Family of Filipina on death row: ‘We will not lose hope’

Jet Damazo-Santos
Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso's final appeal has been rejected by Indonesia's Supreme Court, but her sister says: 'As long as my sister is still alive, we will not lose hope.'

STILL HOPING. Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso's father, Cesar, and sister, Maritess, read a letter she sent to the family. Photo by Joe Torres/UCA News

JAKARTA, Indonesia – “Is it true? Did the Supreme Court really junk my sister’s case? Are they really going to execute her?”

Maritess Veloso, the elder sister of convicted drug courier Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, told Rappler over the phone they only heard from the news that her sister’s final bid to escape the death penalty in Indonesia had been rejected. Philippine officials had yet to inform them.

“We’re all panicking now, especially our mother and father,” she said on Friday, March 27, a day after the court decision was announced. “We didn’t expect they would throw out her case. We thought it was going to take around two more months.”

Lawyers expected the Indonesian Supreme Court to spend months reviewing whether the 30-year-old mother of two, who was sentenced to death in 2010 for attempting to smuggle 2.6 kilograms of heroin into the country, deserved to be executed by firing squad.  

Her lead lawyer in Indonesia, Agus Salim, previously told Rappler they were optimistic because she had a strong case: First, Mary Jane maintains she was tricked into bringing into Indonesia a suitcase with heroin hidden inside. Second, she was unable to defend herself properly in court because she wasn’t provided a capable translator. (READ: Lawyers for Filipina on death row: Her translator was just a student)

Her lawyers were also confident because there is precedent: In a similar case involving a Thai national, the Supreme Court in 2007 commuted her death sentence to life imprisonment. The fact that the Thai national tested positive for drugs while Mary Jane did not would help bolster her case, Agus hoped.

But the Supreme Court apparently did not agree.  

REJECTED. Screenshot of the Indonesian Supreme Court's decision on Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso's judicial review request. On the last line, "Amar Putusan" means verdict, and "TOLAK PK" means "Judicial Review rejected".

Next steps?

Agus said once they receive a copy of the Supreme Court decision, they’ll discuss the next steps to be taken for Mary Jane’s case. 

“I don’t have the official decision from the Supreme Court yet, so we don’t know the reason for rejecting it,” he said.

But are there options available? A judicial review is usually the last legal recourse in Indonesia’s legal system.  

“We hope there is, but we have to see first if the rejection was based on administrative or substantive reasons,” he said.

“We’re all very sad here. There’s no reason to execute Mary Jane.”

Closer to execution

But for Indonesia’s Attorney General’s Office (AGO), this means they are one step closer to carrying out their planned execution of 10 drug convicts on death row, which includes Mary Jane, two high-profile Australian inmates and convicts from France, Brazil, Ghana and Nigeria(READ: Indonesia to accelerate legal process for Filipina on death row)

“We appreciate the Supreme Court for its decision to reject the judicial review of Mary Jane,” AGO spokesman Tony Spontana told Rappler in a text message.

“This is in line with our expectation and understanding because her clemency request has already been rejected. She should not have any more legal remedies.”

Mary Jane’s clemency request was submitted to then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, during a bilateral meeting with President Benigno Aquino III, according to a government source.

But it wasn’t acted upon until President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who has a hard-line stance on drug trafficking, took office. He rejected Mary Jane’s clemency request in January.  

FINAL APPEAL. Mary Jane in court in Yogyakarta during the hearing for her judicial review request in March 2015. Photo by Suryo Wibowo/AFP

Still hoping

“Until now, we still haven’t lost hope,” Maritess said over and over, crying over the phone. “Even if we already see the Supreme Court decision, we will still not lose hope.

“As long as my sister is still alive, we will not lose hope. We believe there’s a God. A miracle can happen.”

Mary Jane’s eldest child, 12-year-old Mark, has been in shock, Maritess said. (READ: A slow death for family of Filipina on Indonesia’s death row)

“He’s just staring into space. We can’t talk to him,” she said, adding that he’s been very affected by his mother’s situation. “It seems like he’s lost interest in studying. We’re worried he might not pass his classes this year.” 

Mark was only 7 years old when his mom left them to work as a domestic helper in Kuala Lumpur. But that job, which a godsister, Cristina, promised her, didn’t materialize. Instead, Mary Jane told her family that Cristina invited her to go to Indonesia instead, and gave her a new suitcase to use. 

That was the suitcase that apparently had drugs hidden inside.

“That Cristina is just here. She lives one tricycle ride away,” Maritess said, naming a town in Cabanatuan City, in the province of Nueva Ecija in the Philippines. “We see her but we don’t talk to her.”

The last time Maritess saw Mary Jane was in February, during a 3-day visit facilitated by the Philippine government.

“She was happy and healthy and hopeful then,” she said. 

But Maritess says she’s not sure they can bear to Mary Jane again to say goodbye, if indeed she will be executed.

“Mary Jane said, if in case she will be executed, she wants to see us all again,” she said. “But I don’t know…” – with a report from Adelia Putri/ 

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