File photo by Jet Damazo-Santos/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Is the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) wasting its resources by legally representing the alleged illegal recruiters and human traffickers of Filipino-on-death-row Mary Jane Veloso?
Maria Cristina Sergio and her partner Julius Lacanilao continue to be represented by a "panel of special PAO attorneys" even as the complaints against them enter preliminary investigation.
Lawyer Edre Olalia on Friday, May 8, questioned how Sergio and Lacanilao can be considered “indigents” qualified for PAO representation.
Olalia briefly engaged in a heated exchange with PAO lawyer Howard Areza on Friday, May 8, during the first session of the preliminary investigation into the human trafficking, illegal recruitment, and estafa complaints against Sergio and Lacanilao.
They are accused of duping Veloso into smuggling 2.6 kilograms of heroin to Indonesia, for which the latter was convicted.
Areza explained that Sergio and Lacanilao are under a "continuing provisional representation” by the PAO for being “incarcerated persons” with no job or income.
When Olalia disagreed, Areza challenged him "to prove that they are rich."
"No, that's not my point. Do not answer in a blindsided way,” said Olalia.
"As a matter of principle, kaya may PAO, di ba para tulungan ‘yung mahihirap?" Olalia questioned in an interview. (As a matter of principle, isn't the reason for PAO's existence to help the poor?)
The excuse that PAO was simply provisionally representing Sergio and Lacanilao also sounded dubious given that the complaint is already at the preliminary stage, he said.
Areza explained that Sergio and Lacanilao was referred to PAO by broadcast journalist Jasmin Romero, after the two started receiving death threats. They voluntarily surrendered to the police.
The two were with their respective camps in a hearing before the Department of Justice (DOJ) probing into the complaints recommended by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) against Sergio and Lacanilao in relation to their actions against Veloso.
Another set of human trafficking and estafa complaints are also lodged before the DOJ in relation to other victims.
An illegal recruitment case in relation to 3 complainants other than Veloso was already filed before a Nueva Ecija court after approval by the DOJ.
Sergio, Lacanilao have no income
In an interview with reporters, Areza explained that PAO representation of Sergio and Lacanilao is "income-based."
“Obligado kaming protektahan dahil yan ang trabaho ng gobyerno: Ang magbigay ng libreng abogado sa mga nakapiit na nangangailangan ng abogado,” he said.
(We are obligated to protect [Sergio and Lacanilao] because that is the job of government: to give free legal counsel to those in detention and who need lawyers.)
"If you do a background check sa neighborhood nila, ever since 2010, nandodoon lang sila sa neighborhood nila. 'Di sila umaalis (If you do a background check in their neighborhood, ever since 2010, they were just in their neighborhood. They never left),” Areza explained, adding that Sergio and Lacanilao's house reflects their lack of income.
But for Olalia, the legal refrain sounds all too familiar.
He said the strategy of "pinapalabas na wala siyang kakayahan (showing they have no financial capacity)” is "bahagi yan ng script (part of the script)."
While acknowledging a respondent’s right to counsel, Olalia questioned why a frequent traveler like Sergio would be considered an indigent qualified for free legal service.
In an 18-page resolution, the DOJ bared travel records showing Sergio went abroad 5 times in 2009 and 2010, and once in 2011. She frequented Malaysia, Hongkong, Thailand, and Singapore.
In defense, PAO chief Persida Rueda-Acosta affirmed to Rappler in a text message that Sergio had a job history that can justify her frequent travel for years.
Areza explained Sergio had a "legitimate profession” as "she was employed by Century Properties.” He added that Lacanilao was a former overseas Filipino worker.
The complaints against Sergio and Lacanilao came after extensive media coverage and public attention on Veloso's case in Indonesia.
Veloso is a convicted drug smuggler in Indonesia meted the death penalty but whose execution was delayed pending the legal action against her alleged traffickers here in the Philippines. She has spent about 5 years in jail in Indonesia.
Bicol native Sergio lives with Lacanilao, whose father was Veloso's godfather in marriage.
Present in the DOJ hearing were Mary Jane’s father Cesar, mother Celia, sister Maritess, and estranged husband Michael Candelaria.
Referring to Sergio and Lacanilao’s detention, Celia said, "Wala pa [ito] sa kalingkingan nung naranasan ng anak ko." (It would not compare to what my daughter experienced.)
She said they have to feel what Mary Jane felt. – Rappler.com