Lawyers to Sergio's alleged victims: 'Don't be intimidated'
MANILA, Philippines – Hold fast, the lawyers of Mary Jane Veloso told the remaining complainants in the case against Maria Cristina Sergio, the woman who allegedly tricked Filpina domestic worker Mary Jane Veloso into smuggling drugs into Indonesia.
The statement was issued by Veloso's lawyers 3 days after Ana Marie Gonzales, one of 3 complainants in the Sergio case, withdrew her complaint against the recruiter. (READ: Complainant vs Mary Jane Veloso's recruiters back out)
The Department of Justice filed charges of illegal recruitment, estafa, and qualified human trafficking against Sergio, Julius Lacanilao and another involved identified as "Ike."
“The reported withdrawal of Ms Gonzales' complaint is extremely worrying and smacks of interference. She gave her statement freely under oath when Ms Sergio was being questioned by Philippine authorities, why has she suddenly changed it now?” Edre Olalia, Veloso's lawyer with the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL), said.
But Olalia said he was confident the remaining witnesses would not withdraw as they are clients of the NUPL.
The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) said, through lawyer Howard Areza, that if the court grants Gonzales’ withdrawal from the case, the charges against PAO clients Sergio and Lacanilao will be downgraded to simple illegal recruitment, which is a bailable offense.
The remaining complainants against Sergio are Lorna Mitch Valino, Jenalyn Paraiso, and Teresa Candelaria.
“Sergio and Lacalinao’s lawyers should be careful handling prosecution witnesses without prior consultation, consent, leave or advice from the witnesses' own private lawyers. As in the preliminary investigation before the Philippine Justice Department, we are formally entering our appearance as private prosecutors in all the cases in the Nueva Ecija trial court,” Olalia said.
He also expressed concerns for the complainants' safety: “Given the resources, motive and reputation of the accused, and their cohorts, there is a very real danger that inscrutable measures may be taken to undermine the cases against them.”
The next hearing of the case will be on August 20.
Indonesian authorities are awaiting the outcome of the case against the recruiters. If they are proven guilty, the verdict will be used as evidence that the Indonesian court could consider in deciding to spare Veloso from the death penalty. – with reports from Vince Bascos and Buena Bernal – Rappler.com