MANILA: Boxing icon Manny Pacquiao prayed with a Filipino woman on death row in Indonesia and promised to appeal for clemency in the latest bid from her country to save her.
Pacquiao and his wife, Jinkee, spent about an hour with Mary Jane Veloso early Friday at a Yogyakarta jail.
Veloso was sentenced to death for drug trafficking after heroin was found hidden in her luggage at the Yogyakarta airport in 2010. She was granted a last minute stay of execution in April, but eight other convicts – two Australians, four Nigerians, a Brazilian and an Indonesian – were executed.
“Mary Jane gave Pacquiao a scarf with his name, ‘Pacman,’ written on it. She made it on her own when she heard that Pacquiao will come and visit her. She also gave him a ring,” said Dwi Prasetyo Santoso, chief of Yogyakarta’s Ministry of Law and Human Rights.
Two judicial reviews have failed to overturn Veloso’s conviction and death sentence, and “an appeal for clemency may be stronger” than a third review, said Edre Olalia of the Public Interest Law Center in Manila and a lawyer for her family.
In a bid to prove that Veloso was unaware she was carrying drugs, the Philippine Department of Justice is preparing to file human trafficking, illegal job recruitment and fraud charges against a woman who allegedly brought Veloso to Malaysia, where she was given a bag that held 2.6 kilograms (5.7 pounds) of heroin. The woman has surrendered to police and admitted that Veloso didn’t know about the drugs.
In Jakarta, Indonesia’s House Speaker Setya Novanto said Pacquiao will visit the Indonesian parliament to thank the government for Veloso’s reprieve. Pacquiao is also a member of the Philippine Congress and vice chairman of a congressional committee on overseas Filipinos.
Novanto said he will try to arrange a meeting between Pacquiao and President Joko Widodo.
The plight of Filipino workers overseas is a sensitive issue in the country where about a tenth of its 100 million people leave their homeland in search of jobs and better opportunities. The Philippines doesn’t have death penalty.
“We welcome all efforts that will help Mary Jane,” said Charles Jose, spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Migrante, a group helping Filipino overseas workers, said Pacquiao’s visit “reflects the just and growing global demand that Mary Jane be granted clemency and be brought home to her family in the Philippines.”
Before his megabout with Floyd Mayweather in May, Pacquiao promised to visit Veloso and to meet with the Indonesian president to personally appeal for her life.
Footage from the prison showed Pacquiao’s wife tearful during the meeting with Veloso. The champion held back his own emotions, but teared up after the meeting where the Bible-quoting boxer joined others in a prayer for Veloso, Manila Radio DZMM reported.
He also gave Veloso some money, prison warden Zaenal Arifin said.