Mary Jane Veloso’s lawyers slam CA decision to block her testimony

MANILA, Philippines – Mary Jane Veloso’s bid for freedom has taken another hit with a recent ruling by the Court of Appeals (CA), and her lawyers are calling it “frustrating and ironic” that a Philippine court is the hurdle to her being freed from the jails of Indonesia.

“We are disappointed that the taking of her material testimony is being prevented by our own courts, the Court of Appeals in particular, upon motion of the accused illegal recruiters' defense team. This injunction is both frustrating and ironic,” the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said in a statement on Friday, January 5. 

The CA’s former 11th Division issued a resolution on January 4 finalizing its decision to nullify the decision of a Nueva Ecija court to allow Veloso to testify in a local case through a written interrogatory.

This is the illegal recruitment and human trafficking case filed against Veloso’s alleged recruiters Maria Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao. These proceedings were the reason why Indonesia gave Veloso reprieve from a death sentence in 2015. Indonesian President Joko Widodo granted Philippine government’s request to resolve the illegal recruitment case first.

Veloso claims she was just used as a drug mule when she was caught with 2.6 kilograms of heroin in 2010 which put her on Indonesia’s death row. Veloso is still detained in Indonesia.

Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 88 decided in 2016 to allow Veloso to testify in the local case through a written interrogatory, which shall be taken from her jail cell in Indonesia. It would have bolstered her defense that she was just duped, which is hoped to also boost her case for freedom from her drug charges in Indonesia.

ILLEGAL RECRUITMENT CASE. In this photo taken on April 29, 2015, alleged recruiter Maria Cristina Sergio is escorted by Public Attorneys Office (PAO) chief Persida Acota and former Interior secretary Mar Roxas after Sergio turned herself in to authorities. Photo by Noel Celis/AFP

ILLEGAL RECRUITMENT CASE. In this photo taken on April 29, 2015, alleged recruiter Maria Cristina Sergio is escorted by Public Attorneys Office (PAO) chief Persida Acota and former Interior secretary Mar Roxas after Sergio turned herself in to authorities.

Photo by Noel Celis/AFP

Rights of the accused violated? 

In their latest ruling, CA justices Ramon Bato, Manuel Barrios and Renato Francisco reversed the Nueva Ecija court’s ruling saying a written interrogatory would violate the rights of the accused to meet their accusers face to face.

If it had been allowed, the lawyers of the accused would be able to send their written interrogatory to Veloso.

But the CA said: “It is worthy to note that there is a great deal of difference between the face to face confrontation in a public criminal trial in the presence of the presiding judge and the cross-examination of a witness in a foreign place outside the courtroom, in the absence of a trial judge.”

NUPL claims, however, that the written interrogatory would also be taken in the presence “of the same Philippine judge hearing the case for human trafficking, illegal recruitment and swindling.”

“We are in coordination with Philippine Public Prosecutors and indirectly with the Office of the Solicitor General so our plea for a reconsideration will be given a fair shake,” NUPL said.

The NUPL also said: "Besides, the 130 or so questions of fact have been furnished both the court and the defense who can ask their own cross-interrogatories." 

NUPL president Edre Olalia has represented the Veloso family since 2015.

Veloso was sentenced to death in Indonesia in 2010, and would have been executed in 2015 with a shot to the heart had it not been for Widodo’s reprieve. More than 2 years since her 2nd shot at life, her fate remains uncertain.

“We are not unmindful of the gravity of the offenses charged against the petitioners. Likewise, we are not oblivious of the sad and unfortunate fate that befell Mary Jane. However, the circumstances in this case call for the application of Rule 119 which categorically states that the conditional examination of a prosecution witness shall be made before the court where the court is pending,” the CA said.

Veloso is a single mother of two, who initially flew to Malaysia in search of a domestic job. 

“Just let her speak out and let her story stand on its own. Or shall we wait for her to be sent to the gallows with her mouth gagged?” NUPL said. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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