‘Is this goodbye?’: Visit to Mary Jane brings back trauma for family
YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia – It is 8pm, the evening before Cesar Veloso, Mary Jane’s father, is set to visit his daughter in prison for her 31st birthday.
He dons a traditional brown and black batik shirt, as he smokes yet another cigarette at the Ameera Boutique Hotel on Monday, January 11.
The last time he was here at Yogyakarta, in April 2015, 9 months ago, his youngest daughter Mary Jane was scheduled to be executed along with 8 other alleged drug convicts.
Cesar says he smokes less than 10 cigarettes a day, but those around him say he easily consumes more than one case daily.
Cesar, 59, smoked as a teenager but said he started smoking heavily after his daughter was first put to jail. Now, he and his wife, Celia, 56, are chain smokers – an outlet for the stress they have had to deal with over the years, since her daughter was first arrested in 2010.
This is Cesar’s 4th visit to Indonesia. The batik shirt he is wearing was a gift to him from a local mayor who, like many Indonesians, are very well aware of Mary Jane’s story.
Mary Jane, 31, is in Wirongunan Women’s Penitentiary in Yogyakarta, where she is on death row for allegedly smuggling drugs into the country. Mary Jane has adamantly insisted on her innocence, arguing she was framed by her recruiter who told her there was a job for her in Indonesia. Her suitcase was found to be lined with 2.6 kilograms of heroin.
The Filipina mother of two made headlines in April, when she was granted reprieve at the very last minute just moments before she was to be executed.
Celia and Mary Jane’s sons Mark Daniel, 13, and Mark Darren, 7, were also here in Yogyakarta last April with Cesar, to say goodbye to Mary Jane. Having accepted her fate, the family was already traveling on a van to Jakarta to meet her body post-execution, when they got a call from Philippine government representatives.
Mary Jane had been spared.
Today, the group of 4 is back at the hotel, this time to celebrate Mary Jane’s birthday week with her. But while there is excitement, there is an air of anxiety and tension, a stamp from 9 months ago of the trauma they had to go through.
“When we got a call from the DFA (The Department of Foreign Affairs) that they were going to pay for a trip for us to visit Mary Jane, we were worried,” Cesar told Rappler in Filipino the morning he was scheduled to see his daughter.
“We wondered why they are sending us. Because the last time they sent us was before she was going to get executed.”
The Veloso family flew to Indonesia from Manila on Monday, January 11. They were only notified of the trip 4 days prior on Thursday, and did not know the reason they were being flown to Indonesia until Friday. They later found out that Migrante, a human rights group focused on aiding migrant workers, had requested the DFA to fly the Velosos to Indonesia to see Mary Jane for her birthday.
And while the family has been assured that the trip is simply a government-sponsored trip to spend time with Mary Jane, both Cesar and Celia remained uneasy.
Celia recalled her last visit to Yogyakarta, and the stress they endured throughout the ordeal of trying to save Mary Jane’s life. (READ: TIMELINE: The day Mary Jane Veloso was spared)
Their visit before that was another traumatizing one – having been told just a day or two upon their arrival in Manila, that they were granted a visit to Mary Jane because she was going to be executed.
“Until they set her free, I will not be at peace,” Celia said. “They might do what they did again. I’m nervous because I know she is still on death row.
“What if this is just their way of letting us say goodbye?”
Calm for now
After visiting their daughter at jail, Celia and Cesar are noticeably calmer. They sang her a happy birthday song with the prison guards and embassy officials. They had cake. And they caught up and chatted with a collected and content Mary Jane.
“My daughter is happy. Especially when we were inside, she was very happy,” Cesar said.
Celia also said they asked Mary Jane if there were any rumors about a pending execution to which she said no.
“We’re more relaxed now,” she said.
That afternoon, after the prison visit, her parents, as well as Mary Jane’s children, made a rare stop to Prambanan Temple at Borbodur Park, the first time the Velosos have seen any sort of tourist destination in Indonesia.
It is an unusual treat, to be able to enjoy Indonesia, without worrying about Mary Jane – at least for now.
While Mary Jane may not face execution anytime soon, a spokesman for the Indonesian attorney general's office told AFP that Veloso's position remains unchanged, despite the ongoing trial in the Philippines on her recruiter.
"In Indonesia, her status is still as a death row convict. There has been no new updates, the situation is still the same," spokesman Amir Yanto said.
Yanto said while there was a possibility executions would resume in 2016, none had been scheduled yet because the government was focused on Indonesia's economy.
The Penal Code of Indonesia states that death-sentenced inmates are to be executed by firing squad, out of public view. The inmate is informed of his or her execution only 72 hours in advance. The inmate can stand or sit, and have his or her eyes covered by a blindfold or a hood. (READ: Indonesia uses faulty drug data to justify death penalty) – Rappler.com