The race to save Mary Jane Veloso from death

MANILA, Philippines – With every passing minute, the life of convicted drug mule Mary Jane Veloso seems to be getting shorter and shorter, and only a miracle could save her from imminent death.

Last-minute legal attempts and international pressure being exerted on the Indonesian government offer the slimmest hope.

In truth and in real, her grim fate now lies squarely in the hands of Indonesian President Joko Widodo who is not barred from pushing through with Veloso’s execution even if a second petition for judicial review had been filed by lawyers moving fast to save her life.

The National Union of People’s Lawyers, which is handling her case, admitted that the last ditch legal effort to reopen her case is only a “second best option.”

Unlike in the Philippine legal system where petitions for review, or motions for reconsideration brought before the court can stay an executive action or at the very least prompt the executive to extend judicial courtesy, the Indonesian judicial system does not have such privilege.

“The judicial review will not prevent the executive department from carrying out her execution,” NUPL assistant secretary-general Ephraim Cortez told Rappler.

“Veloso’s case is now a political decision,” he said.

Indonesia’s Attorney General has said that the next batch of executions will be carried out  after the Asia Africa Conference which ends Friday, April 24.

This means Veloso’s execution may be announced anytime soon. 

Under Indonesian laws, a person scheduled for execution will be give 3 days' notice before the death sentence is carried out. Veloso, 30, and a mother of two, was found guilty by the district court of justice of Sleman in Yogyakarta in October 2010 after 2.6 kilos of heroin were found in her luggage upon arrival at the Yogyakarta airport. (READ: Fast facts: the case of Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso)

Victim, not perpetrator

In the first petition for judicial review, Veloso’s lawyers questioned the proceeding in the district court which purportedly denied her due process. The defense counsel raised the fact that there was a language barrier problem and that the translator provided to Veloso was only a student. Court proceedings in Indonesia are in Bahasa, the official language of Indonesia.

The district court elevated the request for judicial review before the Indonesian Supreme Court (SC). But on March 25 this year, the SC rejected the petition for judicial review.

Since then, it has been a race against time for her lawyers.

A second petition for review was filed on Friday, April 24, shortly before the 4 pm deadline. Petitioners argued that Veloso is a victim of human trafficking and not a drug perpetrator.

But the language barrier is proving to be the most persistent hurdle.

Veloso’s lawyers were supposed to submit this week proof or new evidence to buttress the claim that she was a human trafficking victim. But the report of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) that was submitted to the Department of Foreign Affairs had to be translated first to Bahasa before this is introduced in court.

Thus, the filing of second petition for judicial review was delayed. And chances are, it could be too late. “We’re running out of time,” Cortez admitted.

Cortez said the PDEA report will show proof that Veloso was a victim of illegal recruitment and exploited by an international drug syndicate as a drug courier. “It was Veloso’s first time in Indonesia. She was looking for work in Malaysia before that. The report details the circumstances of Veloso’s illegal recruitment,” Cortez said.

Cortez said the human trafficking angle might not have been raised by the court-appointed lawyer who counselled Veloso during the initial stage of the trial.

The NUPL is on the blind side as to the court proceedings since, unlike in the Philippines, court records in Indonesia are not public records. “You only get a copy if the public prosecutor gives you access,” he said.

International obligations

The twist in the legal approach might just do the trick, if only barely.

Cortez said the Indonesian law against human trafficking, or the law on the eradication on the criminal act of trafficking in persons, should have been applied in Veloso’s case had she been provided with the proper representation in the first place.

Under this law, which was enacted in 2007 or 3 years before Veloso was arrested, “a victim who commits a crime under coercion by an offender of the criminal act of trafficking in persons shall not be liable for criminal charges.”

Veloso’s family, who was interviewed by PDEA, said they were warned by a certain Maria Kristina Sergio, who recruited Veloso, not to approach authorities after they found out she was in jail for drug trafficking. The alleged illegal recruiter warned the family that they would be in grave danger since Sergio belongs to an international drug syndicate.

Based on Veloso’s account, she was first lured to a job in Malaysia but was told by Sergio that the work was no longer available when she arrived there. Veloso was then told to fly to Indonesia and was given a brand-new luggage for her things. Unknown to her, inside the luggage was 2.6 kilos of heroin.

Apart from the domestic law, included in the second petition for judicial review is the argument that Indonesia is duty-bound to observe the Palermo Protocols that were ratified by Jakarta in 2000. The Palermo Protocols, which supplement the 2000 Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, deal with human trafficking, particularly women and children, and arms trafficking. “It is one of the annexes in the second petition for judicial review,” Cortez said.

University of the Philippines law professor Harry Roque, in a  separate interview, said the Philippine government can also lodge a case before the International Court of Justice, citing the Mexico vs United States of America in the Avena case.

In this case, the ICJ ruled that the US breached its obligations under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations when it failed to inform Mexico about the arrest of its citizens facing criminal charges, thus preventing Mexico from giving them proper representation.

No government representation

The government may be treading on dangerous ground, however, if it resorts to this approach.

At the very least, it will expose its own sin of omission in failing to provide Veloso legal assistance from the very start.

It is an issue that the NUPL has sought answers for.

Based on the timeline provided by the DFA, Philippine embassy officials in Jakarta only actively stepped in on October 22, 2010, or 11 days after Veloso was sentenced to die by firing squad. (READ: Indonesia orders preparations for executions)

The NUPL is asking why:

Rappler sent questions by email to the DFA headquarters in Manila, particularly the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Affairs, and the Philippine embassy in Jakarta. We also requested for any communiqué or documents related to Veloso’s case. We have not received any response.

Rappler also sent an email to former ambassador to Indonesia Vidal Querol, who was the envoy at the time of Veloso’s arrest and trial. We have not received any reply.

Cortez also questions why the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), headed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, is silent on Veloso’s case. Part of IACAT’s mandate is providing free legal service to victims of trafficking. “Why is the IACAT passive in her case?” Cortez asked.

Lumped with Bali 9

On April 24, the Indonesian government began preparations for the execution of 10 convicts, which includes Veloso. In January, 6 convicts were executed which sparked diplomatic protests.

Two of the convicts scheduled to be executed with Veloso are Australian drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. The two are part of the Bali 9 group of Australians arrested in April 2005 for trying to smuggle 8.3 kilos of heroin.

Being associated with this condemned batch has added a cruel twist to Veloso’s fated doom, Cortez said.

“If only we can make President Widodo take a second look that Veloso is not part of the Bali 9, that she was a victim not a perpetrator,” Cortez said, “that could be a game changer.” – Rappler.com