MANILA, The Philippines (WOMENSENEWS)–For the family of Filipina migrant worker Mary Jane Veloso, the longed-for reprieve on April 29 came at the 11th hour.
"Miracles do come true. We are so happy," Celia Veloso, Mary Jane Veloso’s mother, said in an interview on the Philippine radio station DZMM.
The 30-year-old single mother of two was spared from her scheduled execution in the early hours of April 29, Indonesian time, amidst a last-ditch effort by Philippine President Benigno Aquino to save her life so Veloso can testify about a woman she has accused of duping her into drug smuggling.
Eight others convicted of nonviolent drug offenses–including citizens of Brazil, Nigeria and Australia–were executed, spurring widespread criticism from rights advocates around the world. Australia also withdraw its ambassador to Indonesia for "consultations," CNN reported April 29.
Rights activists and groups, including Amnesty International, are calling on Indonesia to halt any further executions. One of the prisoners still awaiting death by firing squad is a 58-year-old British woman named Lindsay Sandiford, The Guardian reported April 28.
On Wednesday morning in Manila, the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that a last-minute stay had been granted for Veloso.
"We are all relieved by this welcome development," Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a press briefing. "The purpose of the stay is to allow Mary Jane to give testimony in connection with the complaint filed against the recruiters."
News of Veloso’s reprieve was celebrated throughout the country.
Veloso was spared after her recruiter, Maria Kristina Sergio, wanted on charges of human trafficking, surrendered to authorities, citing "security reasons."
Tony Spontana, the spokesperson for Indonesia’s attorney general, was quoted in media reports as saying: "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."
In 2010, Indonesia sentenced Veloso to death on charges of drug smuggling after she was caught in April of that year at Yogyakarta’s Adisucipto airport, in the Java-Bali region of Indonesia, after a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with 2.6 kilograms of heroin wrapped in aluminum foil sewn inside the lining of her suitcase.
In her testimony before Indonesian authorities during her trial, Veloso said that Sergio, her recruiter, had duped her into flying to Indonesia and given her a suitcase to take to the Southeast Asian country.
She has consistently maintained her innocence.
Prior to 2010, Veloso had gone to Dubai as a domestic helper under a two-year contract. However, she only stayed for 10 months because, she said, somebody tried to rape her.
"I decided to come back to Philippines on Dec. 31, 2009, but my money (was) not enough because my son already go to school," Veloso said in a personal, unedited narrative of her case supplied by her parents and published by the Philippine online news site Rappler. "I need a work again."
She said she tried to go to a recruitment agency in Manila to apply for work again as a domestic helper in another country but for three months the agency did not contact her.
Moving forward, a human rights group, Karapatan, is calling on the government to do a better job looking after the interests of overseas Filipino workers who provide a huge source of the country’s income.
Veloso was convicted in 2010 but the family claimed they could not go public about her innocence because they had received death threats.
The following year, Aquino filed an appeal for clemency on behalf of Veloso to Indonesia’s then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono but it was not acted upon due to a moratorium on executions.
In January 2015, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who won on an anti-drug platform, rejected a batch of clemency appeals, including Veloso’s.
Lawyers for the Philippine government then quickly filed a request for a judicial review or case review that met with rejection.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, a human rights group in the Philippines that represented Veloso’s family, spearheaded a massive effort to bring attention to the case that included sending letters to the presidents of both Indonesia and the Philippines.
Before the reprieve Edre Olalia, a lawyer and secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyer, said they were continuously conducting consultations and maintaining communication with foreign law experts and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers on all possible means to stay or stop the execution of Veloso.
In a press statement, Olalia cited three reasons for stopping or staying Veloso’s execution: "She was denied her basic right to due process, the death penalty is too harsh given her disputable participation in the crime and lastly, overriding humanitarian considerations militate against the taking of her life through execution by firing squad."
The imposition of the death penalty, he argued, is not proportionate to Veloso’s alleged and purported participation in the crime charged, which was anything short of maximal.
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