Philippines hails 'miracle' reprieve for death row Filipina
MANILA // The last-minute reprieve for a Filipina drug convict facing execution in Indonesia sparked an outpouring of euphoria and disbelief on Wednesday, with crowds weeping for joy and her children crying “Mama will live!”
Mary Jane Veloso’s family said their prayers had been answered after it emerged the single mother, 30, was not among a group of foreign drug convicts put to death by firing squad shortly after midnight.
“Miracles do come true,” her mother Celia told Manila radio by phone from Indonesia.
Veloso’s sons, 6 and 12, in Indonesia to say goodbye to their mother, yelled: “Yes, yes! Mama will live!” according to their grandmother.
Philippine president Benigno Aquino’s government said it had persuaded Indonesia it had new information that would hopefully prove Veloso was an unwitting mule – and would nail the drug gang which used her as a drug courier.
“As a nation, we are celebrating the fact that Mary Jane is alive,” cabinet secretary Rene Almendras said.
Outside the Indonesian embassy, supporters who had been keeping vigil shed tears of joy early Wednesday.
In Veloso’s home town of Cabanatuan city, relatives heaved a sigh of relief.
“This is nothing short of a miracle. We are overjoyed. Praise God,” Veloso’s aunt Imelda Magday told local television.
Filipino Catholic priest Harold Toledano, who had been counselling the family, said Veloso never lost hope.
“It is like an experience of knowing someone has died and then, just risen,” he said in Cilacap in Indonesia, where Veloso’s family kept vigil.
Veloso maintains that an international human trafficking and drug gang tricked her into bringing 2.6 kilogrammes of heroin to Indonesia from Malaysia five years ago.
She won an 11th-hour stay of execution after the person suspected of asking her to carry the drugs unexpectedly turned herself in to Philippine authorities on Tuesday.
Cabinet secretary Almendras recalled the frantic phone exchanges between Filipino and Indonesian officials hours before the planned execution, which saw Mr Aquino break protocol when he phoned Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi.
“The initiative, that time, became a minute-to-minute game,” he said.
Veloso’s death sentence however remains in force.
“Now we need to act and prove the case that we have presented, that she was a victim,” Almendras said, adding Manila had found “some witnesses to the illegal recruitment” of Veloso.
Meanwhile, France said on Wednesday it was mobilising all diplomatic options in a bid to save Frenchman Serge Atlaoui from death row in Indonesia on drug charges.
Atlaoui, 51, was originally among the group set to be executed but was unexpectedly granted a temporary reprieve after Indonesia agreed to allow an outstanding legal appeal to run its course.
French president Francois Hollande has warned that Indonesia would face diplomatic “consequences” if it pushed ahead with the execution of Atlaoui.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: April 29, 2015 04:00 AM