THE Philippine government will pursue its appeal for executive clemency from Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in the hopes of commuting the death sentence of Filipino maid and convicted drug trafficker Mary Jane Veloso, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Thursday.
De Lima said that since the order to execute Veloso remains, Manila is considering several options to help Veloso, whom it sees as a victim of human trafficking and illegal recruitment.
“Executive clemency doesn’t have to be in the form of a total pardon, it can be commutation of the death sentence,” De Lima said.
She said she has ordered prosecutors and agents of the National Bureau of Investigation to study Indonesia’s laws and to see how the mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) between the two countries might apply in Veloso’s case.
“We have to respect their legal processes in Indonesia,” De Lima said.
The Justice secretary said her department would also have to speed up the prosecution of Veloso’s alleged recruiter, Ma. Kristina Sergio, and her live-in partner Julius Lacanilao, who are now under police custody.
A preliminary investigation hearing is set for May 8.
The same charges against a third respondent, a man of African descent identified only as Ike, would be pursued in coordination with authorities in Malaysia, where he is reportedly based.
De Lima said she is ready to fly to Indonesia soon to explain to her counterparts, Indonesian Attorney-General H.M. Prasetyo and Minister for Justice and Human Rights Dr. Amir Syamsuddin, the legal process in the Philippines.
She said she expected the Indonesian government to suspend Veloso’s execution indefinitely, or until the completion of the case against Sergio and Lacanilao.
De Lima added that their surrender to the government showed the Indonesians that cases against them could now be seriously pursued.
She also rejected a suggestion that Velosos case be brought before an international tribunal.
“Let’s not talk about that at this point because what’s important for now is that we respect the laws and legal processes of Indonesia,” said De Lima.
“Let’s have mutual trust with them, especially that they are our ASEAN neighbor and partner. This case must not at all affect the good relations between the Philippines and Indonesia,” she added.
Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta on Thursday said she has accepted Sergio’s case because she is jobless.
In a radio interview, Acosta asked the public not to prejudge Sergio.
“According to television reporter Jasmine Romero, Sergio is jobless and very poor. We are income based (when we accept a case),” she said.
“We do not reject people seeking our help. That is called inquest assistance or investigative assistance.”
Sergio was accused of illegally recruiting Veloso and duping her into carrying illegal drugs into Indonesia.
A police official said the West African Drug Syndicate is likely the group behind the smuggling of heroin seized from Veloso by airport security at the Indonesian airport in 2009.
Philippine National Police spokesman Senior Supt. Bartolome Tobias said the syndicate typically lures overseas Filipino workers into transporting illegal drugs for $5,000 to $25,000, depending on the size of the cargo.
The syndicate is said to have representatives in the Philippines to recruit their drug mules.
In her testimony before the Indonesian court, Veloso said it was Sergio who financed her travel to Malaysia. Sergio admitted helping Veloso but denied any involvement in the illegal drug charges leveled against her.