Mary Jane Veloso spared as 8 drug convicts are executed in Indonesia
The online news portal of TV5

CILACAP, INDONESIA – (UPDATED 2:20 A.M.) Eight drug convicts were executed by an Indonesian firing squad early on Wednesday but Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipina who was on death row with the Australians, Nigerians, a Brazilian and an Indonesian, was unexpectedly not among them, local media reports said.

The convicts were put to death on the prison island of Nusakambangan, MetroTV and the Jakarta Post newspaper reported.

In Manila, the Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday said the Aquino government was relieved of the tension when Indonesian authorities announced the deferment of the execution of Veloso.

In a brief press conference at the DFA, Assistant Secretary Charles Jose said, “We are relieved that the execution of Mary Jane Veloso has been suspended.”

After announcing the statement, Jose immediately cut off the press conference.

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office in Jakarta said the execution of Veloso, a mother of two who was arrested in 2010 after she arrived in Indonesia with 2.6 kg of heroin hidden in her suitcase, had been delayed.

He said the delay came in response to a request from Manila after Veloso’s recruiter, who is allegedly connected to a drug syndicate, gave herself up to police in the Philippines on Tuesday.

People holding a vigil outside the Indonesian embassy in Manila cheered and clapped on hearing the news.

Rebuffing last-minute appeals from Australia and the Philippines to spare their nationals, Attorney General H.M. Prasetyo had told journalists late on Monday that the nine had been given notice and been placed in isolation cells.

On Tuesday, the nine, including Mary Jane, were transferred to the isolation cells at an Indonesian maximum security prison awaiting execution by firing squad, after Indonesian authorities notified them they had no hope of reprieve.

Security at the prison was heightened and religious counselors, doctors and the firing squad were alerted to start final preparations for the execution of the four Nigerians, two Australians, an Indonesian, a Brazilian and Mary Jane.

A few hours before the expected execution, President Benigno Aquino III had spoken with the Indonesian Foreign Minister on the telephone regarding a proposal to use Veloso’s testimony to uncover the drug syndicate that victimized her.

And on Tuesday afternoon, hopes of the Velosos were buoyed by reports that Indonesian President Joko Widodo had called to a meeting at 2:30 p.m. his Attorney General and other officials, only to have these hopes dashed later when Veloso was included in preparations seen to ultimately end with execution.

In their meeting in the morning, President Aquino had suggested to Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi it was essential that Veloso be spared in order for her to testify in court against the syndicate, especially now that her supposed recruiter Kristina Sergio has surrendered to Philippine authorities and law enforcers were hunting down suspects in the Philippines.

There was an opportunity, Aquino said, for both the Indonesian and Philippine governments to crack an international drug syndicate. The Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation later said it was coordinating with Malaysian police to hunt an “African-looking” cohort of the recruiter, who allegedly gave Veloso a brand-new traveling bag where the heroin was concealed in the lining.

Aquino had earlier explained to reporters that despite the statement of President Widodo yesterday that they hold no sway over their courts, the Philippine government has not stopped working to save Mary Jane.

Child of poverty

Veloso, who did not finish first year high school, was married to a man from Esguerra District, Talavera, Nueva Ecija but that marriage turned to be void from the very beginning because she was a minor, only 16 years old, at the time.

Having two sons – now aged 12 and 7, to support, Mary Jane was reportedly recruited by a certain Tintin, who is known for frequenting Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Tintin offered Veloso a housekeeping job for P25,000 a month in Malaysia, according to Laurente.

Tintin is Veloso’s neighbor in her former residence in Esguerra District, Talavera town.

The two left for Malaysia on April 22, 2010 with Veloso bringing only two pants and two shirts inside her son’s small backpack on the advice of Tintin, Laurente said.

Upon landing in Malaysia, Tintin allegedly told Veloso that her supposed employer had already accepted a helper thus, they had to check in at a hotel instead.

For the next three days when they stayed at Lagoon Hotel, Tintin bought clothes and a mobile phone for Veloso until she informed the latter that she has found a new employer for her, in Indonesia, on April 26.

When Veloso told Tintin her bag was not enough for her new things, Tintin reportedly advised her that a certain Prince will deliver a traveling bag. A car-riding Prince, indeed, came to deliver the traveling bag.

Veloso, Laurente said, noticed that the bag appeared to be unusually heavy. Laurente said her sister prudently checked the bag and found nothing. “The bag was new and still had a tag,” she said.

The apparent contraband concealed inside the bag eluded Malaysian inspection.

It was when she was passing through the Indonesian airport’s X-ray machines that authorities subsequently found the drugs in her traveling bag.

Mary Jane was promptly arrested and, there, her travails began.

Expressions of empathy and sympathy were strong across the globe for the plight of Mary Jane, who was convicted of drug smuggling in Indonesia, but says she was set up by a recruiter.

A church group involved in the campaign to save Veloso appealed directly to Indonesian President Joko Widodo to consider the “logic and truth” that the Filipina death convict was a victim of drug and human trafficking.

“Is it not logical and reasonable that she may be telling the truth, that she was a victim of fraud, deception, and did not knowingly participate in trying to bring heroin into your beloved country?” the Church Task Force to Save Mary Jane asked.

It added that executing Veloso would not advance Widodo’s campaign against illegal drugs, noting that she “is not a hardened criminal, only a humble mother who fell into the pit of drug and human traffickers.”

It said: “Snuffing out the life of Mary Jane Veloso makes her your victim.”

Boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, training in the United States for a title fight, made a televised appeal to Widodo on behalf of his countrywoman, Mary Jane Veloso: “I am begging and knocking on your kind heart that your Excellency will grant executive clemency to her.”

Indonesia has harsh punishments for drug crimes and resumed executions in 2013 after a five-year gap. Six have been executed so far this year. 

Strained ties between Australia and Indonesia

The proposed death penalties were condemned by the United Nations, and have strained ties between Australia and Indonesia in particular.

Hours before the expected executions, crowds gathered in cities across Australia to hold vigils for Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, holding placards and calling for Australia to respond strongly to its neighbor if the executions proceed.

Security was tight at the prison on an island off the Central Java coast where the executions were to take place, and a dozen ambulances, some carrying white satin-covered coffins, were seen arriving.

Indonesian authorities had declined to specify a time for the executions, which were due to take place at a nearby clearing in a forest. But when a group of drug traffickers was executed earlier this year, it was carried out at midnight.

Officials said the prisoners were to be given the choice to stand, kneel or sit before the firing squad, and to be blindfolded. Their hands and feet were to be tied.

Twelve marksmen were assigned to fire at the heart of each prisoner, but only three would have live ammunition. Authorities say this is so that the executioner remains unidentified.

Authorities on Monday granted Australian Chan’s final wish, which was to marry his Indonesian girlfriend at the prison.

But they rebuffed last-minute appeals from Australia to save the lives of Sukumaran and Chan, who were arrested in 2005 as the ringleaders of a plot to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told ABC television earlier: “Should these executions proceed in the manner that I anticipate, of course, there will have to be consequences.”

Australia-Indonesia relations have been tested in recent years by disputes over people smuggling and spying. In late 2013 Indonesia recalled its envoy and froze military and intelligence cooperation over reports that Canberra had spied on top Indonesian officials, including the former president’s wife.

President Widodo’s steadfastness on the executions, which has strong public support at home, stands in contrast to a series of policy flip-flops since he took office six months ago. (With a report from Ernie Reyes,; Philippine News Agency, and Reuters reports from Randy Fabi, Fergus Jensen and Gayatri Suroyo in Jakarta)

Mary Jane Veloso spared as 8 drug convicts are executed in Indonesia