MANILA, Philippines – Close to 5 years after she allegedly duped another Filipina into carrying illegal drugs and a week after voluntarily surrendering because she feared for her life, Maria Cristina Sergio has been put under arrest.
“There are now inquest proceedings. She is now under arrest. She was arrested after she was positively identified by the complainants, the parents of Mary Jane [Veloso],” NBI chief Virgilio Mendez told Rappler in a phone interview on Wednesday, May 6.
Inquest proceedings against Sergio and her partner, Julius Lacanilao, will continue Wednesday, with at least 10 more complainants expected to show up before the NBI. Most of the complainants, Mendez said, are from the province of Nueva Ecija, where Mary Jane, who was granted a reprieve from death row in Indonesia, was allegedly recruited by Sergio.
Sergio was brought to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Tuesday evening, May 5, where she underwent inquest proceedings. Veloso’s family was able to positively identify Sergio, a godsister of Mary Jane’s, as her recruiter.
Her detention at the NBI is a warrantless arrest as she is still undergoing inquest proceedings. The warrantless arrest also means Sergio cannot just walk away from the NBI.
Under the Rules of Court, a warrantless arrest is lawful when: the criminal is caught in the act or is attempting to commit an offense; when the act had just been committed or if the arresting officer – a “peace officer” or a private person – has “probable cause” to think the person being arrested committed the crime, or when the person being arrested is an escaped convict.
Sergio’s and Lacanilao’s arrests came as a surprise for her lawyers, who are from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO). “All the legal remedies under the rules of court will be utilized,” Persida Acosta, PAO chief, told Rappler on Wednesday.
Sergio is scheduled to undergo a preliminary investigation on May 8 and May 14.
As of posting, no court has issued an arrest warrant against Sergio, who faces charges of illegal recruitment, estafa, and human trafficking alongside Lacanilao and a certain “Ike.”
Ultimately, Mendez said, it will be up to the court to determine where Sergio will be detained – once it issues an arrest warrant and later, a commitment order.
Why the arrest?
When asked why the NBI took custody of Sergio ahead of the scheduled preliminary investigation on May 8, Acosta said “only [the NBI] can answer that.” “The people are also asking because it was announced publicly that the PNP [Philippine National Police] has custody over her,” added Acosta.
Sergio, who surrendered to Nueva Ecija police the same day Veloso was scheduled to be executed via firing squad, was later brought to the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, where she spoke to Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, and PNP OIC Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina.
It was during that meeting when Sergio chose to be placed under the “protective custody” of Philippine police, supposedly because Veloso’s family had threatened her life.
According to police sources, a team from the PNP’s Special Action Force (SAF), its elite mobile unit, was assigned to protect Sergio. SAF troopers were seen accompanying her to the NBI on Tuesday.
Acosta insisted there was no need for the NBI to suddenly take custody of her client. The lawyer pointed out that Sergio has been more than cooperative with authorities, even handing over her cellphone for the NBI to investigate.
The lawyer also said they are still finalizing Sergio’s affidavit.
Veloso’s execution via firing squad was postponed following Sergio’s surrender. The Philippine government hopes Sergio’s testimony and the possible charges against her will prove Veloso’s innocence and change her fate in Indonesia. – Rappler.com