Detained OFW wants to testify vs recruiters who used her as drug mule
On her 33rd birthday on Wednesday, Jan. 10, detained overseas worker Mary Jane Veloso and her family had one wish – for her testimony against her recruiters who used her as a drug mule be heard in court.
Veloso’s family and supporters gathered in Quezon City to celebrate her birthday, even without the celebrant herself, who had spent eight birthdays in Yogyakarta prison in Indonesia since her arrest in April 2010.
In a recorded message via phone call, Veloso once again professed innocence to the drug charges against her and appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to allow her story to be heard in the illegal recruitment, swindling, and qualified trafficking cases she had filed against her recruiters in a Nueva Ecija regional trial court.
“President Duterte, I was granted reprieve from execution because [Maria] Cristina [Sergio] and Kuya Julius [Lacanilao] already confessed that I was innocent and that I did not know about the illegal drugs seized from my bag,” she said in Filipino. “It has been three years since, but why have I not still attained justice?”
She is ‘innocent’
In 2010, Veloso was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death for attempting to smuggle 2.6 kilograms of heroin in Indonesia.
She was supposed to be executed in April 2015, but was granted a last-minute reprieve by the Indonesian government to allow Philippine officials to go after her alleged recruiters – Sergio, Lacanilao, and an African national only identified as “Ike.”
In a sworn counteraffidavit submitted on May 2015, Sergio said: “Mary Jane Veloso is innocent and she had no knowledge that she was carrying illegal drugs to Indonesia when she was victimized by two men we met in Malaysia.”
In her message, Veloso made a reference to the President’s campaign against illegal drugs: “I know that you are angry at illegal drugs and you want to go after drug syndicates for the betterment of our nation and the safety of our youth. But how can you eradicate all those involved in drugs if these kinds of situations remained?”
In December, the Court of Appeals (CA) ruled to permanently bar Judge Anarica Castillo-Reyes from taking Veloso’s testimony by way of deposition using written questions.
The appeals court said that not giving Sergio and Lacanilao the opportunity to cross-examine Veloso violated the Rules Cf court and the couple’s constitutional right to confront their accuser.
Seeking Duterte’s intervention
“If I would not be given the chance to tell the truth, how would you know that I am only a victim and that Sergio is the real criminal?” Veloso continued. “President Duterte, my life is in your hands… I will never admit a crime I did not do.”
Her parents, Celia and Cesar, also decried the decision of the appeals court and urged Duterte to intervene and help their daughter.
“She should be allowed to speak because she has the key to her freedom, she holds the truth,” a teary-eyed Celia told reporters.
Veloso’s two sons, 15-year-old Mark Daniel and 9-year-old Mark Darren, also appealed for help to free their mother from prison.
Parents not allowed to go to Indonesia
Unlike in previous birthdays, when they were allowed to fly to Indonesia to spend time with her, Celia said they were not allowed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) this year, citing allegedly “stricter” rules under the Duterte administration.
Veloso’s parents also said that the DFA had cited the supposedly high costs of sending the family overseas to visit their daughter.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), which represented Veloso in court, also decried the continued “delaying” tactics of the defense camp, which was represented by the lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office.
The case remained suspended, since Veloso was supposed to be the prosecution’s last witness.
Lawyer Edre Olalia, NUPL president, said the group was coordinating with the Office of the Solicitor General to file a motion of reconsideration on the CA ruling. It may also be elevated to the Supreme Court, should the appeals court choose not to reverse its decision.
“Mary Jane is on death row. There are exceptional circumstances,” Olalia said. “The situation is unique so that the technical rules that somebody must testify personally in open court and the other party should cross-examine should be adjusted. There must be flexibility because the Indonesian government would not allow Mary Jane to go home to give her testimony, or even allow live audio or video testimony.”
Beyond the legal front, Olalia stressed that the public clamor for a grant clemency for Veloso should remain.
“While we provide legal basis for the clemency, we can also call for humanitarian reasons,” he said, describing Veloso as a poor, struggling mother.
“The Duterte administration should also be clear with their stand,” Olalia noted. “After all, her case is not inconsistent with the government’s campaign against drugs… Even for the President, it would show that he is running after the big fish.” /atm
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