A lawyer's call for unity: 'Save all Mary Jane Velosos'

Legal battle

How exactly local developments will affect Mary Jane’s case in Indonesia is uncertain. The Philippine justice system is singularly frustrating, not least for someone whose life hangs on the balance. By all indications the inept and confused may yet bungle Mary Jane’s complaint in Manila.

Not until the last minute did law enforcers and justice officials scramble to arrest and file a case against Mary Jane’s recruiter. President Noynoy Aquino even blasted Mary Jane for not cooperating earlier and, in an apparent Freudian slip, adjudged her guilty by asking she be made state witness. A state witness is one accused who turns against his associates or accomplices – something Mary Jane cannot be, as she is a victim, not perpetrator.

Mary Jane’s first judicial review was weak because the Philippine government did not seriously pursue the human trafficking angle until after private counsels from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) repeatedly harped on it. There are lost affidavits, overlooked intelligence reports, unpursued leads since 2010. And then at crunch time, everybody in office went out to save face rather than work from the ground.

If against all odds recruiter Tintin Sergio is convicted here, it does not mean Indonesian courts will immediately and automatically acquit Mary Jane or commute her sentence. And even if Indonesian laws on human trafficking is among the world’s most progressive, Mary Jane may still find it hard to seek relief under it.

A third appeal (a “peninjauan kembali” or PK review) is barred per a circular of Indonesia’s Supreme Court in December 2014, which limits appeals to no more than once. But there is ambiguity because in March same year, their Constitutional Court deleted a section in their criminal code procedure that cut off multiple appeals. The Court believed that restricting case reviews violated legal and human rights.

Mary Jane’s lawyers both Indonesian and Filipino –  and fellow migrant workers and their families all over the world, Indonesian supporters, and anti-death penalty activists – are keeping vigil on this case until the kinks iron out and the cards line up again. (READ: Mary Jane Veloso’s legal case: What’s next?)

Saving Mary Jane is a calculated, herculean effort that cannot afford to shunt aside key people – politicians, lawyers, activists, migrant workers groups – nor let crucial errors pass by unrectified. After all, other legal and political campaigns for Filipinos on death row abroad may be modelled or improved upon this.

VIGIL. Filipino anti-riot police stand guard next to supporters of Mary Jane Veloso in the Philippines on April 28. Photo by Francis Malasig/EPA

VIGIL. Filipino anti-riot police stand guard next to supporters of Mary Jane Veloso in the Philippines on April 28.

Photo by Francis Malasig/EPA

Compassion and empathy

That said, Nanay Celia’s fiery speech against President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III should help define government’s role in these situations. While she did acknowledge that Noynoy spoke to President Joko Widodo, she begrudged Noynoy gratitude and pride. For someone who was stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, she was intense and precise. Only Noynoy was in the position to proposition Jokowi; when he asked for clemency, he was doing his job.

She challenges Noynoy: it must not be enough that government do routine business. The foreign ministry’s brash manner in treating her and her family – freezing them out of the discussions, delaying communications, and generally leaving them to fend for themselves – is an oft-suffered experience with Philippine bureaucracy. Father, mother, and sister all wailed about how they were passed from underling to underling, with no clear direction, with little sympathy or compassion. (I was convinced no detail is false or exaggerated when I notarized their affidavits.)

On a petty note, the legal team thought the Department of Foreign Affairs would be solicitous in authenticating the affidavits of other victims of Tintin Sergio’s gang. They were handed back a hefty bill.

When technocrats go by the book, they are ensconced in a bubble of rigid rules and protocol and are compartmentalized according to hierarchy and rank. But it should be no excuse to forget empathy. How cheerless to have to ask government to care, to beg our officials to put themselves in the shoes of the ordinary citizen.

TEARS OF JOY. A rallyist in front of the Indonesian embassy in the Philippines tears up as news on Mary Jane Veloso's last-minute reprieve breaks. Photo by Jansen Romero/Rappler.com

TEARS OF JOY. A rallyist in front of the Indonesian embassy in the Philippines tears up as news on Mary Jane Veloso's last-minute reprieve breaks. Photo by Jansen Romero/Rappler.

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Saving all Mary Janes

It takes passion and dedication to genuinely deliver the service that the people need. The private sector provided that in the case of Mary Jane, as the world paid attention. Government was slow, cold, and listless, and had to claw their way into the firestorm of a determined civil society.

But in these cases private efforts are not often lent diplomatic formality or state authority. So government must warm up, train well, and beat their culture of condescension, misplaced "utang na loob" (debt of gratitude), victim-blaming, and defeatism.

That night of April 28th, in a cramped corner of Makati, people were spread all over cardboards and tarpaulins on the ground. Others were milling about in the somber night, some camped out at Family Mart. Some policemen tasked to keep the rallyists away from the Indonesian embassy tuned in to the vigil rather than the barricade. Perhaps like some others, I stayed because I didn’t want to be alone when the fate of Mary Jane was broadcast to the world.

And come together we do for the things that bind us the most. For beauty contests, for basketball games, for Manny Pacquiao’s fights, we say it ain’t over till it’s over. With dogged determination and all heart and soul, and with the indomitable Filipino spirit is how we get the chance to save all the Mary Janes– Rappler.com

Lawyer and blogger Krissy Conti is assistant secretary-general for campaigns of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL), which serves as private legal counsel for the Veloso family. A special legal team worked on the second judicial review with Mary Jane’s Indonesian lawyers Rudyantho and Partners, and in close coordination with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and Migrante International.