Glorene A. Das, executive director of the Malaysian migrants rights organisation Tenaganita, and APWLD’s Migration Organising Committee member, wrote this reflection as she visited Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino migrant imprisoned in Indonesia on death row since 2010 and a victim of human trafficking. This jail visitation to Mary Jane in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in September 2018 was made possible by cooperation and facilitation of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Migrante International, KABAR BUMI, and the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants.
It would be two weeks today since I visited Mary Jane Veloso in the prison, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, who is currently on death row.
During the past two weeks, since the visit, every time I started writing down how I felt throughout the one hour with her, I broke down. I plainly did not know where to begin or how to express these emotions I was feeling, just thinking about Mary Jane and the visit I was a part of.
However, finally having the courage to write it now, I somehow feel better.
I have been anticipating this visit, since I got the news from Rev Joram Calimutan of the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), that I will be able to see Mary Jane. The excitement and joy of being able to see her was really overwhelming.
I remember these moments clearly.
As I walked towards Mary Jane, I saw her sons running up to her, and she enveloped them in her arms, raining kisses all over their faces again and again. That brought much tears to my eyes, and this scene will always remain in my heart. The strong love shared with her boys, witnessed by many, was a testimony of the love she felt for her children, then the same began with her father. All this time, I am thinking, how could this beautiful tiny woman be on death row for the crime she never committed?
As she approached me, she never bothered to ask me who I am. She just hugged me so tightly, thanking me for coming over and over again. Once again I felt love. That love was so overpowering. It surrounded us all with joy. I realised many of us just did not know what to say or ask, although hundreds of questions circled our heads and we were so excited this was happening. Once she thanked everyone for coming, we sat around her to just hear her talk. In that hour’s minutes, I saw her laugh, kiss the children, cry, recite a beautiful poem which she wrote titled “Sepucuk Harapan – A Spark of Hope”, hand out gifts to her two children, show us her handicrafts and speak such fluent Bahasa Indonesia.
She radiated love!
In that hour of interaction, there was a moment when she uttered “I am alive because of each one of you and I know I will be out one day. I have such great hope.” Those words staggered me, and a deep sense of responsibility grew within me to work towards her release one day. Her presence and will power gave me hope and empowerment. In fact, she is a perfect example of how pain can be turned into empowerment for the good of all, even if there are uncertainties.
I have visited so many prisoners and detainees in the course of my work, but Mary Jane Veloso, a victim of human trafficking and illegal narcotics syndicates who faces death penalty – that caused me gut-wrenching pain. She should be protected, not executed.
As I said my goodbyes to her, I reminded her that she is a heroine for millions out there – a symbol of hope, love and empowerment. And I, representing millions of migrants, refugees, women and children, will always fight for her release from where ever we are and that she is never alone in her struggles.
Read more about campaign to save Mary Jane Veloso here: