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Mary Jane Veloso’s options running out

MANILA (UCAN) : Lawyers for Mary Jane Veloso, who is facing execution in Indonesia, say a stronger push for clemency has a better chance of success than appealing for pardon, even though other observers say her options are quickly narrowing.

Veloso’s lawyers in Manila said that appealing to the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, for clemency, may be a more realistic option than asking for an outright pardon through legal channels.

Her leading lawyer, Edre Olalia, said a pending Philippine court investigation into allegations that Veloso was duped into being a drug mule may provide a strong legal basis to prove her innocence.

But Olalia added, “The more important thing is the political and moral basis that you cannot allow somebody who is innocent to be punished.”

In 2010, an Indonesian court sentenced Veloso to death after she was caught with 2.6 kilogrammes of heroin in her bag at the international airport in Yogyakarta. In April, Widodo granted a temporary reprieve, hours before Veloso was set to be executed.

Veloso, who has a strong Catholic faith, claimed that she was tricked into transporting the heroin and blamed her friend, Cristina Sergio.

Philippine justice officials have filed cases against Veloso’s alleged recruiters, including Sergio, with the intent of investigating them for human trafficking and illegal recruitment.

Veloso’s lawyers say there is reason to believe that the investigation will eventually point a finger at Sergio. But it is unclear whether such a development from a court in The Philippines would have any effect in Indonesia.

Olalia acknowledged that it may not enough to get a third legal appeal in Indonesia.

Kompas.com reported that the Indonesian attorney general, Muhammad Prasetyo, told media on July 29 that freeing Veloso would be difficult.

“This is because she has been proven [guilty of] smuggling narcotics into Indonesia,” he said.

The attorney general office spokesperson, Tony Spontana, said on July 30 that if the legal process in The Philippines finds new evidence, her legal team would be welcome to appeal for a judicial review or clemency in Indonesia.

“But this won’t free Veloso,” Spontana said, insisting that the Indonesian system has treated Veloso fairly.

“All her rights have been given to her: two appeals for a judicial review and a request for clemency.”

Church officials in Indonesia have spoken out against the death penalty in general and advocated for Veloso in particular.

Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, the secretary of the Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant-Itinerant People of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, said on July 30 that he is hopeful that the Philippine legal system will find new evidence vindicating Veloso, which can be brought directly to Widodo.

“All depends on him,” Father Siswantoko said. “I believe that the president can become a real statesman if he truly upholds the truth.”

A delegation of foreign affairs and justice officials from The
Philippines met with their counterparts in Indonesia in late July to discuss Veloso’s case  and the practicalities of allowing her to testify in the Philippine trafficking investigation.