PH foreign minister visits Filipina on death row
JAKARTA, Indonesia – In a high-level show of support, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario visited Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, the 30-year-old Filipina on death row in Indonesia, in prison on Tuesday, March 24.
Veloso, a single mother of two who left the Philippines to work as a maid in Kuala Lumpur, has been incarcerated at the Wirogunan Penitentiary, Yogyakarta, since 2010 – the year she was arrested and sentenced to death for attempting to smuggle 2.6 kilograms of heroin into Indonesia from Malaysia.
Del Rosario was accompanied during Tuesday's hour-long visit by the new Philippine Ambassador to Indonesia, Maria Lumen Isleta Banzon, according to Indonesia's state news agency Antara. Del Rosario is the highest government official to visit Veloso so far.
"It was a closed-door meeting and we do not know what they talked about," prison warden Zaenal Arifin told reporters in Yogyakarta.
The Philippine government has been helping Veloso seek a judicial review of her case – the final legal option open to her. Last week, Indonesia's Supreme Court granted that request based on claims by Veloso's lawyers that she wasn't provided a proper translator during her first trial. (READ: Fate of Filipina on death row now with Indonesia's Supreme Court)
During Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's state visit to the Philippines on February 9, President Benigno Aquino III brought up Veloso's case. But Jokowi has issued a blanket rejection of all clemency requests from drug convicts on death row, citing Indonesia's drug emergency, despite mounting international pressure and calls for him to consider each case on its own merit.
The Supreme Court's review process can take months, but Veloso's lead lawyer, Agus Salim, told Rappler there is a strong chance her sentence will be commuted.
"She is innocent, she did not know what she was doing," Agus told Rappler in an interview on March 20. "She's a victim."
Veloso has told her family and her lawyers she was tricked by a fellow Filipina – her godsister, the same Filipina who brought her to Kuala Lumpur – into bringing a suitcase that apparently had drugs hidden inside with her into Yogyakarta. She maintains she didn't even know there were drugs hidden in the lining of the suitcase. (READ: A slow death for family of Filipina on Indonesia's death row)
However, Veloso wasn't able to properly defend herself during her first trial because the court only provided a student to translate the legal proceedings from Bahasa Indonesia to English. Veloso, who only made it to the first year of high school, can barely speak English.
To support Veloso's case, her lawyers cite as precedent the Supreme Court's decision in 2007 commuting the death sentence of another convicted drug smuggler, Thai national Nonthanam M. Saichon, also because of the translator issue.
"And (Saichon) tested positive for drugs, while Mary Jane did not," Agus added. – Rappler.com