Family of Filipina rejoice after Indonesia death sentence reprieve

Seven other foreigners executed, Australia recalls ambassador
Family of Filipina rejoice after Indonesia death sentence reprieve

Filipino protesters celebrate outside the Indonesian Embassy in Manila after learning that Mary Jane Veloso was granted an 11th hour reprieve (Photo by Maki Macaspac)

 

The mother of a Filipina drug convict reprieved at the 11th hour after facing execution in Indonesia told Philippine radio Wednesday: "Miracles do come true".

Mary Jane Veloso was spared after someone suspected of recruiting her and tricking her into carrying drugs to Indonesia turned herself in to authorities in the Philippines, MetroTV and the Jakarta Post reported in Indonesia.

The Philippine Foreign Affairs Department confirmed the reprieve.

"We are relieved that the execution of Mary Jane Veloso was not carried out tonight," said spokesman Charles Jose.

"The Lord has answered our prayers.”

"We are so happy, I can't believe it. I can't believe my child will live," Mary Jane's mother Celia Veloso told Philippine radio station DZMM.

"We had no more hope. My [other] children were already on the island waiting to pick up her body," she told the radio station in an interview from Indonesia. "Miracles do come true."

According to Indonesian Attorney-General Office (AGO) spokesman Tony Tribagus Spontana, Veloso’s execution was postponed following a request from the president of the Philippines.

The request was delivered after Veloso’s alleged recruiter, Maria Kristina Sergio, surrendered to police in the Philippines on Tuesday.

Veloso’s execution was postponed so she could testify as a witness against the alleged recruiter, Spontana said.

On Tuesday morning, Sergio "voluntarily surrendered" to police in the Philippine province of Nueva Ecija.

Sergio, who comes Talavera town, told police that she received "death threats" after news reports came out linking her to Veloso.

The Philippine National Bureau of Investigation last week filed illegal recruitment, human trafficking and defrauding through deceit charges against Sergio and two others in connection with Veloso's case. The justice department announced Tuesday that Sergio and her partner, Julius Lacanilao, will face a preliminary investigation on human trafficking charges on May 8. 

Veloso's lawyers maintain that Sergio duped Veloso into smuggling 2.6 kilograms of heroin to Indonesia in 2009.

Lawyer Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), said Veloso "must not be penalized for any alleged crime which is integral and in connection with human trafficking”.

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"Mary Jane should be repatriated back to the Philippines," said Olalia, adding that Sergio can prove Veloso is innocent of drug trafficking.

However, in an earlier interview prior to her surrender, Sergio denied that she asked Veloso to carry drugs to Indonesia. She said she only brought Veloso to Malaysia "as a tourist" to look for a job.

In Malaysia, Segio said Veloso was "acting strangely" and kept on talking with somebody on the phone. "I reminded her not to trust strangers," Sergio said.

"Then one day, she called me up to tell me that she was on her way to another country," Sergio said, adding that she came back to the Philippines alone and only learned about Veloso's arrest days later.

On Wednesday, migrant group Migrante International said it is focusing its attention to bringing Veloso back to the Philippines to testify against Sergio.

Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante International chairwoman, said the group has three other witnesses against Sergio regarding illegal recruitment.

"We will be looking for more, especially witnesses who can establish how human trafficking operations around the region work," Regalado told ucanews.com.

Veloso’s family have also questioned Sergio’s claims.

"What [Sergio] said were lies,” said Teresita Candelaria, Veloso's mother-in-law. “When Mary Jane was arrested in Indonesia, we did not know about it. We went to look for Sergio and she told us that Mary Jane was already with a good employer and we need not worry. It was about after three weeks that Mary Jane was able to let us know that she was arrested for drug trafficking."

Born to a poor family in the Philippines, Veloso, 30, is a single mother of two boys aged six and 12, who reportedly shouted "Mama will live!" after hearing of the 11th hour reprieve.

Her case has attracted huge attention in the Philippines, with near daily rallies of support and world boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao pleading for her life to be spared.

Mary Jane's mother, two children and two sisters had all gone to Indonesia to meet her before her expected execution.

On the street outside the Indonesian embassy in Manila, where a group of activists had been staging a vigil for Veloso, people cheered and hugged each other as news of the reprieve was announced.

However, seven other foreigners and one local man were executed early Wednesday for drug offences on a prison island after Indonesia defied international criticism and heartrending pleas from relatives.

Those executed were “Bali Nine” duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran from Australia, Rodrigo Gularte from Brazil, Raheem Agbaje Salami, Sylvester Obiekwe Nwolise and Okwudili Oyatanze from Nigeria, and Martin Anderson from Ghana. The executed Indonesian was Zainal Abidin.

The condemned men reportedly all refused blindfolds and sang hymns, among them "Amazing Grace", as they went to face the firing squad in a jungle clearing, according to a pastor who was with them.

“The executions were carried out at 12:30am,” Gularte’s lawyer Christina Widiantarti told ucanews.com.

The lawyer and Gularte’s family held a vigil in an area near to where the executions took place.

“We placed lit candles by the shore at midnight. Thirty minutes later, we heard the sound of gunfire. We all cried,” she said.

Following the executions Australia on Wednesday took the unprecedented step of recalling its ambassador.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the relationship with Jakarta "has suffered as a result of what's been done over the last few hours".

"We respect Indonesia's sovereignty but we do deplore what's been done and this cannot be simply business as usual," he told reporters.

"For that reason, once all the courtesies have been extended to the Chan and Sukumaran families our ambassador will be withdrawn for consultations."

Australia has never recalled an ambassador over a drug execution before, even during the high-profile case of 25-year-old Nguyen Tuong Van, who was put to death by Singapore in December 2005.

However, the executions were "both cruel and unnecessary", Abbott said, necessitating the "unprecedented" move to bring back Ambassador Paul Grigson.

Ties were only just recovering after sinking to their lowest point in years in late 2013 after reports that Australian spies tried to tap the phones of then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle.

Amnesty International (AI) condemned Wednesday’s executions, saying the killings showed complete disregard for due process and human rights.

“These executions are utterly reprehensible — they were carried out with complete disregard for internationally recognized safeguards on the use of the death penalty,” Rupert Abbot, AI’s research director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement.

He urged Indonesian President Joko Widodo to “immediately abandon plans to carry out further executions and impose a moratorium on the death penalty as a first step towards abolition”.

Abbot also pointed out that the Brazilian, Gularte, a Catholic, had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

“International law clearly prohibits the use of the death penalty against those with mental disabilities. It’s also troubling that people convicted of drug trafficking have been executed, even though this does not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes’ for which the death penalty can be imposed under international law,” he said.

Ricky Gunawan, another lawyer representing Gularte, said all efforts had been made to prove Gularte suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

“Gularte had been diagnosed by a team of psychologists in Cilacap district…. Even they recommended that he should be taken to a hospital for mentally ill individuals. We took this recommendation to the AGO. It seems the AGO never had the goodwill to review the issue thoroughly,” he said.

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