Mary Jane Veloso’s mother begs Widodo for daughter’s freedom

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Mary Jane Veloso�s mother begs Widodo for daughter�s freedom
Mary Jane’s parents, Celia and Cesar Veloso, through the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, asked the SC on Monday to reverse and set aside the Court of Appeals ruling that blocked the appeal to allow a local judge to observe the deposition of Veloso’s testimony.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman, File

MANILA, Philippines — The mother of Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino on death row in Indonesia who rights groups say is a victim of human trafficking, has written to Indonesian president Joko Widodo requesting clemency and freedom for her daughter.

Flanked by human rights lawyers and concerned advocates, Veloso’s mother Celia Veloso and other relatives held a demonstration in Manila on Tuesday to appeal Veloso’s clemency after Widodo landed in the Philippines the night before. Widodo is in the Philippines for a three-day visit.

"I am requesting and begging and hoping you would understand me as a parent and a mother. Please free our daughter," a copy of the letter provided by migrant workers group Migrante International stated in Filipino.

Arman Hernando of Migrante International told Philstar.com that the letter has been received by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin “but we are yet to receive any response from them.”

Indonesian authorities arrested Veloso in 2010 after she was found carrying a suitcase lined with heroin. Five years later, she was spared from execution at the eleventh hour after then-President Benigno Aquino III made a direct appeal to Widodo.

In March 2023, Widodo issued a rare pardon to a domestic worker who spent two decades behind bars for charges related to drug smuggling. This revived hopes for a similar move for Veloso, who has repeatedly maintained her innocence and that she was duped into carrying illegal substances.

The Indonesian leader is now in his last few months in office and will be replaced following Indonesia’s general elections in February.

In a statement on Wednesday, Migrante International called on Widodo to grant Veloso clemency and stressed that she has spent 13 years behind bars even as she is a victim of illegal recruitment and human trafficking.

The group said that delays in the trial of her “traffickers” — Veloso’s recruiters who promised her a domestic worker job in Indonesia — has posed obstacles to achieving justice for Veloso.

In 2020, the Supreme Court reiterated its earlier ruling that allowed Veloso to testify through deposition against her recruiters, which her lawyers said paved the way for a Nueva Ecija court to schedule the dates for when Veloso can appear in court.

However, Veloso “has not yet been asked to provide her testimony that can help prove she is a victim of human trafficking,” Migrante International said.

“The delays in Mary Jane’s legal case in the Philippines has been detrimental to securing her immediate freedom, and a denial of justice,” the group added.

According to Veloso’s parents and children, she has developed serious illnesses during the long years she spent behind bars, at one point requiring surgery to remove an ovarian cyst. 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo earlier said that he raised the matter of Veloso’s case with his Indonesian counterpart during the 7th Philippines-Indonesia Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation.

Manalo said that they were “working to see whether we could find a way towards resolving the case, the clemency” but that it is ultimately “up to their government to decide.”

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said in 2023 that he had asked for a commutation or extradition to allow Veloso to be sent back to the Philippines, saying that the embattled overseas worker can be “punished” by Philippine authorities instead. — with reports by Kristine Joy Patag

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