Indo Pres. Widodo says he ‘listens to human rights activists’
OVERSEAS Filipino worker (OFW) Mary Jane Veloso was spared from death on Tuesday, April 28, minutes before she was scheduled to face a firing squad at Indonesia’s Execution Island, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he, together with his administration, “listens and pays attention to human rights activists.”
Various human rights groups in the Philippines camped out in the Indonesian Embassy in an attempt to sway the Indo government to review Veloso’s case. Internationally, social media was filled with hashtags and petitions sympathizing to Veloso’s supposed execution.
“President Jokowi listens and pays attention to the human rights activists who keep guarding him in doing his constitutional duties. The President believes a synergy like this must be maintained in the future,” the Indonesian government’s statement said.
“In human rights issues, the President asks activists to keep giving inputs to him while making decisions,” it added.
The Cabinet Secretariat released Widodo’ s statement on the case clearing out the real reason why they had to reprieve Veloso just minutes before she was scheduled to face a firing squad.
“The decision to delay the execution was taken by the President after receiving reports about an ongoing legal process in the Philippines. Because the legal process is still ongoing in the Philippines, we must ensure Mary Jane Veloso deserves justice,” the statement read.
It was Veloso’s alleged recruiter, Maria Kristina Sergio’s surrender to Philippine police that convinced the Indonesian government to pursue an even deeper investigation to catch bigger fishes behind drug smuggling in their country.
The eight other convicts were confirmed dead after facing punishment for the crime they committed, while Veloso’s execution was “temporarily suspended” subject to the Philippines’ promise of prosecuting the OFW’s recruiter who is an alleged member of an international drug syndicate.
Along with Veloso on death row were nationals from Nigeria, Australia, Ghana, France and Indonesia.
The French national, however, was spared from being executed even before the batch was sent to the execution island.
“There was a request from the Philippine President regarding the perpetrator who’s suspected of committing human trafficking and surrendered in the Philippines. MJ is needed for her testimony,” Attorney General HM Prasetyo said.
Though only a temporary suspension for the death sentence was granted to Veloso, this is considered to be a big development in her case. She was convicted five years ago, and the Indonesian Supreme Court has denied requests from the Philippine government to review the case.
Veloso’s lawyer Edre Olalia insisted that the delay in the execution of his client is under a condition.
“As far as Mary Jane is concerned, her life has been spared for the moment and the reason is that the legal proceedings in the Philippines must be respected first in view of the fact that the illegal recruiter is now in custody,” he said.
Malacañang welcomed the news, saying it is a good opportunity for the Philippines and Indonesia to collaborate in busting a big time drug syndicate.
“Such reprieve provides an opportunity for the perpetuation of her testimony that could shed light on how a criminal syndicate duped her into being an unwitting accomplice or courier in their human and drug trafficking activities,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister of Political, Legal and Security Affaris, Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno, explained that the decision to spare Veloso from Tuesday’s mass execution “does not cancel the death penalty.”
“There was a new evidence… We respect the law in the Philippines and we will clarify. The law will still go on, but this does not cancel the death penalty… At this stage, this does not cancel the execution,” he said.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III repeatedly negotiated with Indonesian President Joko Widodo to spare Veloso from death row. He bartered Veloso’s life in exchange for her to be a witness against her recruiter and an alleged drug syndicate.
“We presented [to Indonesia] that it seems to serve both of our interests to keep her [Veloso] alive to be able to testify and serve the ends of justice for both our concerns,” Aquino said.
“She does present an opportunity right now to be able to uncover all the participants and the start that process of bringing them the bars of justice. Absent her, that becomes very difficult,” he added.
After Aquino’s appeal, Widodo called for an emergency meeting with other Indonesian officials to discuss the offer. It took hours before the Attorney General announced that their government had come up with the decision to spare Veloso in the meantime.
Veloso, a state witness
Even Purdijatno has no answer to whatever timeframe will be followed in delaying the execution considering that the case against Sergio is just starting to roll.
“Don’t ask when. It’s still in the coordination process. The case in the Philippines will take some time too,” he said.
For Veloso’s camp, her role as a state witness against an alleged international drug syndicate is another challenge. Olalia said they have to plan their next move after they receive an official copy of the suspension order to find out the scope of the reprieve.
“We go back to the drawing boards. We have ideas, but we have to collectively decide on these next steps,” he said.
“We have to study the most appropriate and efficient and fastest way to which she would be released, should we be able to. And we are confident that we will be able to establish that she is indeed a victim of human trafficking by Sergio and her live-in boyfriend Lacanilao,” he added.
Meanwhile, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle lawmaker Masinton Pasaribo urged the government to pursue the case against Veloso and not allow her to go back to the Philippines.
“Don’t let her go back to the Philippines. If the Philippine authority want to question her for [the human trafficking] case, they should come here and do it, or use a teleconference,” he insisted.
For Veloso’s mother, Celia, the Indonesian government’s decision to delay the execution is “a miracle.”
“What you said is true, my daughter, that if the Lord wants to make you live, even by a strand of hair or by a minute, He will make you live,” she said.
Veloso’s parents, siblings and two sons visited her on the afternoon of April 27—before the scheduled execution—with downcast emotions, not knowing that they would be granted more time with her as Indonesia decides on her fate.
Celia narrated that Veloso’s father and two sons were elated with the news: “The children were jumping. ‘My mama is alive! My mama is alive!’”
“We are very, very happy, the whole family. We were on our way back to Jakarta, at the gasoline station, when we heard the news that Mary Jane’s execution did not push through that’s why we’re very happy right now,” she said in a radio interview.
Celia admitted that they are still in awe in disbelief, adding that Veloso’s siblings stayed in the execution island to fetch her body to escort back to the Philippines.
“We had no more hope. My children were already in the island waiting to pick up her body… I can’t believe my child will live,” she said.
“Miracles do come true!” she exclaimed.
Mary Jane Veloso trended worldwide on social media as appeals of ordinary people before the Indonesian government flooded the Internet.
Hundreds of people also lined up the streets of Makati where the Indonesian embassy is located. Various groups called on Widodo to spare the Filipina, who they insist is only a victim of human trafficking.
“We are grateful for the solidarity and support of the Indonesian people and the rest of the world,” militant women’s group Gabriela said after learning that Veloso’s execution was “temporarily suspended.”
Groups in front of the embassy broke into loud cheers and high spirits upon the announcement of DFA. They, however, slammed President Aquino for his “five years of inaction that led to the situation.”
“The people saved Mary Jane, not Jokowi and certainly not Aquino,” Gabriela said.
Another group insisted that Aquino has no right to claim that he is the reason that the Indonesian government decided to temporarily spare Veloso from facing death.
“President Aquino has no moral authority to claim this victory as his doing, because it is his government’s fault that Mary Jane’s life was endangered in the first place,” Karapatan said.
Meanwhile, Veloso’s recruiter, Maria Christina Sergio, who turned herself to the Nueva Ecija police is now in the Philippine National Police’s custody.
(With reports from Rappler.com, CNNPhilippines.com, TheJakartaPost, Inquirer.net, Philstar.com)
(LA Midweek April 29 – May 1, 2015 Sec. A pg.1)