JAKARTA, Indonesia – Overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso continues to deal with the threat of execution more than 10 years since she first claimed she was duped into becoming a drug mule. According to her and her family, she was only trying to seek work abroad to give her children a better life.
Mary Jane, 37, was arrested, tried and sentenced to death in 2010 for attempting to smuggle 2.6 kilograms of heroin into Indonesia. But she only began making headlines in Indonesia in January 2015, after Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo rejected her request for clemency.
Shortly after that, the Attorney General’s Office announced that the next batch of executions would include a Philippine citizen. Veloso is the only Filipino on Indonesia’s death row as of October 2018.
Based on interviews with Mary Jane’s lawyers and family members as well as Philippine government officials, this is what we know so far:
Who is Mary Jane?
Mary Jane was born to a poor family in Nueva Ecija, the youngest of 5 children. She only made it to the first year high school, married early, and had two children not long after. The marriage didn’t last long, though, and she and her husband separated. (READ: A slow death for family of Filipina on Indonesia’s death row)
According to Agus Salim, her Indonesian lawyer, she found work in Dubai as a domestic helper. However, she returned to Manila before her two-year contract ended because “she was almost raped”.
How did she end up with a suitcase full of heroin?
In early 2010, Agus said Mary Jane was offered another job as a domestic helper in Kuala Lumpur by a godsister identified only as Christine or Cristina. But when she arrived in Kuala Lumpur, the job was no longer available.
Christine then asked Mary Jane to go to Yogyakarta in Indonesia instead. Agus said Christine gave Mary Jane a brand new suitcase to use plus $500. Mary Jane told her lawyers the suitcase seemed heavy but was empty.
On April 25, 2010, she arrived at Yogyakarta’s Adisucipto airport via an AirAsia flight from Kuala Lumpur. When the suitcase passed through the X-ray scanner, it set off the alarm. Indonesian authorities then found packs of heroin wrapped in aluminium foil weighing a total of 2.6 kilograms hidden inside the lining of the suitcase. They later estimated the drugs to have a street value of $500,000.
Why was she sentenced to death?
Indonesia, which has some of the toughest anti-drug laws in the world, categorizes drug-related offenses as extraordinary crimes that deserve the death penalty. For the Indonesian authorities who arrested Mary Jane, the case was simple: A woman was caught trying to enter Indonesia with 2.6 kilograms of heroin hidden insider her suitcase.
But according to Agus, Mary Jane wasn’t able to defend herself well. First, they said she was not given a lawyer or translator when the police were interrogating her in Bahasa Indonesia, which she did not understand at the time.
Then during her trial, the court-provided interpreter – a student at a foreign language school in Yogyakarta who was not licensed by the Association of Indonesian Translators – translated the proceedings from Bahasa Indonesia to English, which Mary Jane was not fluent in.
And third, her lawyer at the time was a public defender provided by the police.
As the brief trial came to a close in October 2010 – just 6 months after she was arrested –prosecutors asked the court to sentence Mary Jane to life imprisonment. But the judges handed down the death penalty.
What is the government doing to help her?
In August 2011, the late former president Benigno S. Aquino III submitted an appeal for clemency on behalf of Mary Jane to then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. At the time, Indonesia had a moratorium on executions and the clemency request was not acted upon.
In October 2014, the new Indonesian president, Jokowi, was sworn in. Shortly after, he announced that Indonesia’s illegal drug situation was in a state of emergency with 50 Indonesians dying every day because of it, and that he would reject all the clemency requests from drug convicts on death row.
In January 2015, Jokowi rejected a batch of clemency appeals that included Mary Jane’s.
Lawyers hired by the Philippine government quickly filed a request for a judicial review or case review. This is normally the last legal avenue of appeal in the Indonesian justice system but requires that new evidence is presented.
On February 9, 2015, Aquino raised Mary Jane’s case with Jokowi, who was on his first state visit to the Philippines. Later that same month, on February 19-21, the government also helped Mary Jane’s mother, sister and two children visit her in jail in Yogyakarta.
On March 24, 2015, then-foreign secretary Albert del Rosario visited Veloso at the Wirogunan Penitentiary in Yogyakarta to check on her condition.
Why didn’t the family report “Christine” to the authorities? Mary Jane’s family said the recruiter, Ma. Cristina Sergio, still lived in the same area they do in Cabanatuan. However, they said Christine had warned them not to speak with the media, not to turn anywhere or to anyone, because they are an international syndicate. She warned that they could be murdered one by one if they spoke with anyone. A neighbor told Rappler Christine left her house with some luggage on the evening of March 29, 2015. (READ: Fearing for their lives, Velosos seek gov’t protection)
What happened to her appeal?
