There’s reason for optimism that Mary Jane Veloso will eventually gain her freedom
October 13, 2023
A recent visit by family and supporters to an Indonesian prison sparked renewed optimism that Mary Jane Veloso, a domestic worker and trafficking victim who at one time faced a death sentence may eventually secure her release.
In 2010, Veloso unwittingly carried 2.6 kilos of heroin into Indonesia in luggage provided to her by individuals who had recruited her to work in Malaysia. She was caught by airport security and denied knowing about the drugs but was subsequently sentenced to die in front of a firing squad for the alleged crime. On April 29, 2015, she was granted a literal “11th hour” stay of execution thanks in part by pleas from then-Philippine President Benigno Aquino, ostensibly so that she could testify in the trial of one of her alleged traffickers who had surrendered to authorities the day before.
Earlier this year, Veloso reunited with her family for the first time in four years. Her parents and two sons were able to visit her for two days in the Indonesian facility where she is being held. Also accompanying the family were representatives from Migrante International, a Filipino human rights advocacy group, her lawyers, Bishop Nonie Francisco from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), the Philippine embassy in Jakarta and the Department of Foreign Affairs Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs. Much of their efforts centered on meeting with Indonesian government officials and human rights organizations to appeal for their support toward a presidential clemency that would free Veloso.
Celia Veloso, Mary Jane’s mother, offered this statement via a newspaper article: “Our family is very happy. After a long time, we were able to hug Mary Jane. She saw her two sons who are already young men. When they saw their mother, they did not want to let go of her, always kissing and hugging her.”
Joanne Concepcion, chairperson for Migrante International, notes that pressure and advocacy from human rights organizations around the world were instrumental in granting Mary Jane a reprieve from her death sentence. Letters from Filipino and international supporters, including former Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, expressed support and advocated for her release during this time. In April of this year, just days before Indonesia’s Women Emancipation Day, more than 175 organizations wrote separate letters of support urging freedom for Mary Jane.
“The global campaign calling for clemency mobilized thousands of people and the contributions of Indonesian human rights advocates were instrumental in granting Mary Jane a temporary reprieve. The last-minute actions taken on the part of the Philippine president can be attributed to pressure from the global campaign,” said Concepcion.
In 2020, the two Filipinos who recruited Veloso were convicted of large-scale illegal recruitment. The guilty verdict handed down against them would seemingly prove Veloso’s innocence and at the time there was hope their conviction would result in justice for Veloso. However, three years have passed, and she remains in a Yogyakarta, Indonesia women’s prison.
The most expeditious path for Veloso’s freedom would come from a clemency decree by Indonesian President Joko Widodo. However, last year when asked by Philippine President Bongbong Marcos Jr. to “re-examine” Veloso’s case, Widodo responded they already gave her a “postponement” of her sentence.
What is the outlook for Veloso’s immediate future? Migrante International has continued to lobby the Philippine president in asking the Indonesian government for a pardon. Concepcion says Veloso’s future lies in her eventual ability to testify against her recruiters.
“In our dialogues with Indonesian human rights institutions and the Ministry for Women Empowerment, we learned that the Indonesian government is awaiting the results of the legal case against Mary Jane’s recruiters who are charged with human trafficking,” Concepcion said. “If they are held accountable, this would provide an even stronger legal basis for Mary Jane’s innocence and victimization. However, as a key witness to this case, Mary Jane has still yet to provide her testimony and the Philippine government must accelerate the process, including its cooperation with the Indonesian government, to make this possible.”
Scott O’Neill, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Mary Jane Veloso, human trafficking victim in Indonesia
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Let us pray
Triune God, may your Spirit grow in us, so that in our transformation our communities may know your transformation. Speak to our hearts that we may know your pain over our brokenness, heed your call, and bear the fullness of your joy, which no one can take away. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.