Duterte flies to Veloso’s rescue
JAKARTA, Indonesia—Convicted drug mule Mary Jane Veloso is “anxiously” awaiting President Duterte’s meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Friday at the Istana Merdeka in central Jakarta.
Philippine Ambassador to Indonesia Ma. Lumen B. Isleta said Veloso is “OK.” “My consul has gotten in touch with her… I can understand she’s [feeling] anxious about the visit of the President,” she said.
She said the embassy could not squeeze in a meeting between the President and Veloso during his 24-hour visit to Indonesia because the convict’s prison is an hour’s flight away from here.
Mr. Duterte is scheduled to have a bilateral meeting with Widodo and a state dinner later today after delivering a speech to the Filipino community at the Shangri-La Hotel.
In an interview with reporters at the Philippine embassy, Isleta said “we’re always hopeful” that Veloso would finally get out of Indonesia’s death row.
“There is always hope. And, of course, the President can convey the country’s appreciation and gratitude for the last-minute reprieve which is only temporary and not permanent,” said Isleta, who noted that Indonesia had never granted a full pardon to a death convict.
Veloso was found guilty of drug smuggling and was temporarily spared from the firing squad at the last minute by Widodo in April last year.
Mr. Duterte said he would appeal for Veloso’s life “in a most respectful and courteous way” but he would not begrudge Widodo should he reject his personal appeal for mercy.
Victim of recruiter
Isleta said the Philippines would ask for “some reconsideration” in the case of Veloso, its argument being that she was a victim of illegal recruitment, which should have a bearing on her death sentence.
She said the Department of Justice and its counterpart in Indonesia, the Ministry for Law and Human Rights, had been coordinating in the Veloso case under the mutual legal assistance treaty of Asean.
“We’ve asked the ministry for permission to take her (Veloso) testimony by deposition (for her Philippine case),” said Isleta.
Isleta was optimistic Duterte and Widodo would hit it off as both started out as mayors and were popular with the masses, and they ran on a campaign to fight crime.
With Indonesia’s drug czar announcing his plan to adopt Duterte’s style in fighting illegal drugs, Isleta said this could be seen as a validation of the President’s strategy, which has received flak from human rights groups.
The family of Veloso in Cabanatuan City is pinning its hopes on President Duterte, who has promised to exert all efforts to convince the Indonesian government to spare her.
“My sister is really innocent so it would not be a difficult task to plead for her freedom,” said Veloso’s sibling, Maritess Laurente.
Cesar Veloso, the convict’s father, wants President Duterte to “bring home our daughter… alive.”
In a rally held Thursday at Plaza Miranda in Manila, the elder Veloso and his wife Celia, together with members of the activist group Migrante International, lit candles and lifted banners asking the President to help spare their daughter’s life and bring her home.
Drug war hit
Meanwhile, a New York-based human rights advocacy group urged Indonesia not to emulate President Duterte’s war on drugs which it described as a “brutal unlawful assault on rule of law and human rights” against the poor.
“Jokowi should reject Duterte’s appalling ‘solution’ to the complex problems of drugs and criminality and emphasize the obligation of police and other security forces to respect everyone’s basic human rights,” said Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia Phelim Kine.
Human Rights Watch issued the warning after Indonesia’s National Narcotics Agency head Comr. Gen. Budi Waseso called on their police to emulate the Philippines’ aggressive antidrug campaign.
Amnesty International, another human rights group, has also repeatedly criticized the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, saying the rising drug-related killings indicated lawlessness instead of crime control.
“Instead of inciting violence against people who have developed a dependency on drugs, the authorities should ensure they have access to medical care,” it said. With a report from Armand Galang, Inquirer Central Luzon/TVJ