Editor’s Note: We will continuously provide updates about the case of Mary Jane Veloso so that even though she fades away from the limelight of mainstream media, her quiet fight for justice will continue. She has been spared from execution. But she is still behind bars, far away from her family. The death sentence will still happen at some point until her innocence is proven. But there is still time. There is still hope.
A Year Since
April 28, 2016 — It has been a year since the Indonesian government gave a reprieve for Mary Jane Veloso. In their hometown of Nueva Ecija, her mother, Celia Veloso, testified in court to positively identify the two suspected illegal recruiters who sent Mary Jane to Yogyakarta with heroin in her luggage. Mary Jane’s sister Maritess had earlier testified against Maria Christina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao days prior. The trial will resume on June 14 at the Regional Trial Court Branch 37.
January 10, 2016 — Mary Jane Veloso’s parents and two sons visited her in Indonesia to celebrate her 31st birthday. The Department of Foreign Affairs arranged and facilitated the jail visit upon the request of the family. Her counsel and members of Migrante International also accompanied the Velosos during the trip to provide updates about her case as well. Her supporters also expressed their birthday wishes for her: freedom and justice.
Not a Priority
November 19, 2015 — While various economic leaders were in the Philippines for the 2015 APEC Summit, DFA Assistant Secretary Charles Jose received confirmation from our Embassy in Jakarta about the new position of the Indonesian government. The Widodo administration has expressed that executions are not a priority for now.
It was a general statement with no specific reference to the case of Mary Jane Veloso. Our government still considers this as good news.
The Blame Game
April 2015 — Mary Jane’s alleged recruiter Ma. Cristina Sergio and the latter’s live-in partner Julius Lacanilao are now facing multiple charges of human trafficking in the Philippines. In her counter-affidavit, Sergio even stated that Mary Jane may not be aware she was carrying 2.6 kilos of heroin in her luggage.
However, on November 2015, the court postponed Sergio and Lacanilao’s arraignments to February 2016 because of a motion for reconsideration.
The Last Minute Miracle
When Mary Jane was set for a firing squad execution last April 28, 2015, I joined the vigil for her. Counting down the hours didn’t feel right at all. She was just 30 years old, a mother of two, and a victim who fell prey to illegal recruiters because of her desperate search for a job.
Surrounded by tarpaulins, flags, and blankets, two friends and I stayed in front of the Indonesian Embassy. Anxious yet hopeful, we joined the Filipino people in our own little way.
It was a couple of minutes past 1 am when an unexpected but most welcome news reached us — Mary Jane Veloso got a temporary reprieve. Social media exploded with jubilation. Protesters cried and hugged each other.
It was just in the nick of time. Mary Jane was already walking to the execution area; she was third in line. The other eight death row convicts were not as lucky and died while kneeling with no blindfold, singing hymns like Amazing Grace as the shots rang.
Indonesia issued the reprieve to give the Philippines a chance to provide merit to the claim that Mary Jane is a mere victim of human trafficking after the arrest of her alleged recruiter.
The Next Steps
A month after the temporary reprieve, friends and families formed the Save Mary Jane Alliance to renew their commitment in saving her life.
But what are her options? The Indonesian Supreme Court junked all the legal appeals of the Philippine government. Even President Aquino’s personal appeal during the ASEAN Summit did not materialize.
Three Indonesian lawyers visited the Philippines and had a meeting with the police and state prosecutors in Manila. They came on their own to gather evidence that will prove Veloso is a victim of human trafficking. This can possibly cancel her death sentence.
The power of collective action never gave up as well. Streets lined up with protesters seeking justice for Mary Jane, not only in the Philippines but also abroad. Social media buzzed with calls to spare Mary Jane. #SaveMaryJane Veloso trended worldwide. Leaders and celebrities showed their support for the poor OFW.
The strong public sentiment put political pressure on the Indonesian government to reconsider. Indonesian President Joko Widodo conferred with a human rights group regarding Mary Jane’s case. He admitted that he valued the insights of human rights advocates to guide his decision.
When the people unite, we can move mountains. We have proven this in the Philippines time and again from the peaceful 1986 EDSA revolution to the success of student protests against tuition increase in the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and UP Diliman.
