Indonesia has said the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has given his blessing for the execution of a Filipina death row inmate, Mary Jane Veloso.
“President Duterte … said: ‘Please go ahead if you want to execute her,’” the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, said on Monday.
The report left many in the Philippines in shock, as saving Veloso – a domestic worker on death row who many believe was duped into smuggling heroin – has become a national cause.
Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for Duterte, strongly denied that the president had given the go-ahead during a meeting in Jakarta on Friday. “There was no endorsement,” Abella said. “He simply said: ‘Follow your own laws, I will not interfere.’”
Veloso was arrested in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in 2010 while carrying a suitcase containing 2.2kg of heroin. Her supporters say poverty made her susceptible to people traffickers, who promised her a job as a maid in Malaysia but instead made her an unwitting drug mule.
— Trisha Macas (@trishamacas)
September 12, 2016
Palace on Widodo’s statement re Mary Jane Veloso pic.twitter.com/nEk2uPQBPf
The previous Philippine government made it a priority to try to delay and eventually overturn Veloso’s death sentence. Her case has drawn international criticism of capital punishment in Indonesia.
Veloso’s lawyer, Edre Olalia, told UK Guardian that Veloso’s family and legal team were waiting for “indubitable A1 confirmation either way”, and that no comment would be made until official information had been received from both the Philippine and Indonesian governments.
Migrante International, a group that promotes the rights of overseas Filipino workers, said it and the Veloso family were in shock over the news from Jakarta.
It said: “We demand an immediate explanation from President Duterte and [Foreign] Secretary[Perfecto] Yasay, both duty-bound to defend the rights of Filipinos overseas, especially drug trafficking victims like Mary Jane.”
Duterte, a former prosecutor, said last week that he would ask Jokowi – as the Indonesian president is known – to call off Veloso’s execution, but that ultimately he would respect Indonesia’s laws. “If my pleadings will fall on deaf ears, I am ready to accept it – for the simple reason I do not doubt the judicial system of Indonesia,” he said.
“So, I might just accept the system and plead for mercy. But if President Widodo will deny it, still I would be grateful that she has been treated very well,” he added.
Jokowi delayed Veloso’s execution date in April 2015 with a temporary reprieve hours before she was due to be killed.
Her reprieve came after Maria Kristina Sergio, a woman accused of recruiting Veloso, handed herself in to police in Manila. The former Philippine president, Benigno Aquino, made an appeal to Jokowi on the basis that Veloso would be needed as a witness in the case against Sergio.
Indonesia shot dead eight people in April 2015, including two Australians, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who had fought a years-long campaign for clemency and were part of the Bali Nine heroin-smuggling ring. Four Nigerians, a Brazilian and an Indonesian were also killed.
Veloso has also won sympathy in Indonesia, which, like the Philippines, has a large foreign worker diaspora. She says she fled Dubai after an attempted rape.
Duterte took office in June after winning elections on a promise to kill tens of thousands of criminals. He has vowed to press on with his campaign despite growing international criticism.
Jokowi is waging his own war against drugs and has ordered the execution of 18 convicted smugglers, including 15 foreigners, since taking office in October 2014.
Indonesia’s anti-drugs chief this month voiced support for implementing a bloody crackdown on traffickers similar to that in the Philippines, saying he believed such a campaign would safeguard “our beloved country”.