ASEAN treaty helps save Mary Jane Veloso

MANILA, Philippines – To convince Indonesia to delay the execution of Filipina worker Mary Jane Veloso, the Philippines invoked a key regional treaty to fight transnational crimes in Southeast Asia. 

This is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), Philippine Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Wednesday, April 29.

De Lima suggested invoking the 11-year-old ASEAN MLAT during a phone conversation with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.

When he called De Lima, Aquino referred to Veloso's potential case against her alleged illegal recruiter, Maria Kristina Sergio. (READ: Reprieve allows Mary Jane Veloso to testify)

The case would basically prove that Veloso is a human trafficking victim, not a drug trafficker. Veloso said Sergio duped her into smuggling 2.6 kilograms of heroin into Indonesia. (READ: The story of Mary Jane Veloso, in her own words)

Veloso's accusations prompted Philippine investigators to file illegal recruitment, estafa, and human trafficking charges against Sergio before the DOJ. 

Aquino asked De Lima, "If the execution of Veloso will push through as scheduled, what will happen to her case?" 

De Lima told Aquino, "The case will never move forward."

This was when De Lima suggested invoking the ASEAN MLAT. 

An ASEAN handbook describes the ASEAN MLAT as a means "to facilitate and enhance efforts to combat transnational crime in the ASEAN region."

'Voluntary statements' under treaty

In other words, it obliges countries to help each other in fighting crimes across their borders. Under the ASEAN MLAT, parties should render "the widest possible measure of mutual legal assistance in criminal matters."

Senior officials also consider the ASEAN AMLAT a major instrument in "ending impunity for traffickers." 

Under the ASEAN MLAT, states can exchange the following forms of mutual legal assistance, among others:

This is what will happen in Veloso's case.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario explained that the purpose of Veloso's reprieve is to allow her "to give testimony in connection with the complaint filed against her recruiters."

Del Rosario's spokesman, Charles Jose, added that the consideration in sparing Veloso "was purely legal." He cited the charges filed against Sergio as well as Sergio's surrender on Tuesday.

Indonesia delayed Veloso's execution, which was scheduled 1 am on Wednesday, because of Aquino's request for Indonesia to turn her into a state witness. 

In a last-minute phone call to Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on Tuesday, Aquino said this would allow Indonesia to pin down a drug trafficking syndicate. (READ: Aquino 'broke protocol' to save Mary Jane Veloso)

Jose said Sergio's surrender "played a big part" in Veloso's reprieve. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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