On April 29, about an hour before her scheduled execution by firing squad for allegedly smuggling heroin into Indonesia five years ago, 30-year-old Mary Jane Veloso received a “temporary reprieve” by Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
The last-minute reprieve was, in part, due to a request by Benigno Aquino, president of the Philippines, to spare Veloso’s life so she could testify against her alleged recruiter, Maria Cristina Sergio, 47, who surrendered to police the day before Veloso’s scheduled execution.
The Philippine Department of Justice has reported Veloso’s alleged illegal recruiters, Maria Cristiana “Tintin” Sergio, Julius Lacanilao, and “Ike,” believed to be a Nigerian national, have admitted to being part of an international drug syndicate. A May 14 statement from the Church Task Force in the Philippines concludes that “Justice for Mary Jane may be close at hand.”
Veloso was initially detained in 2010 when drugs were found by airport security in the lining of a suitcase, which she said was given to her through her recruiters. Veloso’s handwritten statement, transcribed by her sister and posted on the website of human rights advocacy group Migrante International, says she had no knowledge drugs were in the suitcase.
According to attorney Edre Olalia, the Veloso family’s private volunteer counsel from the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL), they continue to share updates on the case status, plans, and prospects with Veloso’s Indonesian lawyers. This is an expression of their mutual cooperation and active collaboration with Indonesian counterparts and reaffirms the principled engagement with Philippine government agencies and entities.
Veloso’s case is not the only one Sergio and Lacanilao are facing, several other alleged human trafficking victims have come forward since Sergio surrendered. According to the Church Task Force statement, Philippine authorities have even connected Sergio’s alleged trafficking to another woman, Judy Tosi, who was detained for heroin found in a bag that Sergio allegedly sent her to deliver to a friend in Hong Kong. Like Veloso, Tosi was promised a job as a maid.
The Church Task Force, the Veloso family, their volunteer lawyers, various church institutions; international migrant groups, and other civil society organizations, including those in Indonesia, have appealed for continued participation in spreading the word and signing the online petition calling for Veloso’s release. Advocates are campaigning to collect more than 500,000 signatures on the petition with plans to hand-deliver it to President Widodo when this goal is reached.
“The Veloso family has expressed deep appreciation for all the prayers and advocacy efforts that contributed to Mary Jane’s temporary reprieve from execution,” says mission co-worker Rebecca Lawson, serving Presbyterian World Mission in the Philippines. “Mary Jane’s case proves that when we dare to join our ministry with the truth of a courageous family and with other partners globally, we can create a synergy that gives other victims and families the courage to speak up.”