Death row Filipina's family criticises Philippine government

Celia Veloso (centre), the mother of Mary Jane Veloso, is escorted by a supporter upon her return from Jakarta in Manila on May 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Celia Veloso (centre), the mother of Mary Jane Veloso, is escorted by a supporter upon her return from Jakarta in Manila on May 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - The family of a Filipina on death row in Indonesia returned home on Friday with scathing criticism of the Philippine government's alleged mishandling of her case.

Mary Jane Veloso's mother said President Benigno Aquino should not be credited for the 11th hour reprieve that saved her daughter from death by firing squad on Wednesday.

But the family nonetheless expressed hope that Indonesia would commute her death sentence or free her after the Filipina maid's alleged recruiter turned herself in to authorities this week.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo stayed Veloso's execution after Aquino asked that she be made a witness against a human trafficking ring that duped her into smuggling drugs.

Veloso was caught with 2.6 kg of heroin at Yogyakarta airport five years ago. She claimed the drugs were sewn into her suitcase lining without her knowledge.

"We've returned home to the Philippines for payback...This is not about money. The government owes us because they tricked us," 55-year-old Celia Veloso, wearing a "Save Mary Jane" shirt, told reporters.

In an apparent reference to Aquino, she said: "He is telling the whole world that he helped save my daughter's life. That is not true. Get ready, we are here to charge you. We will fight you."

Veloso's sister, Marites Veloso-Laurente, told AFP the Philippine government failed to provide her with a capable interpreter during her trial.

"Had the government not been remiss, my sister would not have been in trouble," she said.

- 'We left prison with smiles' -

Presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte denied the charge, saying that as early as 2011, Aquino asked then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for clemency.

Aquino also asked Widodo for clemency and a review of Veloso's case twice, Valte told AFP.

"The records will bear out the president's actions very clearly... It is not an issue of who gets credit, but more importantly, Mary Jane was able to get a reprieve for her sentence," she said.

Veloso's alleged recruiter, Cristina Sergio, is under police custody after she sought protection citing death threats.

The justice department is studying whether a human trafficking and fraud complaint against her would merit filing in court.

"We owe it to the Indonesian government to undertake and complete the investigation as soon as possible," Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose said this week.

Depending on the outcome of the investigation, Jose said the Philippines may again seek clemency for Veloso.

Her sister thanked Widodo for the reprieve as she renewed an appeal for compassion.

"President Widodo, please study my sister's case very carefully. Please keep an open mind and heart," she said.

Marites Veloso said the family last saw Mary Jane at Yogyakarta prison on Thursday.

"There were lots of hugging and laughing. There was no trace of sadness or worry in Mary Jane's face," she said.

"We left prison with smiles on our faces because we know that we will see her again soon," she said.

While Veloso was spared, seven other foreign drug convicts and an Indonesian were executed as Widodo defied global anger.

Among those executed were Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, ringleaders of the so-called "Bali Nine" drug ring, prompting Canberra to recall its ambassador from Jakarta.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.