MANILA — After securing an eleventh-hour reprieve for Mary Jane Veloso last week, the Philippine government is determined to bring the overseas worker home from Indonesia, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima told reporters over the weekend.
A Department of Justice task force assembled by Ms. De Lima began poring over Indonesian law on Thursday in hope of finding legal arguments for repatriating Ms. Veloso, who faces the death penalty for smuggling heroin into the country, or alternatively for winning her a retrial.
“I don’t know if there is an open avenue and remedy,” said Ms. De Lima, who last week advised President Benigno Aquino to invoke the Asean Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in order to secure a stay of execution for the 30-year-old mother of two, after Indonesian President Joko Widodo rejected calls for clemency.
She was due to face a firing squad last Wednesday along with eight other convicts, but the Philippines successfully argued that it needed Ms. Veloso to testify following the surrender last week of Maria Kristina Sergio, the individual who originally recruited Ms. Veloso and sent her to Indonesia. Ms. Veloso, her legal team has argued, was unaware of the drugs sewn into the lining of her suitcase when she entered the country.
Indonesia, however, is saying Ms. Veloso can provide evidence without returning home.
It would be “impossible” for Indonesia to allow Ms. Veloso to return to the Philippines and give evidence in the investigation against Ms. Sergio, spokesman Tony Spontana of the Indonesian Attorney General’s Office told reporters last week. A video link or written testimony would suffice instead, he said.
Ms. Sergio surrendered to the Philippine police last week saying that threats had been made against her life after the country’s National Bureau of Investigation filed charges of illegal recruitment and human trafficking against her and two other suspects.
Ms. Sergio told reporters that she wasn’t to blame for Ms. Veloso’s predicament, and denied being part of any drug syndicate. A preliminary hearing into Ms. Sergio’s case opens on May 8, and is expected to last around two months, according to the Justice Department.
Ms. De Lima said that Ms. Veloso was the “complainant” in that case, as well as a witness, and said the proceedings could help prove that she had fallen prey to drug traffickers.
She also said that the Philippines would continue pursuing both diplomatic and legal tracks, with Manila still lobbying for Mr. Widodo to grant Ms. Veloso “executive clemency.”
By Trevor Moss - The Wall Street Journal/May 4, 2015
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