her and victimized her into bringing the 2.6 kilograms of heroin to Indonesia.
Celia said her daughter was in distress when she heard the bad fate that her family went through. The Veloso family lost their home and livelihoods to a typhoon last year.
“She lost a lot of weight. She was very affected. She felt bad that she could not do anything as she is imprisoned,” she said.
Celia showed to the media crocheted bags and pouches, which Mary Jane made and is now selling to prison visitors. Per their visit, Mary Jane said she was able to raise P500 so far and that if she would be released anytime soon, this is the business she would want to pursue.
She said that while her daughter is well-treated by Indonesian authorities, Mary Jane “feels empty in her mind and heart. She pines to be with her family and children.”
Advice to sons
During their visits, Mary Jane reminded her two sons Mark Daniel and Mark Darren to study well and not to waste the opportunities that are being extended to their family by their supporters.
She also teased her two boys not to get married soon, to which Mark Darren said his brother is already courting someone.
Most importantly, Celia said Mary Jane reminded her two boys not to be ashamed of their mother who is behind bars abroad.
“Your mother is innocent. Be proud of me. God knows that in my heart and mind, I am innocent,” Mary Jane told her two sons.
Mary Jane gave her two sons pillows, which read, “Mama loves Macmac” and “Mama loves Darren,” respectively.
Fire still burns
Migrante Partylist chairperson Connie Bragas-Regalado noted the sustained and increased number of supporters of Mary Jane.
Last Jan. 10, Mary Jane and her family’s supporters gathered in Nueva Ecija to celebrate her birthday. Regalado said the “fire remains burning” as they campaign for Mary Jane’s freedom.
She said that supporters among migrant rights advocates in Indonesia also continue to increase. In a way, Regalado said, Mary Jane’s week-long birthday celebration is also a gathering and a show of force that many still support and call for Mary Jane to be freed.
‘One in understanding and goal’
Mary Jane’s lawyer Edre Olalia, also the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers secretary general, noted a more cordial and cooperative working relationship between government officials and the Veloso family and migrant rights activists.
Olalia said the lawyers are “one in understanding and one in their goal,” to “accelerate” the court proceedings here against Mary Jane’s recruiters.
Olalia said there is currently a technical working group that consists of Philippine and Indonesian government officials who are working on how Mary Jane could provide her testimony against her recruiters. He added that this could range from being physically brought here to testify, to giving a judicial affidavit.
“What is important is that she would be able to provide her testimony,” he noted.
Olalia said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) provided due material support for the family’s visit. The Veloso family also thanked the DFA for providing a humble feast for Mary Jane’s birthday.
Regalado said they are hopeful that the same would be extended to other families of overseas Filipino workers in death row. DFA said there are 95 Filipinos in death row.
But the migrant rights leader said it is now down to 94, following the beheading of OFW Joselito Zapanta in Saudi Arabia last Dec. 28. She said the DFA must work on improving legal assistance to OFWs in distress.
‘Stop legal acrobatics’
Olalia said that while they call for “acceleration” in the court proceedings, he said they are not asking for a “shortcut.”
“We are human rights lawyers and we would be the last to ask for that,” he said, adding that they would not want to infringe on the rights of the accused.
Olalia assailed what seemed to be as “legal acrobatics” by the camp of the recruiters, referring to the series of motions and appeals that they filed to stall the proceedings. Instead, he added, both camps should just present their evidences and let the court decide on the merits of the case.
Before they parted yesterday, Jan. 14, Mary Jane hugged Olalia and asked him to do his best so she would be freed.
“I assured her that next time, we would go back home together,” he said.
Migrante International rights and welfare coordinator Laorence Castillo renewed the call to the Philippine government to seek clemency for Mary Jane’s freedom independent of the court proceedings in the Sto. Domingo court in Nueva Ecija.