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ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Various human rights groups, interfaith organizations, and ordinary supporters reaffirmed their commitment to the campaign for clemency and freedom for long-detained overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Mary Jane Veloso during the family’s most recent visit to Indonesia.
OFW rights group Migrante International held a press conference on Monday, June 26, to report the activities the family and the Philippine delegation carried out in their recently concluded two-week trip in Indonesia.
Together with Migrante, the Veloso family sought help from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to facilitate the family’s request to visit Mary Jane in her detention facility in Yogyakarta, said Migrante International chairperson Joanna Concepcion.
Through coordination among the CHR, the Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (DFA-OUMWA), and the Philippine embassy in Jakarta, Mary Jane reunited with her parents and two teenage sons after five years.
Concepcion also acknowledged the office of Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas and House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Maria Rachel Arenas for extending assistance to the Veloso family.
Indonesian authorities permitted the family to stay in the Wonosari Women’s Penitentiary in Yogyakarta from June 12 to 13. The facility is approximately two hours away from the city center, Migrante said.
According to Minnie Lopez of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), the family’s short get-together was “very touching and moving.”
Lopez had accompanied the Veloso family in Indonesia along with their lawyer Edre Olalia, Bishop Francisco “Nonie” Aviso of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), and representatives from DFA-OUMWA.
Lopez added that several women’s rights and anti-death penalty groups in Indonesia reaffirmed their commitment to the campaign by sending letters of support for clemency to the Indonesian president and holding public forums regarding Mary Jane’s case.
Some of these groups are the Yogyakarta Women’s Network, Institute for Inter-faith Dialogue in Indonesia, Christian Council of Indonesia, ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, Komnas Perempuan (Women’s Commission), and the Anti-Death Penalty Network in Yogyakarta.
They also personally met Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, Archbishop of Jakarta, and Gusti Aju Bintang Darmawati, Minister of Women Empowerment and Child Protection.
Support from groups
During their two-week stay, Cesar Veloso, Mary Jane’s father, said that he did not expect the support they received. He said that, while celebrating a mass inside the prison facility in Yogyakarta, detainees and police personnel warmly welcomed his family. Cesar recounted how the detainees hugged and kissed them after the church service.
“Sinabi nila sa amin, huwag daw kaming mag-alala dahil aalagaan daw nila si Mary Jane sa kulungan,” he said. (They told us that we should not worry because they will take care of Mary Jane inside the prison.)
During the press conference, Veloso family also took turns expressing their gratitude to the institutions that supported their advocacy and funded their transportation costs and accommodation in Indonesia.
“Nung pumunta na kami ng Jakarta po, doon ko po nalaman na mas marami pa pong sumusuporta, hindi lang po sa loob, hanggang labas po na nangangako sila na yung clemency, ilalapit nila [sa] presidente po nila,” said Mark Danielle, Mary Jane’s eldest son.
(When we went to Jakarta, that’s when we found out that more people were supporting us, not just inside the prison facility, but also outside of it. They promised that they will appeal for clemency from their president.)
Concepcion added: “Noong nakaharap naman namin ‘yung Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, binigyan namin si Minister Darmawati ng handwritten letter ni Nanay Celia na nananawagan ng suporta, tulong, at atensyon para sa kaso ni Mary Jane, isang open letter din na pinirmahan ng lagpas isang daang organisasyon sa iba’t ibang bahagi ng mundo, na nananawagan ng clemency para kay Mary Jane.” (READ: Mary Jane Veloso’s mother appeals to Indonesian gov’t anew to act on case)
(When we met the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, we gave Minister Darmawati the handwritten letter from Nanay Celia calling for support, help, and attention for Mary Jane’s case, another open letter signed by more than a hundred organizations from different parts of the world, calling for clemency for Mary Jane.)
Empathizing with the children and families of human trafficking victims, interfaith groups have spoken about the exploitation of migrants, said Bishop Aviso. In 2018, the UCCP released a statement appealing to Indonesian President Joko Widodo for executive clemency for humanitarian reasons.
