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Duterte on Veloso: 'The law is the law'

Saying "the law is the law," President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said he would respect whatever the decision of Indonesian President Joko Widodo would be on the case of Filipina drug convict Mary Jane Veloso who is on death row in Indonesia.

"I just said, 'We will respect the judgment of your courts, period,'" Duterte said in a speech before the members of the 250th Philippine Airlift Wing at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.

"It would have been a bad taste in the mouth to be talking about having a strong posture on drugs and here you are begging for something ... I'm sorry, I have nothing to apologize [for] because the law is the law," he added.

The President issued the statement after Widodo was quoted by the Indonesian press as saying Duterte had given the green light for the execution of Veloso.

Duterte went to Jakarta last week for a working visit and met with Widodo, who is also leading a campaign against drugs in Indonesia.

In a report, the Jakarta Post, citing the Antara news agency, said: "President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo said on Monday that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had given the green light for the execution of Filipina death row inmate Mary Jane Veloso."

But Duterte insisted that he did not mention Veloso's case to Widodo when they talked about Indonesia's anti-drug campaign and death penalty law in Jakarta last Friday.

Duterte said on Tuesday his utterance of "go ahead" referred to his support for Indonesia's death penalty and not to Veloso's case specifically.

"I had a talk with Widodo. He has 4 million [drug addicts in Indonesia]. We talked about that. We said we will implement the laws. Then I said, 'Mr President, so as not to apologize or anything, It's good you have the death penalty here. At least you can bring the problem to the barest minimum,'" he said. The President added: "I said, 'Go ahead and implement the law. We never mentioned about Veloso.'"

Veloso, on death row in Indonesia for her drug trafficking charge in 2010, was supposed to be executed together with other foreigners in Indonesia last year, but was spared by Widodo after an appeal from then President Benigno Aquino 3rd.

Upon arriving from Jakarta early on Saturday, Duterte was mum on what he and Widodo discussed in relation to the Veloso case, saying he needed to talk to the Veloso family first.

Veloso's mother, Celia, told a radio interview on Tuesday she was confused with the turn of events, and was awaiting the government's advice on when she would be able to meet the President.

Celia said her daughter called her up after watching Widodo's interview with reporters. While Mary Jane was resigned to whatever would be her fate, she wanted help from the President, Celia said.

Clemency after court decision


In Malacanang, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Philippine government would seek clemency for Veloso once Indonesia's Supreme Court acts on her case.

Speaking to reporters, Abella said there was no need to appeal for Veloso's life as there was no scheduled execution.

"The execution of Mary Jane Veloso had already been indefinitely deferred. Indonesia had previously agreed to allow Ms. Veloso to testify to the accusation and the criminal prosecution of her illegal recruiters in the Philippines," Abella said in a news conference.

"When the Indonesian Supreme Court decides to act on the execution, that would be the time to present the compelling evidence of Veloso's innocence as a justification for a plea of clemency," he added.

Abella claimed foreign media misinterpreted Duterte's pronouncement that he would "accept whatever final decision they (Indonesian government) will have on Veloso."

Abella was quick to clarify that the Palace was not blaming Widodo's choice of words before journalists in Indonesia.

"We are not saying Jokowi misinterpreted him (Duterte). We are just giving you the context," Abella said.

Also on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said Duterte did not ask for clemency from Widodo during their bilateral meeting in Jakarta last week because it was  "not the proper time."

Veloso, a single mother of 2 from Nueva Ecija, was sentenced to death in October 2010 after she was caught bringing in heroin at Yogyakarta's Adisucipto International Airport in April that year.

She has maintained her innocence, claiming she was duped into carrying the suitcase by her recruiter, who convinced her to go to Indonesia after losing a job in Malaysia.

Source: Maila Times, September 13, 2016

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