|Mary Jane Veloso|
Speed up investigation to clear name of Catholic woman on death row in Indonesia, advocates say
Lawyers for Mary Jane Veloso, the Philippines woman facing execution in Indonesia, say a stronger push for clemency can be "potentially successful", even while other observers say her options are quickly narrowing.
In an interview Thursday, Veloso's lawyers in Manila told ucanews.com that appealing to Indonesian President Joko Widodo for clemency may be a "more realistic" option than an outright pardon earned through legal channels.
Edre Olalia, Veloso's lead lawyer, said a pending Philippines 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 told ucanews.com that "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 kilograms of heroin in her bag at the international airport in Yogyakarta. In April, Widodo granted a temporary reprieve just before Veloso was set to be executed.
Veloso, a devout Catholic, claimed that she was tricked into transporting the heroin and blamed her friend, Cristina Sergio. Philippines 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's unclear whether such a development from a court in the Philippines will have any effect in Indonesia.
"It might not be effective" to make a 3rd legal appeal on behalf of Veloso in Indonesia, Olalia acknowledged.
This week, Indonesian authorities welcomed the Philippines' ongoing efforts to investigate the case. However, they also reiterated that Veloso was convicted of smuggling by an Indonesian court of law.
Indonesian Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo told media July 29 that freeing Veloso would be "difficult", according to the Indonesian news website Kompas.com.
"This is because she has been proven [guilty of] smuggling narcotics into Indonesia," he said.
The Attorney General office's spokesman, Tony Spontana, told ucanews.com 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."
'All depends on him'
Church officials in Indonesia have spoken out against the death penalty in general and advocated for Veloso in particular.
Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko is secretary of the Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant-Itinerant People of the Indonesian Bishops' Conference. In an interview July 30, he said he is hopeful that the Philippines legal system will find new evidence vindicating Veloso, which can then be brought directly to President Widodo.
"All depends on him," Fr. Siswantoko said. "I believe that the president can become a real statesman if he truly upholds the truth."
This week, a delegation of foreign affairs and justice officials from the Philippines met with their counterparts in Indonesia to discuss Veloso's case. Part of those discussions involved the practicalities of allowing Veloso to testify in the Philippines' trafficking investigation.
In the meantime, advocates for Veloso believe it is imperative that Philippines officials prioritize and speed up the inquiry into Veloso's alleged traffickers.
"Absent that, I don't see any big legal options," said Neri Colmenares, a human rights lawyer and member of the Philippine Congress.
At the moment, he said, Veloso's legal options are "very narrow".
Source: ucanews.com, July 31, 2015
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