DUBAI: Led by the hand through a scrum of reporters to an Indonesian prison island, the six-year-old Filipino looked confused and frightened as he made one of his final visits to his mother before her execution.
During the visit to Nusakambangan Island, Filipina maid Mary Jane Veloso gently explained to six-year-old Mark Darren and her second son, 12-year-old Mark Danielle, that she would not be coming home.
“She tried to explain again,” Veloso’s elder sister Marites Veloso-Laurente told AFP during an interview in Cilacap, the port town that is the gateway to the island.
“If Mumma does not go home, just think Mumma is in heaven.”
As the clock ticks down on the execution by firing squad of eight foreign drug convicts, heart-broken relatives who have fought for years to save their loved ones are rushing to say final farewells.
The convicts, who also include nationals from Australia, Brazil and Nigeria, all recently lost clemency appeals to President Joko Widodo. They could be put to death as soon as Tuesday after they received official notification of their executions at the weekend.
Veloso’s two sons travelled with their family — some of whom had never flown — from an impoverished community north of Manila to hear a message almost impossible for them to take in.
Veloso, 30, was convicted of trafficking heroin into Indonesia in 2009, but says her only crime was to fall victim to international drug gangs who are now threatening to kill her family if they speak out.
Her case has drawn huge attention in the Philippines, with supporters calling for clemency at regular rallies in Manila. Even world boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao pleaded Monday for her life to spared, taking time out from preparations for his fight against Floyd Mayweather.
Two other high-profile inmates are the Australians, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, ringleaders of the so-called “Bali Nine” heroin-trafficking gang. Numerous family members and embassy officials have been rushing to visit them since notice of execution was given.
Australia made a last-minute plea on Monday for a stay in the imminent execution of the two drug traffickers in Indonesia, saying reports that their trial had been tainted by corruption needed to be investigated.
The call from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop almost immediately deepened a diplomatic row with Jakarta.
Bishop said the allegations that judges requested money to commute the death sentences for the pair were “very serious” and called into question the integrity of the sentencing process.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, speaking to reporters at Jakarta airport after returning from a regional summit in Kuala Lumpur, said such concerns should have been conveyed years ago when the case went through the courts.
“Why didn’t they raise it before, when it happens for example?” he said.
Armanatha Nasir, spokesman for Indonesia’s foreign ministry, said Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan had been given all the legal avenues to challenge their death sentences.
Australia needed to show proof of alleged corruption, he added.
Indonesia has harsh punishments for drug crimes and resumed executions in 2013 after a five-year gap. Widodo has been unbending in his hard line on traffickers and his refusal to grant foreigners on death row clemency has strained relations with several countries, particularly neighbour Australia.
Australia-Indonesia relations have been tested in recent years by disputes over people smuggling and spying. In late 2013 Indonesia recalled its envoy and froze military and intelligence cooperation over reports that Canberra had spied on top Indonesian officials, including former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s wife.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott wrote to Widodo at the weekend, pleading for clemency in the Bali case.
The nine are being held at a high-security jail on Nusakambangan Island in central Java, where dozens of police and military personnel started tightening security on Monday, erecting barriers and keeping the public at a distance.
A local undertaker, Suhendro Putro, said he had handed nine coffins over to the police on Sunday.
“I cannot say they are for those prisoners but I’ve been called for a meeting today at the port to prepare. I don’t know when exactly the executions will happen,” he said.
Chan and Sukumaran, ringleaders of the so-called Bali Nine, were arrested at the main airport on the holiday island of Bali in 2005 for trying to smuggle 8kgs of heroin to Australia. The other members of the gang, all Australians, have been jailed for between 18 years and life in Indonesia.
Bali-based lawyer Muhammad Rifan told the Sydney Morning Herald that he had agreed to pay judges in the cases of the two men more than A$130,000 (Dh420,000) to give them a prison term of less than 20 years.
Rifan said the deal fell through when the judges told him they had been ordered by senior legal and government members in Jakarta to impose a death penalty and he didn’t have enough money to meet a revised, higher demand for a lighter sentence.
“It’s a matter for Indonesia’s Judicial Commission to investigate these matters and that underlines why we continue to request Indonesia to allow the judicial commission to finalise its review,” Bishop told reporters.
“An execution is an irrevocable step and I believe that these hearings and these appeal processes should be concluded before any decision is taken.” Rifan could not be reached for comment.
Indonesia’s Judicial Commission said it would look into reports alleging corruption but said its findings would have no bearing on their cases.
“Even if it is proven that the judge violated ethical codes, it won’t affect the court’s earlier decision,” Commissioner Taufiqqurahman Syahuri told Reuters.
“We cannot annul a decision from a court, such a thing can only be done by a higher court. What has been decided is final.
— Compiled from agencies