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Widodo offers a ray of hope

KUALA LUMPUR—Indonesian President Joko Widodo is “sympathetic” about the plight of Filipino maid Mary Jane Veloso, who has been sentenced to death for drug trafficking, and has promised to look into her case, a spokesman for President Benigno Aquino III said Monday after he made a personal appeal.

While the comments seemed to indicate a faint prospect of reprieve for Veloso, the Indonesian leader is seen as extremely unlikely to change course on the executions which he has insisted for months are essential to halting a national drugs crisis.

26th Summit. President Benigno Aquino III, rightmost, joins hands
with the other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
during the opening of the 26th Asean Summit in Kuala Lumpur on
Monday. Malacañang Photo Bureau    
Veloso, a 30-year-old single mother of two boys, is due to face an Indonesian firing squad on Tuesday.

She is among eight foreigners facing execution in Indonesia, which has come under international pressure to spare them.

Aquino made his appeal in person on the sidelines of the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) being held this year in Malaysia, his spokesman Herminio Coloma said.

“President Aquino talked with President Widodo earlier this morning and appealed for humanitarian consideration for Mary Jane Veloso, who was apparently duped into being an unwitting carrier of illegal drugs,” Coloma said in a text message.

“(Aquino) said President Widodo was sympathetic and was consulting with the Indonesian Attorney General on the legal issues.”

Coloma said Widodo promised to discuss the issue again later on Monday, when the summit that started in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur in the morning shifts to the resort island of Langkawi.

Asked if there was hope Veloso could be spared, Coloma said: “So long as there is life, there is hope.”

In Nusakambangan Island, Veloso told her two sons that she will not be coming home.

“If Mama does not go home, just think Mama is in heaven,’’ Veloso told her sons Mark Darren, 6, and Mark Danielle, 12.

In Manila, a presidential spokesman called for prayers for Veloso and for Widodo to have a change of heart.

Veloso was arrested in 2009 with 2.6 kilograms (5.7 pounds) of heroin sewn into the lining of her suitcase.

She insists she went to Indonesia for a job as a maid and was duped by an international drug syndicate.

The Philippines has sought to have a second judicial review of her case, citing evidence that she was a human trafficking victim, not a drug smuggler.

But this weekend, Veloso’s lawyer said she had been informed that she would be put to death on April 28.

Indonesia has some of the toughest anti-drugs laws in the world. In January, Jakarta executed six drug convicts, including five foreigners, sparking international outrage. Australia, France and Brazil have warned Indonesia of the consequences if their nationals are executed.

But a Foreign Affairs spokesman said Monday ties between the Philippines and Indonesia would not be affected even if Veloso is executed.

DFA spokesman Charles Jose said that both the Philippines and Indonesia are members of the

Association of Southeast Asian Nations and do not see the case affecting bilateral relations.

Earlier, the Indonesian government summoned foreign embassy officials to the prison island where convicted foreign drug traffickers are due to be executed.

Appeals for clemency have already been rejected by courts in Indonesia.

Despite the appeals, Indonesia has shown little sign it is willing to back down and the foreign ministry indicated Sunday that UN Secretary-General is Ban Ki-moon’s statement would not change their plans.

“We note the statement by the UN but we also note that there was no similar statement made when recently two Indonesians were executed,” ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said, referring to the execution this month of Indonesian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.

He added that it was “not the intention of Indonesia” to damage ties with other countries.

The executions have been delayed for weeks, with Indonesia coming close to carrying them out in February, but then agreeing to let final legal appeals be resolved following an international outcry.

On Monday evening, various rights groups began a 24-hour vigil in front of the Indonesia Embassy, in Manila praying and lighting candles for Veloso to be spared.

The leader of the workers rights group Migrante, John Leonard Monterona, blamed the Aquino administration for Veloso’s fate.

“Mary Jane was just among the many who have been victims of government neglect...The 12 million OFWs and their families are justified in calling for Aquino’s ouster,” he added.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, however, denied that the government acted too late on Veloso’s case.

“That’s not true. Especially in the cases of death penalty. Especially if our nationals abroad need our help. We always make sure that we provide assistance to them in any form. If there’s a case

filed against them and they are incarcerated, we send our embassy officials to look into their welfare. If legal assistance is needed, we provide legal assistance to our compatriots,” he said.

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