Nanay Celia: ‘I’m willing to die by firing squad for Mary Jane’

“I have decided to fight and you should too.”


Celia Veloso celebrates Mother's Day with progressives. On her side is husband Cesar who is also celebrating his 59th birthday today, May 10. (Photo by J. Ellao /
Celia Veloso celebrates Mother’s Day with progressives. On her side is husband Cesar who is also celebrating his 59th birthday today, May 10. (Photo by J. Ellao /
MANILA – When her bashers said she should be sent back to Indonesia to die by firing squad, Celia Veloso could not help but wish it were true. She would take Mary Jane’s place anytime if that was the only way to save her.

“Isn’t that what every mother wants—for her children to be safe? How much more if your daughter is on death row?” Celia told

In the early morning of May 10, Mothers’ Day, Celia joined mothers of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) incarcerated abroad and members of the Gabriela Women’s Party and Migrante International.

They walked around Quezon City Memorial Circle and gave flowers and balloons to mothers and women in the area.

Miki Berou, one of the mothers whom Veloso gave a flower to, told she recognized Mary Jane’s mother in an instant. She kept track of Mary Jane’s case in the news.

“She is a very strong person. If it were me, I would lose all hope as soon as I would hear that my child landed in prison, let alone be sentenced to die,” said Berou, 44, mother of a brood of seven.

“We should remain strong and fight for our rights,” Celia said during the program.

“We should not let people step on our rights just because we are small and powerless. I allowed that to happen for years, but not anymore. I have decided to fight and you should too,” she said.

No stereotype

Celia’s husband Cesar, laughed when asked if Veloso was a good cook. “I am the one who cooks,” he said.

“She can cook as long as it only involves frying,” Maritess Veloso-Laurente, her daughter, said.

But Celia is not an ordinary homemaker.

“I am no good when it comes to cooking and other household chores. But when it comes to working in the fields, doing whatever job is available, I am able to do that,” she said.

Celia and Cesar took all odd jobs possible. But no matter how hard she worked, their income hardly sufficed for their daily needs. There was no use for “budgeting” because the money they earn each day was spent all for their meals. To ensure that every member of the family eats, Veloso said, she is always the last to take her meal.

Laurente has a sketchy memory of her mother biking their way from Nueva Ecija to Pampanga when their father found work in a piggery. All five children, their belongings and even their dog were in the side car.

Their impoverished condition pushed then 33-year-old Celia to leave for Saudi Arabia to work as a domestic helper. Their family sold whatever little they own – a carabao, some cows and their house – to pay for her placement fee.

Though Celia had good employers, she was desperately homesick. She returned to the country after only three months of work.

“My husband did not know that I was coming back. He was surprised to see me home,” she said.

Protective mother, generous grandma

A mother received a rose from Nanay Celia (Photo by J. Ellao /
A mother received a rose from Nanay Celia (Photo by J. Ellao /
Growing up, Laurente recalled how their mother was protective of them.

“I was being bullied in school because of the dark color of my skin. My classmates would tease me ‘inka.’ My mother talked to the parents of my classmates to tell their children to leave me alone,” she said.

Mary Jane, too, had her fair share of being bullied in school. But, Laurente said, her sister was quick to tell her mother to let it slide.

Though Celia is now known for her fiery speeches, Laurente said she is pretty submissive when it comes to her grandchildren. She said her mother is quick to give in to their requests.

Celia said all her hard work is worth it whenever she sees her grandchildren.

“Whenever I get home, my grandchildren asks me if I want coffee. They turn on the electric fan for me. They take care of me too,” she said.

On Mary Jane

Their family began to dream again for a better life when Mary Jane, the youngest in a brood of five, was offered a job as a domestic helper in Malaysia. But their dreams turned into nightmare less than a month after, when they learned that Mary Jane was arrested and imprisoned in Indonesia for being in possession of 2.6 kilograms heroin.

“She has been incarcerated for five years now. Our entire family, too, has been ‘incarcerated’ along with her,” Veloso said.

With her paltry income, she tries to keep a dollar or two on hand.

“In case Mary Jane would call, I would have money to send her. It’s the other way around,” she said.

The Nanay Celia

For nearly five years, the family kept mum on Mary Jane’s case, afraid that members of the international drug syndicate that victimized her daughter would go after them, and trusting that the government was really at her case.

But Celia and the rest of her family broke their silence, and appealed to the public and is now given more time to save her daughter with the stay of the execution to give way to the legal proceedings here in the country and, hopefully, in Indonesia as well.

“I became resolute because of all of you,” she said at the May Day rally.

Today, Veloso is not just a mother to her five children and a grandmother to her seven grandchildren. Since she publicly criticized the lack, if not absence of government assistance on Mary Jane’s case, she is now virtually everyone’s “Nanay Celia.”

At first, she said, she was surprised whenever people approached her and talked with her about Mary Jane and extend words of encouragement. Eventually, she got used to it, knowing that these are the people who supported them and prayed with them to save Mary Jane.

“Dumadami ang mga anak-anakan ko,” (My ‘children’ are still increasing) she said, adding that she is forever grateful to those who stayed with them, rain or shine. ()

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