Open Letter to ASEAN Heads of State in the Event of the ASEAN People’s Forum 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

save mj tarp(1)April 22, 2015

(Note: This Open Letter/Appeal is currently being circulated by Filipino delegates among participants of the ongoing ASEAN People’s Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and to be submitted with signatories to all ASEAN Heads of State. – Migrante International Media Desk)

We are civil society organizations, people’s organizations, grassroots mass organizations, human rights defenders and women and migrants’ rights advocates from all ASEAN nations. We appeal to our respective Heads of States and peoples to join the international clamour to Save the Life of Filipina Mary Jane Veloso.

Mary Jane Veloso is a 30-year-old Filipina mother-of-two sentenced to death by the Indonesian Supreme Court for alleged drug trafficking.

Veloso was a domestic worker in Dubai from 2009 to 2010. She left Dubai and came back to the Philippines after her employer attempted to rape her. On April 22, 2010, she was illegally recruited to work as a domestic worker in Malaysia. When she arrived in Malaysia, she was told that her supposed job was no longer available but she could still find work in the country. After a few days, her recruiter sent her to Indonesia allegedly for a seven-day holiday, after which she would go back to Malaysia for employment. It was there that she found out that she was tricked into carrying luggage containing 2.6 kilos of heroin.

On October 11, 2010, the District Court of Justice of Sleman in Yogjakarta, Indonesia sentenced Veloso with the death penalty. Veloso’s case was submitted for judicial review but her appeal was rejected by the Indonesian Supreme Court last March 25, 2014.

The Indonesian government plans to execute 10 convicted foreign drug traffickers, including Veloso, all at once. Their cases have drawn international flak for Indonesian Pres. Joko Widodo after he rejected pleas by the United Nations and various governments for their clemency. The Indonesian government had earlier announced that all executions are scheduled to commence after the end of the 60th Bandung Conference on April 24, 2015.

In the spirit of a genuine “People-Centered ASEAN Community 2015”, we urgently and fervently appeal to our Heads of State to join the ASEAN community in the appeal to spare her life.

ASEAN Leaders have declared optimism with the 2009-2015 Road Map of the ASEAN Community Blueprints as the basis of the overall ASEAN Community 2015. But how can we fathom to achieve a genuine “People-Centered ASEAN Community 2015” when we cannot, as one region, unite as a peoples on one fundamental cause to save an innocent citizen’s life?

How can we hope to revive the region from the iniquities of injustice, corruption, human rights abuses and poverty when the very peoples and citizens we profess to serve and protect, citizens like Veloso, are not given strong gestures of support by our very Heads of State?

Is this how we plan to start and pre-empt the ASEAN Community 2015? We hope not.

Veloso, like many ASEAN women, was driven to labour migration by extreme poverty, landlessness and enormous pressure as the sole caretaker of her children. Like many ASEAN women, she sought to employ all means to cater to the education, healthcare, food and other needs of her loved ones. Like many ASEAN women, she hails from a peasant family significantly employed in agriculture, which is the main base of the Philippines’ economy.

For most countries in the ASEAN region, particularly for the Philippines and Indonesia, labour migration is considered a solution to unemployment, landlessness and poverty. This aggravates regional economic disparities and the accommodation of states to the globalization dictate of exporting cheap, flexible and deregulated labour as a main tool to sustain economies. Veloso was a victim of this dictate.

Further, like many ASEAN women, Veloso was a victim of the unresolved rampant problem of trafficking in the region. Human trafficking of women in poorer countries such as Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia and in richer countries as Thailand migrate to work through legal and illegal means but are later coerced into exploitative conditions, white slavery or drug trade.

While most ASEAN countries have enacted laws and legislation to prevent trafficking, it remains a perennial problem that continues to victimize our peoples. Perpatrators, usually organized crime syndicates, are very seldom punished. Veloso’s illegal recruiter and trafficker, for instance, remains unscathed and unpunished by the Philippine government. Also, there is either lack of enforcement or the implementation of legislation is usually focused on criminalization, thus restricting the movement of women like Veloso rather than empowering them.

Veloso, like many ASEAN women, was also a victim of the lack of access to justice in the region, particularly for women migrant workers. She was, more tragically, a victim of a neglectful Philippine government.

She was not provided a lawyer or a translator by the Philippine embassy upon her arrest in 2010. During her trial, the court-provided interpreter was not a duly-licensed translator by the Association of Indonesian Translators. Her lawyer during the course of her trial was only a public defender provided by the Indonesian police. During the course of her trials, she had extreme difficulty understanding any of the legal proceedings.

As a result, Veloso was convicted after a very brief trial period – on October 2010, just six months after she was arrested. Public prosecutors asked the court to sentence Veloso to life imprisonment but the judges handed down a death sentence. As the case is for many ASEAN citizens, because there is a lack of support mechanisms in the ASEAN, the end result is always the denial of justice and non-persecution of perpetrators.

Even UN Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns on extrajudicial executions had already appealed to Pres. Widodo to stop the executions on the basis that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported information that suggests that Veloso and her 14 other fellow accused were convicted after unfair trials. The same report attested that all of them did not receive sufficient legal services or the right to translators, and had no legal representation at all stages of their trials.

How can we, then, allow Veloso’s execution to push through? Is this how we would want to start and pre-empt the ASEAN Community 2015? We deplore you to not allow it. We call on all ASEAN heads of state to save the life of Mary Jane Veloso.

Let us start building an ASEAN Community 2015 on a just, merciful and compassionate foundation.

We steadfastly believe that a genuine “People-Centered ASEAN Community 2015” must take place within a human rights framework that protects, promotes and fulfils the rights of its peoples. These should be the basis on which the ASEAN states build the ASEAN Community 2015. ###