Now, there is an online petition requesting President Widodo to grant clemency to Mary Jane Veloso. While the Philippines may not yet seek clemency due to diplomatic reasons, Philippine authorities believe that the people can make diplomatic appeals based on international solidarity and mutual respect.
The petition now has more than 366,000 signatures as of press time. Your signature can help here.
The Story of Many
There’s a part of Mary Jane Veloso in all of us. Many overseas Filipino Workers can possibly relate to her reasons why she chose to leave the country. According to 2015 data from independent think-tank IBON Foundation, an estimated 6,092 Filipinos leave the country daily, 55% of which are women.
And sadly, many seem to follow the same story lines:
- A young mother from a poor family who was tricked by an illegal recruiter into paying P7,000, a tricycle, and a cellphone as “placement fee” in order to work abroad.
- A Filipino who has no college degree making her vulnerable to opportunists.
- A Filipino in search for greener pasture to provide for her children.
- A Filipino hoping to try her luck in a land she knows nothing about because of the failure of government to provide opportunities and livelihood for her. By the way, Veloso’s family was from a sakada in Hacienda Luisita.
Abuses and Abominations
Sadly, there are also OFWs who become victims of abuse, maltreatment, and other heinous crimes. In 2012, the Commission of Filipinos Overseas reported more than 1.3 million trafficked OFWs. Migrante International has 174 repatriation cases under their Rights and Welfare Assistance Program (RWAP). Of this number, 138 involved women. Majority of whom reported physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, underpayment, and other work-related violations.
From 2013 to 2014, Migrante also referred 104 cases to POEA. 88 of these cases involved women who were either illegally dismissed or terminated, or were victimized by abusive recruiters and employers. This 2015, RWAP also handled at least 50 cases of violence against women OFWs, with complaints ranging from physical assault, sexual harassment, attempted rape, rape, sex trafficking, verbal abuse, and emotional torture.
Mary Jane is only one of 88 Filipino death convicts abroad; 41 of them face drug trafficking cases:
- Saudi Arabia: 28
- Malaysia: 34
- China: 21
- USA: 2
- Vietnam: 1
- Kuwait: 1
- Indonesia: 1
- Thailand: 1
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, all death row cases are on appeal. But in a recent GMA News report, there is another OFW in Saudi Arabia who is in the death row but whose case the DFA is not even aware of.
2015 also marks the 20th year since the execution of Flor Contemplacion in Singapore back in 1995. In 2011, China executed Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, Ramon Credo, Elizabeth Batain and another 35-year-old male by way of lethal injection. In recent years, Saudi Arabia also executed Carlito Lana and Joven Esteva. Since 2010, seven Filipinos have been executed abroad.
According to Migrante International, there are around 7,000 OFWs imprisoned all over the world.
Worse, there have been instances when OFWs became victims of fellow Filipinos:
- In 2013, the Senate investigated the alleged sex-for-flight scheme in the Middle East wherein officials would facilitate an OFW’s return to the Philippines in exchange for sexual deeds or favors.
- An OFW in Saudi Arabia experienced attempted rape in the hands of a labor official’s driver. But instead of helping her, the staff persuaded her to remain silent in exchange for 10,000 riyals and authorization because she was an undocumented OFW.
- An assistant labor attaché in Saudi Arabia was the subject of inappropriate behavior and attempted rape complaints by three former OFWs.
- In Kuwait, three labor officers had their contracts renewed despite complaints of misconduct, sexual harassment, and initiating sex-for-flight deals.
- There are reports as well of female OFWs being raped, pressured into sexual relationships, or sold as prostitutes by Philippine embassy officials in the Middle East.
To some extent, Mary Jane Veloso is more fortunate than others. Her story was heard, unlike other OFWs who will remain faceless and nameless but are still suffering in a foreign land.
Ironically, politicians repeatedly highlight OFWs in their speeches for their integral role in our economy because of remittances. If they are modern heroes, is this really how we should treat them?
We know what’s next for Mary Jane Veloso as long as she’s still in the death row. But if we’ll start caring to let our voices heard, we can help bring Mary Jane home to her family, alive and well — not in a casket.
[Entry 81, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Edma Remillano is the Manager for Advocacies for SubSelfie.com. She is also a News Writer for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. More importantly, she is the owner of Edma’s Homemade Cupcakes. Life is what we make of it, or so she says. Journalism 2010, UP Diliman. Read more of her articles. here.