April 15, 2015H.E. Mr. Joachim Rücker
Human Rights Council President
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
52 Rue des Paquis, CH 1201
Dear Mr. Rücker:
Karapatan is an alliance of Philippine-based human rights organizations, desks, institutions and individual human rights advocates that monitors and documents human rights violations in the country[i]. We co-convene several platforms for engagements with the United Nations Human Rights Council, including its mandate holders and treaty bodies, to monitor and report on the compliance of the Philippine government to international human rights instruments. The human rights desk of Migrante International, an organization of Filipino migrant workers and their families, is a member of Karapatan.
We write to inform the Council on the plight of Mary Jane Veloso, a 30-year-old Filipina and mother of two children, who was sentenced to death by the Indonesian Supreme Court in April 2010 for drug trafficking.
Veloso’s case was submitted for judicial review, but her appeal was rejected by the Indonesian Supreme Court last March 26, 2015. News reports state that Indonesia is preparing to transfer Veloso from the city of Yogyakarta to the maximum security prison in Nusakambangan Island of Central Java to await execution by firing squad.
Veloso was a domestic worker in Dubai from 2009 to 2010. She left Dubai and came back to the Philippines after her employer attempted to rape her. On April 22, 2010, she was illegally recruited by the daughter of her godfather to work as a domestic worker in Malaysia. When she arrived in Kuala Lumpur, the same person told her that the job was not available anymore and that she would instead be transferred to Indonesia. Upon her arrival at the Jogjakarta airport, Veloso was apprehended by customs officials. It was there that she found out that she was tricked into carrying luggage containing 2.6 kilos of heroin. Hidden inside Veloso's luggage was 2.6 kilograms of heroin wrapped in aluminum foil, with an estimated street value of US$500,000. She had been set up as a drug mule and was arrested by the police.
Mary Jane was not provided a lawyer or translator by the Philippine embassy upon her arrest in 2010. During her trial, the court-provided interpreter was not a duly-licensed translator by the Association of Indonesian Translators. Her lawyer during the course of her trial was a public defender provided by the Indonesian police. The Phil. government did not provide a lawyer during the crucial period of her 6-month trial. Mary Jane was convicted after a very brief trial period – on October 2010, just six months after she was arrested. Public prosecutors asked the court to sentence Mary Jane to life imprisonment but the judges handed down a death sentence. Based on the timeline provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Phil. Embassy in Indonesia appealed the trial court sentence to the Indonesia Court of Appeals in October 2010. The embassy-hired lawyer filed a final appeal to the Supreme Court in February 2011. [ii]
We fully agree with Migrante International, an organization of Filipino migrants handling the case ofVeloso, that the Philippine government’s appeal for clemency for Mary Jane since 2011 was a passive and perfunctory effort, with no further attempts of such after the moratorium against executions was lifted by then newly-elected Indonesian president Joko Widodo. Phil. Pres. Benigno Aquino III only intervened more than a year after Veloso had already been sentenced to death, through a request for clemency with then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono who imposed a moratorium on executions during his term.
This was later rejected by new President Joko Widodo, who lifted the moratorium as soon as he took office.
For five years, the Philippine government and its Department of Foreign Affairs did not actively initiate contact and worked with the Veloso family, nor provide regular updates on the status of her case.According to Mary Jane’s parents, Cesar and Celia, and her sister, Maritess, they learned of Mary Jane’s imprisonment not from the government but from a phone call from Mary Jane herself, and a few days later from her alleged recruiter, Kristina Sergio.
The Philippine government had not done anything to arrest, investigate or even just invite for questioning Mary Jane’s alleged recruiter and trafficker.
Veloso's execution was deferred by the Indonesian government in February 2015 following a formal appeal from the Phil. Department of Foreign Affairs. Veloso claims she did not have a capable interpreter during her trial. Last month, the Indonesian government allowed her family — her mother, sister and two children — to see her in prison.
On March 3 to 4, a two-day trial was held in Sleman to determine whether there was new evidence in Mary Jane’s case. Lawyers argued she deserved a case review because she wasn’t given a capable translator. The head of the foreign language school in Yogyakarta testified that the translator at the time was indeed their student. To support Veloso’s case, her lawyers cited 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. But on March 26, the Indonesian Supreme Court rejected the case review request.
We acknowledge the statement of UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings/Summary Executions Christof Heyns on the dire lack of fair trial and due process in the case of foreign nationals on death row, especially that of Veloso, in Indonesia.
Veloso’s case is indeed indicative of several violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights[iii] and the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families[iv], wherein both Indonesia and Philippines are State parties, including the right to appear in court with qualified translators in the State of employment, legal representation at all stages of the judicial process, consular support of State of origin for foreign national defendants throughout the judicial process, inconsistencies in sentences for similar cases, and the application of the death penalty in drug-related cases[v].
Karapatan believes that while gross violations against Veloso are perpetrated by the Indonesian government, the Philippine government should be made accountable as well for its gross inability of the Philippine government to protect its citizens who, in the absence of better opportunities in the country, venture to seek employment abroad despite immense difficulties. According to Migrante International, Mary Jane Veloso is the eighth OFW put on death row under B. S. Aquino’s watch. Seven have already been executed before her, earning for the Aquino regime the stature of having the most number of OFW executions since the Philippine Labor Export Policy was hatched in 1970.There are at least 125 more OFWs on death row in other countries where capital punishment is also imposed.
We appeal to the Council to exercise its moral suasion on the Indonesian government in overturning the death sentence on Veloso and possibly grant her clemency. We implore the Council to take meaningful measures, including a review of human rights records and compliance to international human rights instruments of its Member States, to hold the Indonesian and Philippine governments accountable for this injustice on Veloso and her family.
Cristina Palabay, Secretary General Karapatan