Mary Jane's next move: Prove innocence

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 30 2015 10:32 AM | Updated as of May 01 2015 12:19 AM

Mary Jane's next move: Prove innocence 1
In this file photo taken on April 21, 2015, Filipina drug convict and death row prisoner Mary Jane Veloso, clad in traditional Indonesian attire, gestures during a programme celebrating Kartini Day in honour of Indonesian national hero and women's rights activist Raden Kartini at Yogyakarta prison. Photo by Tarko Sudiarno, Agence France-Presse

JAKARTA - Lawyers of Filipino drug convict Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso intend to use the temporary stay of execution to prove Veloso is innocent and is just a victim of drug traffickers.

A report by the Jakarta Post quoted Veloso's lawyer, Agus Salim, as saying the legal team intends to file for a third case review appeal at the Indonesian Supreme Court after Veloso's alleged recruiter, Maria Kristina Sergio, surrendered to Philippine police.

"We want to prove that she was just a migrant worker who was trafficked into becoming a drug mule," Agus told The Jakarta Post.

The execution of Veloso, a housemaid and mother of two who was arrested in 2010 after she arrived in Indonesia with 2.6 kg of heroin hidden in her suitcase, has been delayed in response to Manila's request that the Filipina testify against her recruiter.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo told reporters he spared Veloso because of the bigger trafficking case, but he left little doubt that she would eventually be executed.

"This is not a cancellation but a postponement," he said.

Similarly, Attorney General M. Prasetyo said Veloso was granted a stay of execution because her alleged recruiter had been arrested.

"This delay did not cancel the execution. We just want to give a chance in relation to the legal process in the Philippines," Prasetyo said.

Agus said Veloso's legal fight would be difficult, citing a Supreme Court regulation that a case review appeal could only be filed once. Veloso previously filed two case review appeals but both were rejected.

University of Muhammadiyah Jakarta law expert Chairul Huda said Veloso's only hope is to have President Widodo "grant her clemency or for the Attorney General's Office to file for a cassation."

MISUNDERSTANDINGS AND MISSTEPS

Veloso's lawyers describe her five-year journey - from arrest at an Indonesian airport with 2.6 kg of heroin hidden in the lining of a suitcase to a close encounter with the death penalty - as one of misunderstandings and legal missteps.

When the court's sentence against her was read out in Indonesian and then translated into English, Veloso did not grasp its meaning: Only later, when a pastor explained, did the Filipina maid understand that she had been sentenced to death.

"She didn't understand anything that was happening," said Ismail Mohammed, one of her lawyers, recalling the 2010 trial in Yogyakarta, the Javanese city where months earlier the 30-year-old had arrived with the offending suitcase.

Veloso maintained her innocence throughout, insisting that she had been an unwitting drug mule for a Filipina employment recruiter who had promised Veloso a job and then presented her with $500, some new clothes and the black suitcase.

The alleged recruiter, Maria Kristina Sergio, denies any wrongdoing. She says she has no knowledge of the suitcase in question, or the drugs.

Veloso worked as a domestic helper in Dubai for nearly a year, but left to escape an abusive employer, said Edre Olalia, a member of her volunteer legal team.

She returned to the Philippines unemployed. There, a recruiter told her about a work opportunity in Malaysia, but when Veloso flew there she found there was no job to walk into.

According to an official record of the court ruling seen by Reuters, the recruiter asked Veloso - while she was waiting for the job in Malaysia to materialize - to fly to Yogyakarta to hand over a suitcase to a man called "Jhon". She bought her a round-trip ticket and said she would pay for her accommodation.

And so, on April 25, 2010, Veloso landed at Yogyakarta airport, where authorities discovered packages of heroin wrapped in foil hidden inside her luggage.

GUILT "PROVEN"

The court record said Veloso's plea that she did not know heroin was in the suitcase was baseless because she admitted to having seen black tape covering slits in the lining of the bag when she was packing her clothes.

" ... the accused ignored this and continued to fill the bag with clothes. Moreover, the accused could not prove the truth of her unawareness in court, so the accused's denial cannot legally be used as a reason to free her of criminal responsibility."

The ruling said that, therefore, her guilt was proven - and her denial of guilt was an aggravating factor.

Veloso's lawyer said she did not see anything suspicious in the luggage and didn't think anything of the tape.

Lawyers appealed Veloso's case all the way to the Supreme Court on the grounds that, because there was no translation into her own language, Tagalog, she was not fully aware of the court proceedings. All of her appeals were denied.

While fighting Veloso's battles in Indonesia, her lawyers also filed a human trafficking complaint against the woman they said was the recruiter, Sergio.

In a surprising turn of events less than 24 hours before the executions were due to take place, Sergio went to police in the Philippines, seeking protection after receiving death threat calls and text messages.

Police said there was no criminal case yet against Sergio.

In a Philippines radio interview on Wednesday, Sergio said she had accompanied Veloso to Malaysia, given her some money and shared a hotel room with her there. She denied that she was a recruiter or that she had given Veloso the suitcase.

She recalled that one day Veloso called her from Kuala Lumpur airport to say she was flying to Indonesia. Sergio said the phone connection was then cut but, before it was, Veloso implored her to take care of her family.

"I stand by what I said that I have no knowledge of the bag ... and know nothing of drugs, not even a trace," she said.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino leapt on the developments at home to make a final appeal on Tuesday for Veloso to be spared, arguing that she could be a vital witness in prosecuting human and drugs syndicates plaguing the region.

With just a few hours left before the executions, his plea appeared to have been rebuffed, which was why her reprieve came as such a surprise.

"This solution is really saying let's pursue this because maybe there's something better we can do in really addressing the issue of drugs in Indonesia, drugs in the Philippines and even in drugs in the country where the suitcase of Mary Jane came from," said Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras. -- With reports from The Jakarta Post and Reuters