‘It’s the mother in me, the pain in my heart, I’m sorry’
If only to save her daughter, Celia Veloso is willing to offer her life.
“It’s because of all the pain my heart, here,” she said in Filipino, her hand on her chest.
She did not exactly apologize for her harsh words against President Benigno Aquino III when the family returned from Jakarta, Indonesia, but Celia acknowledged that lack of sleep, fatigue and emotional exhaustion might have led her to say the wrong word that earned the ire of Netizens on social media last week.
More than anything, Veloso said, it was a mother’s heart that spoke that day and candidly revealed her true feelings.
“I am sorry. It must have been me just being a parent,” she said. “As I’ve said before, I will do anything for my daughter. Even in Indonesia, I said that they can execute me, just send my daughter home,” Veloso added.
Despite her plea for understanding, the older woman stood by the sentiments she expressed last week and largely blamed slow government action for her daughter’s death sentence.
On May 1, three days after Mary Jane Veloso was granted a last-minute reprieve—the only death convict out of nine saved from a firing squad for drug trafficking in Indonesia—the elder Veloso joined a Labor Day protest rally and lambasted the Aquino government for her daughter’s fate.
“Dumating na kami dito sa Pilipinas para maningil. Maniningil kami … sa gobyerno dahil hanggang sa huli, niloko pa rin kami (We came home to collect from the government that, until the end, had tricked us),” Veloso said, adding that President Aquino had been claiming credit for saving her daughter’s life.
Her words immediately provoked stinging rebukes on Twitter and Facebook, with most postings calling the 55-year-old Veloso an “ingrate.”
Many said they’d lost sympathy for the Velosos, while some theorized that the family had been “brainwashed” by militant groups. Not a few suggested that the elder Veloso, instead of Mary Jane, be executed.
Asked if she was fed the words to say onstage during that May 1 rally, a visibly agitated Veloso protested.
“I may be uneducated (walang pinag-aralan), but I have my own mind. I am the one who experienced, who saw, and felt everything that happened,” said the mother of five.
The Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, native, reached only sixth grade in school as she had to work on a farm to make a living. Years of tilling the soil had left her with fingernails that were chipped, swollen and discolored.
Husband Cesar and their five children similarly quit school early, with none of them finishing high school because the family had too little to get by.
Since Mary Jane’s arrest in April 2010, the family has been mostly out of work. They used to buy and sell small plastic kitchen implements, but following up the younger Veloso’s case had taken up most of their time.
So far, the family has been subsisting on the kindness of friends and supporters. Veloso said her daughter’s fellow inmates and even the prison security staff have been beyond generous in giving them help, funding their visits to Indonesia and giving them clothes and pasalubong (homecoming gifts).
Veloso pointed to the matching earth-tone top-and-bottom pair she was wearing during the Inquirer visit, and said it came from the family’s Indonesian benefactors. Her husband’s red Yogyakarta shirt, printed with the message “Peace, Love and Harmony,” was also among their gifts. Everyone in the family received handmade rosaries and silver necklaces with a crucifix pendant courtesy of their Indonesian friends, she added.
“Ang dami na nga ho naming utang (We owe a lot),” Veloso said with a candid smile.
She and her husband laughed when their Inquirer inquisitors teased them with their earlier quote: “Kayo naman ho ang sinisingil (So now you’re being asked to pay back).”
Wrong word to use
In retrospect, Veloso admitted it might have been the wrong word to use.
“Mali lang ang sabi ko na ‘paniningil.’ (It was a mistake to use the word ‘collect’),” she told a group of Inquirer editors and reporters in an interview on Thursday night.
“The government committed a lot of mistakes. The truth is, if my daughter’s execution had pushed through in April (among the many dates initially set), we would never have felt President Aquino’s presence. He really did nothing at the time,” Veloso said.
Reminded that the President did talk to Indonesian President Joko Widodo about the possibility of Mary Jane turning witness against the drug syndicate that tricked her into carrying the luggage hand-sewn with hidden packets of heroine, Veloso grudgingly gave Mr. Aquino some credit. “What he did was not enough. But if he did something, even if it was too late, then thank you.”
She added: “If government took care of Mary Jane’s case immediately, she might have been set free (earlier). Or at least, she won’t be on death row,” Veloso said.
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