13 years behind bars: Mary Jane Veloso's health problems worry family

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
13 years behind bars: Mary Jane Veloso's health problems worry family
In this Sept. 13, 2016 file photo, Celia Veloso, mother of the Filipina drug convict facing execution in Indonesia, Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, participates in a candlelight vigil in Manila.
AFP / Noel Celis, file

MANILA, Philippines — To the world, she is a woman who was miraculously spared from death row in a foreign land after being duped into smuggling illegal drugs there.

But to her family, Mary Jane Veloso is a daughter and a mother whose incarceration after 13 years has now led her to face mounting health problems alone.

Veloso bared to her family at their reunion last week — a teary-eyed event five years in the making — that her body now often feels weak due to a persistent cough that causes constant pain and triggers discharge.

Veloso's parents said during a press conference on Monday that Mary Jane underwent surgery to remove an ovarian cyst half a year ago. But doctors recently detected the cyst has apparently grown back, prompting Veloso and Indonesian authorities to request for another hospital check-up.

"Mary Jane said that it has been very painful for her," Celia Veloso, Mary Jane's mother, said in Filipino.

"I can't forget what she said to me. Mary Jane asked me: Nanay, may lahi ba tayong cancer? (Mom, do we have a family history of cancer?)" Celia said in Filipino. "Maybe she thought it was cancer because the cyst had reappeared despite surgery."

"As a mother, I couldn't remove this thought from my mind: she was saved from death row. But what if she dies from sickness in jail?" she also said.

Reunion with family

Mary Jane was 25 when she found herself thrust into a nightmare in 2010 when authorities discovered heroin in her suitcase upon arrival in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Now 38, Veloso told her family that she often feels nauseous and light-headed, according to her father Cesar Veloso.

"Sabi nya, may sakit ako tatay. Pag umuubo ako, parang may lumalabas (She said, I'm sick. When I cough, it seems like something is coming out)," Cesar said.

Mary Jane wasn't always this sickly, Celia added.

When they received a call half a year ago about the ovarian cyst found inside Mary Jane's body, they asked for help from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Embassy in Indonesia to have her surgery done as soon as possible.

"With God's mercy, she was able to undergo surgery and have it removed. But now it's back," Celia said in Filipino.

Ever the optimist, Mary Jane told Celia during their two-day reunion that she would "fight to get better" for her children.

"She said, 'Don't worry about me once you get back to the Philippines. For my children, I'll fight to get better so that I can be with you again," Celia said in Filipino.

Mary Jane's parents and two sons traveled to Yogyakarta early last week to visit her in the town of Wonosari — where she is detained — and spent two days with her. They last visited Mary Jane in 2015.

RELATED: Mary Jane Veloso reunites with family in Indonesia

The visit was arranged through the help of the Commission on Human Rights, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Embassy in Indonesia.

Rep. Rachel Arenas (Pangasinan, 3rd District) and Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela Women's Party) also extended their assistance. Arenas chairs the House foreign affairs committee.

"The process was not easy and Mary Jane's family had to wait before the different agencies in Jakarta gave their approval [for the visit]," Joanna Concepcion of Migrante International said. 

Celia recounted feeling "overwhelming" happiness at the sight of Mary Jane after five years, which was brightened even more after seeing Mary Jane's children run up to their mother to embrace her.

But the sight of Mary Jane's sunken eyes had worried Celia.

"I asked Mary Jane, why do your eyes look sunken? She told me that ever since she heard of our visit, she couldn't sleep just from thinking about it," Celia said.

"'Kung pwede lang hatakin ko ang araw para lang makita kayo,' sabi nya. Hindi sya makatulog kasi sabik na sabik syang makita kami ('If only I could pull up the sun to see you sooner,' she said. She couldn't sleep in her excitement to see us)," Celia said.

Celia shared that Mary Jane's supporters and members of inter-faith groups they met during their two-week stay in Indonesia renewed her hope for clemency to be granted to her daughter.

"They told us, 'Don't worry. Before Widodo leaves office, we will go to him and ask for clemency for Mary Jane'," Celia added. 

During the president's visit to Indonesia in May, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that the government is nudging the Indonesian government for Veloso's "commutation or even a pardon or extradition back to the Philippines."

After echoing previous administrations' similar vows to bring Veloso home, Marcos told reporters that "we can be the ones to punish her... Just seeking any way to ask for clemency, to ask for grace when it comes to this." 

In response to Marcos, the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL), which serves as private counsel to Veloso, said that requesting for Mary Jane's safe return should not be "conditioned on any commitment to punish her in her home country."

Lawyers for Mary Jane said that Indonesian authorities told them it would be "a big help" if local courts in the Philippines rule with finality against Veloso's recruiters, who currently face charges related to human trafficking, illegal recruitment and estafa before a Nueva Ecija court.

 Lost time with family fuels hope for last visit

Mary Jane's two sons – Mark Danielle and Mark Darren – said during the press conference that while they could not stop embracing their mother in happiness, the ride home from Indonesia had slammed them back to the painful reality that they don't know when they would next see her again.  

Mark Danielle said in an interview with Philstar.com that he and his brother struggle to see her sick in jail for a crime she did not commit.

"Lumalaban si Mama ng patas (Mom has always fought fair)," Mark Danielle said. "Pumunta sya ng ibang bansa para mabigyan kami ng magandang buhay (She went to a foreign country to give us a better life)."

Celia said that their family's reunion with Mary Jane had given her hope that this would be their last visit to her in detention. 

"We want her to come home," Celia said. "This should not reach even one more year."

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