Photo by Jose Del/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Baring a networking scheme employed by drug syndicates, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the recruiters of Filipino-on-death-row Mary Jane Veloso who duped her into being a drug mule were drug mules themselves in the past.
In a chance interview with reporters Wednesday, May 6, De Lima said Maria Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao "started as drug couriers and drug mules and then they recruited others to become drug couriers and drug mules."
De Lima said this networking by drug syndicates which creates some "multiplier effect" was "always for a fee" and is standard practice in the drug trade, based on reports by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
The Department of Justice (DOJ) chief said both Sergio and Lacanilao were already under the radar of NBI "as early as 2011." The country's premiere investigative agency, NBI is an attached agency of the DOJ.
Both are now under the custody of NBI, De Lima said.
She said 10 other alleged victims have surfaced against partners Sergio and Lacanilao, mostly from Talavera town in Nueva Ecija. Sergio and Lacanilao were based in Talavera in 2010, when they recruited Veloso who lived less than an hour away.
She added that the victims' sworn statements "establish the illegal recruitment operations or activities of Sergio and Lacanilao" and boosts the human trafficking case against them. (READ: Human trafficking convictions: How has the government fared?)
The Cabinet official explained that human trafficking becomes easier to prove "when you target vulnerable people because of their need for employment," without providing the promised job to the victims when they arrive at the destination country. (READ: Mary Jane a drug smuggler? Look at our home, parents say)
Previous ties to Veloso
Lacanilao's father was Veloso's godfather in marriage.
Veloso's parents said this made it easier for both Sergio and Lacanilao to gain Veloso's trust when they offered her a fast-tracked job placement in Malaysia as a domestic worker. (READ: The story of Mary Jane Veloso, in her own words)
The Velosos lived in a farming village in the neighboring Cabanatuan City, around less than an hour away from Talavera.
Veloso is a Filipino who used to work as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia before she was meted the death penalty in Indonesia over drug smuggling charges.
Her execution has since been delayed pending the legal action against her illegal recruiters in the Philippines.
A high school drop-out and a mother of two, she insists she was framed and duped into unknowingly serving as a drug mule. (WATCH: The fate of Mary Jane Veloso)
In her narrative, Veloso said her luggage which was seized by Indonesian authorities for having 2.6 kilograms of heroine wrapped in aluminum foil beneath its linings was given by a man named "Ike" when she was in Malaysia.
De Lima said a certain "Ike" also has a derogatory record in the database of the NBI and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), but state operatives are still confirming if he is the same African national cited by Veloso.
"Ike" was introduced to Veloso as the brother of Sergio's boyfriend, a man named "Prince."
De Lima said Philippine investigators "in close collaboration with Malaysian counterparts" will trace both Ike and Prince and whatever group they may belong to, but added that "there are strong indications" that Prince and Ike are part of the West African drug syndicate.
Acknowledging that more legwork needs to be done, De Lima said she has yet to send the request for a mutual legal assistance (MLA) to the Indonesian government. The MLA will allow Veloso to testify against Sergio and Lacanilao.
She added that the teams who will be sent to Indonesia and Malaysia in case the MLA is granted are already on standby. These Philippine lawyers would ask clarificatory questions from Veloso herself.
As of now, De Lima said the probe against Veloso's recruiters "should be really coordinated in a multi-agency approach combatting the drug problem."
"Everyone is involved here," said De Lima. – Rappler.com