Mary Jane Veloso execution delayed

JAKARTA, Indonesia (4th UPDATE) – The execution of Filipina Mary Jane Veloso, one of 9 drug convicts scheduled for execution Wednesday, April 29, has been delayed. 

The 8 other drug trafficking convicts – which included 7 foreigners and one Indonesian – were put to death early Wednesday morning on a prison island after Indonesia defied international criticism and heartrending pleas from relatives.

Indonesian Attorney General HM Prasetyo said an exception was made for Veloso "because there was a last-minute plea from the Philippine President. There was someone who surrendered today. She claimed she was the one who recruited Mary Jane." 

In 2010, Indonesia sentenced the 30-year-old Veloso to death on charges of drug smuggling. Veloso, a single mother of two from Nueva Ecija, had flown to Malaysia with the intention of securing a job as a domestic helper.

She claimed that her recruiter, Maria Kristina Sergio, had duped her into flying to Indonesia and bringing a suitcase with 2.6 kilograms of heroin hidden in the lining. Veloso has consistently maintained her innocence.

Sergio turned herself in Tuesday morning, less than a day before the scheduled execution. She claimed to be in fear of her life and denied Mary Jane's story, saying she did not know what Mary Jane was carrying in her luggage. 

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) had earlier filed charges of illegal recruitment, human trafficking, and estafa against Sergio and two others in connection with Veloso's case. (READ: African, two others accused of trafficking Mary Jane)

The NBI said that Veloso "was a victim of deception and manipulation by her illegal recruiters."

Although Veloso was sentenced in 2010 and an appeal for clemency was filed in 2011, it was only recently, after the appeal was rejected, that the government moved to investigate Sergio. 

'Relieved'

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed that Mary Jane has been granted a reprieve early Wednesday morning. 

"We are relieved that the execution of Mary Jane Veloso was not carried out tonight," said spokesperson Charles Jose from the DFA office in Pasay. "The Lord has answered our prayers."

"The Department of Justice will begin the investigation on the alleged illegal recruiter and the case buildup will provide information which will be supplied to the Indonesian authorities to aid them in their investigation," Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said in an interview with the BBC.

Coloma said that there was no agreement on timelines for the case.

"There are no timelines discussed," Coloma said. "All that President Aquino requested was another opportunity to be given to Mary Jane to be able to shed light on the activities of the trafficking syndicate that victimized her."

President Joko Widodo has been a vocal supporter of the death penalty for drug traffickers, claiming Indonesia is facing an emergency due to rising narcotics use that have led to the deaths of its citizens.

In Veloso's case, Indonesia will wait until the resolution of Sergio's case in the Philippines. 

Jumping for joy

The family was still sleeping inside a coaster driving down Cilacap, Central Java when news broke of the reprieve. A convoy of 4 vehicles included the Veloso family, DFA staffers and Migrante chairperson Connie Regalado. The convoy stopped at a gas station, and the family was awakened. 

"They were sleeping when we told them," said Rappler Indonesia bureau chief Jet Damazo-Santos. The family, she said, could not believe the news. "They seemed shocked at first, unsure of whether to believe me. But then a Philippine embassy staffer confirmed, and they started crying."

"Ayun na nga yung sinasabi ng anak ko," said Mary Jane's mother Celia Veloso. She quoted her daughter from an earlier conversation: "Na kahit gahibla na lang na oras ang natitira, kung gusto ng Panginoon na mabuhay ako, bubuhayin pa niya ako."

(That's what my daughter has been saying: That no matter how little time is left, if God wants me to live, he will keep me alive.) 

A joyful Celia added that Mary Jane's children were jumping up and down and repeating, "Buhay mama ko! Buhay mama ko!" 

(My mama is alive! My mama is alive!)

Public reaction

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

Mary Jane's mother, two children and two sisters and brother 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.

Protesters outside of the Indonesian Embassy in Makati celebrate upon hearing news that Mary Jane Veloso has won a temporary reprieve. Photo by Jansen Romero/Rappler

Protesters outside of the Indonesian Embassy in Makati celebrate upon hearing news that Mary Jane Veloso has won a temporary reprieve.

Photo by Jansen Romero/Rappler

Relatives in the family's home town of Cabanatuan also burst out cheering, radio reports said.

8 others put to death

Authorities put the 8 convicts to death after midnight local time in the high-security prison island of Nusakambangan in central Indonesia.

Two of the men executed were from Indonesia, while another was from Brazil. Three of the African traffickers are confirmed as being from Nigeria. However it is not clear whether the fourth holds Ghanaian or Nigerian nationality.

A Frenchman was originally among the group set to be executed but he was granted a temporary reprieve after authorities agreed to allow an outstanding legal appeal to run its course. 

In Indonesian executions, convicts are led to clearings just after midnight, tied to posts and then giving the option of kneeling, standing or sitting before being executed by 12-man firing squads. 

Australia had mounted a sustained campaign to save its citizens, who have been on death row for almost a decade, with the prime minister repeatedly appealing for them to be spared.

The executions of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, ringleaders of the so-called "Bali Nine" heroin-trafficking gang, led to the announcement of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott that the country will recall their ambassador in Indonesia.

Amnesty International condemned the executions as "utterly reprehensible" in a statement from research director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Rupert Abbott. – With reports from Jet Damazo-Santos in Cilacap, and Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com