“Ang Diyos natin ay Diyos ng pag-asa, at tumatawag o pumipili ang Diyos ng mga tao upang maging katuwang natin sa hangarin nating maranasan ang pag-asang ating hinihintay. Biktima ka… at dahil biktima ka, ang Diyos natin ay hindi sang-ayon na merong mga [biktima] ng kawalang katarungan,” Aviso said.
(Our God is a God of hope, and God calls for or chooses people who will assist us in our desire to experience the hope we are waiting for. You are a victim… and because you are a victim, our God would not want to see that there are victims of injustice.)
Concepcion also noted the various advocates, lawyers, and supporters who supported Mary Jane up to her reprieve in 2015.
Continuing appeal for clemency
As groups reaffirm their commitment to the “global campaign for freedom and justice” for trafficked migrants, the Veloso family also hopes that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. personally reaches out to Widodo and requests clemency for Veloso.
Pursuing justice through legal processes should be supplemented by the political campaign for clemency, Concepcion said. “May kapangyarihan din po ang pangulo, Pangulong Marcos Jr., may dalawang beses siyang pagkakataon na makausap si Widodo ng Indonesia para hingiin mismo ang clemency para kay Mary Jane, ngunit hindi niya ginawa ito,” she added.
(The president, President Marcos Jr., has power. He had two chances to speak with Widodo in Indonesia to ask for clemency for Mary Jane but he did not do this.)
However, during Marcos’ state visit to Indonesia in September 2022, Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo asked Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi to pardon Veloso. As a response, Marsudi told the Philippine delegation that they would discuss the matter with the Ministry of Justice. (READ: OFW rights group: Why didn’t Marcos himself raise Veloso clemency to Jokowi?)
Aside from appealing for her release from incarceration, Veloso’s mother also expressed concerns over their daughter’s health. “Inaalala ko ngayon yung sakit niya. Nakaligtas sa bitay, baka sa sakit ka naman mamatay, yun ang iniisip-isip ko,” Celia Veloso said.
(I am concerned about her illness. You may have been spared from the death penalty, but you might die from an illness, that’s what I was thinking of.)
During their visit, Mary Jane reportedly asked her mother if their family has a history of cancer, because she has reportedly been experiencing pain while coughing and menstruating. Her parents noted that she had previously undergone surgery to remove her ovarian cyst.
“Ngayon, parang may nararamdaman siya na naman na, parating nahihilo; ayon nga pagka-inubo o ano man, parang may lalabas,” Cesar Veloso added. They plan to arrange a visit to a specialist soon to determine the cause of her pain.
(She is feeling something again now. She is always dizzy; when she coughs or what not, she feels as if something would come out.)
“Alam kong biktima lang si Mama, kasi si Mama po, noong bata kami, lumalaban siya nang patas at tinuruan siya ni Lola na matakot sa Diyos. Biktima lang si Mama, kaya sana po Pangulong Marcos, sana po mabigay ‘nyo po ‘yung clemency ng mama ko po,” Mark Danielle said.
(I know my mother is just a victim because when we were younger, my mother fought fairly and was taught by my grandparents to fear the Lord. She is just a victim, that is why I hope the president, President Marcos, you could [help get] clemency for my mother.)
Flying to Indonesia in hopes of a better work opportunity, Veloso was arrested and sentenced to death in 2010 for attempting to smuggle illegal drugs that were concealed in her suitcase.
She was given a reprieve at the last minute after then-president Benigno Aquino III called Marsudi to ask the Indonesian government to turn Mary Jane into a state witness against her recruiters, who were allegedly part of a drug trafficking syndicate. – Ashley Enriquez/Rappler.com
Ashley Enriquez is a Rappler volunteer studying in Ateneo de Manila University. This article was done under the supervision of Rappler staff and her copy was vetted by editors.