On March 3 to 4, 2015, a two-day trial was held in Sleman to determine whether there was new evidence in Mary Jane’s case.
Lawyers argued she deserved a case review because she wasn’t given a capable translator. The head of the foreign language school in Yogyakarta testified that the translator at the time was indeed their student.
Veloso’s lawyers also pointed to precedent: In 2007, the Supreme Court granted the case review request of Thai national Nonthanam M. Saichon, who was sentenced to death by the Tangerang District Court in 2002 for smuggling 600 grams of heroin, because of the same translator issue. Her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
Agus pointed out in court that Saichon knew what she was doing because the drugs were hidden in her underwear and she tested positive for drugs. On the other hand, Mary Jane’s drug test was negative and she maintains she did not know the suitcase contained drugs.
But on March 25, the Indonesian Supreme Court rejected the case review request.
After the Philippine government filed a second petition for judicial review on April 23, 2015, to save Mary Jane, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was informed, four days after, that the Indonesian Supreme Court denied their application.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo later announced in the same month that nine drug convicts were scheduled to be executed on April 29. Mary Jane was one of them.
However, on the day that she was about to be executed, the Indonesian government granted her a reprieve. Eight people were killed that day, including the two Australian drug offenders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who fought a year-long campaign for clemency. She was the lone survivor.
Why was her death penalty delayed?
A day before her execution on April 29, 2015, then-president Benigno Aquino III called Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Masurdi to make a last-minute proposal. He asked the Indonesian government to turn Mary Jane into a state witness against her recruiters who are allegedly part of a drug trafficking syndicate.
At 2:20 am the next day, then-foreign secretary Del Rosario, through his spokesman then, Charles Jose, told reporters Indonesia confirmed that Mary Jane’s execution had been put on hold. The reprieve for Velasco was granted 11 hours before she was to be shot by firing squad.
This was after Mary Jane’s recruiters, Ma. Cristina Sergio and her partner Julius Lacanilao, surrendered to the Philippine police. The two were reported to have links to drug trafficking, illegal recruitment, and fraud.
Mary Jane’s execution was temporarily postponed to allow for further investigation by Philippine authorities.
How is Mary Jane Veloso now?
In a September 2 interview, Mary Jane’s father Cesar Veloso said his daughter is safe and well.
For 12 years now, she remains a prisoner in Indonesia on death row.
Where does her case stand?
Since Mary Jane’s recruiters turned themselves in to the local police in 2015, legal proceedings have been ongoing before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 88 in Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija.
On January 30, 2020, Sergio and Lacanilao were found guilty of large-scale illegal recruitment in a case distinct from Mary Jane’s, where the three female victims testified that the two also recruited Mary Jane. For illegal recruitment, Sergio and Lacanilao were sentenced to life imprisonment and fined P2 million. They were also charged with human trafficking.
Although the Court of Appeals (CA) twice blocked Mary Jane’s written interrogatory to be taken at her detention cell in Yogyakarta, the Supreme Court (SC), in a resolution dated March 4, 2020, upheld its decision to allow Mary Jane to testify against Sergio and Lacanilao through deposition by written interrogatories in the presence of Philippine consular officers. This exempts Mary Jane from a law that required witnesses to give evidence in person since she was detained abroad.
In December 2020, the Indonesian government announced that their Attorney General or his representatives would take Mary Jane’s deposition while she remains in detention in Yogyakarta. Mary Jane’s deposition is still pending.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said that a victory in the local case against Mary Jane’s recruiters may grant her a permanent reprieve or pardon by the Indonesian government.
The SC’s March 2022 decision to note without action the Office of the Solicitor General’s motion seeking new instructions on the conduct of Mary Jane’s deposition against her alleged illegal recruiters was good news to her lawyers.
“So there seems to be no judicial impediment anymore as to the taking of the deposition as far as the Philippines is concerned. This means that subject to mutual agreement by the Philippines and Indonesian governments, she can now tell her story in full once and for all,” said Edre Olalia, private prosecutor and private counsel for Mary Jane and her family.
What is the PH government’s next move?
Days before President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s state visit to Indonesia on September 4 to 6, Mary Jane’s parents, in a letter, appealed to him to negotiate with Indonesian President Widodo to grant their daughter clemency.
Several groups also urged the head of state to address the immediate release of Mary Jane.
Foreign Secretary Manalo said that the chief executive will “most likely” bring up Mary Jane’s case to Indonesian officials. He made the statement after Gabriela Party-list Representative Arlene Brosas sought updates on death row cases abroad, which include Mary Jane’s. – with reports from Ashley dela Vega/Rappler.com