The family of a Filipina on death row in Indonesia made a tearful appeal for her life on Wednesday, insisting that an international drug syndicate duped the single mother of two.
Mary Jane Veloso, 30, has been in an Indonesian jail for five years after being caught at Yogyakarta airport with 2.6 kilogrammes (5.73 pounds) of heroin, and is among a batch of foreigners facing imminent execution.
But in an interview with AFP in Manila, her parents and sister said a crime syndicate involving a friend had deceived her, and she did not know the drugs had been sown into her suitcase before flying from Malaysia.
“Please don’t kill my sister. She is innocent. If you kill her, you will have blood on your hands,” Veloso’s elder sister Marites Veloso-Laurente said in a plea to Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
With tears streaming down his cheeks, Veloso’s father said the syndicate that used her as an unwitting drug mule had pledged to kill all family members if they reported the racket to authorities or went to the media.
“Life’s been hard. We’ve been living in fear. My daughter’s recruiters have been threatening us – they threatened to kill us one by one,” said 59-year-old Cesar Veloso.
The family is from a poor farming town about three hours’ drive north of Manila, and Veloso had sought to provide for her two young sons by working as a maid overseas.
The single mother initially worked for nine months in Dubai in 2009 but was forced to come home after her employer tried to rape her, according to her father.
A family friend then offered Veloso work as a maid in Malaysia.
When Veloso got to Malaysia she was told the job was no longer available but there was another one in Indonesia if she flew there immediately, according to her parents.
“My sister’s a loving person, she’s so kind. But she trusts too much. We don’t engage in vices or anything illegal, no cigarettes, no alcohol,” her elder sister said.
When Veloso was arrested, her sons were aged just one and seven and they too have become victims.
“It’s as if they lost all hope… they are worried about what would happen to them if their mother never came back,” the Veloso matriarch, Celia, said as her two grandsons sat quietly next to her.
She said the eldest son, Mark Daniel Candelaria, 12, was struggling at school and may have to repeat eighth grade.
Veloso’s youngest, Mark Darren, 6, copes by singing his mother’s favourite song, a Filipino ballad called: “Just wait”, which has become an anthem of hope for the family.
Veloso’s mother, 55, insisted that if her daughter was involved in the drug trade, her family would have seen some benefits of it.
Instead, she shares a cramped brick and wood shanty with her husband and six grandchildren, including Veloso’s sons.
“We beg you, Mr Indonesian president, if my daughter was involved in drugs, we wouldn’t be this poor,” she said.
About 10 million Filipinos work overseas, with most heading abroad to escape deep poverty.
Many work in menial jobs or face dangerous work conditions, but even salaries of $300 a month are more than can be earned at home.
The government has previously warned Filipinos heading abroad about the dangers of drug traffickers trying to exploit or dupe them.
The are 125 Filipinos on death row around the world, with many of them convicted of drug trafficking, Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson of overseas workers’ rights group Migrante, told AFP.
The Indonesian Supreme Court last week denied Veloso’s request to review her conviction.
The Philippine government said Wednesday it would file a second appeal.
Veloso’s parents and sons also visited the Indonesian embassy in Manila on Wednesday to lodge a letter appealing to Widodo for mercy.
Aside from Veloso, convicts from Australia, Brazil, France, Ghana and Nigeria are set to face a firing squad after they had their requests for presidential clemency rejected, although a further appeal in the case of the Australians Chan and Sukumaran is planned.
The death penalty was abolished in the mainly Catholic Philippines in 2006.
The obduracy of the Indonesian government in the face of serious concerns about either the guilt of the accused or whether they deserve being executed is disgusting.
Another of the batch to be executed suffers from paranoid schizophrenia: it is a widely accepted rule of law that it is wrong to execute someone whose mental impairment may have contributed to their behaviour, as it goes to the issue of their culpability.
Rodrigo Gularte is relaxed about the death penalty. He knows it has been abolished across the world. The people that monitor and control him via satellite through the microchip they have implanted in his head have told him so.
Gularte, 42, is a deeply disturbed paranoid schizophrenic who is facing imminent execution by firing squad, along with ten others.
He has no concept of what is happening to him. When his family visits, he is constantly distracted as he searches the skies over Nusakambangan prison for the manned satellite that is stalking him.
Gularte, from Curitiba in Brazil, was arrested in 2004 with two other Brazilian couriers bringing 6kg of cocaine into Indonesia. He’d been treated for depression since his teenage years. He had become a drug addict and was an easy target for Brazil’s drug cartels, looking for people to ship cocaine to Indonesia.
The two were allowed to go home to Brazil and the following year Gularte was sentenced to death.
The hearing was itself a travesty. Gularte’s mother, Clarisse, now 71, and his cousin, Angelita Muxfeldt, 49, flew to Jakarta a week after his arrest. As they waited to see Gularte, a lawyer arrived for an unexpected late-night meeting.
The lawyer said he could get them into the police station, right at that moment, to see Gularte. He was trying to show them how influential he was. They were suitably impressed, and paid him “a lot” of money.
He then abandoned his client.
When Gularte was sentenced to death in 2005, he was totally alone. The lawyer had fled with the cash, failing to tell the family and embassy officials that he was to be sentenced. He did not stand a chance.
Another inmate was arrested for working on a “drugs lab” as a welder, but had no knowledge of the eventual use of the construction site he was working on and had only been there three days: he had no involvement in drug trafficking whatsoever.
Serge Atlaoui, a father of four children, was arrested near Jakarta in 2005 in a secret laboratory designed to produce ecstasy. He was sentenced to death in 2007 on drug trafficking charges. Already imprisoned in Indonesia for ten years, he has always denied the charges saying he was installing industrial machinery in what he thought was an acrylics factory. What a nightmare for him and his family and friends. The French President and Foreign Minister have campaigned vigorously for him not to be executed.
It becomes increasingly clear that these impending executions have nothing to do with justice and everything to do with playing internal politics in Indonesia. Indonesian President Widodo did not even READ the case files on these poor people before rejecting their appeals for clemency.
In reality, the only thing that may be keeping these people alive is international attention. It needs to be more embarrassing for Indonesia to carry out the death penalty than it is for them to back down.
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(From AFP, Daily Mail, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and others)