CA urged to reverse ruling on stopping Veloso’s deposition
Government lawyers on Wednesday asked the Court of Appeals (CA) to reverse its decision that stopped Mary Jane Veloso, who was on death row in Indonesia, from testifying against her alleged recruiters through a deposition.
In a 38-page motion for reconsideration, Solicitor General Jose Calida said the Court of Appeals’ decision has rendered inutile the government’s right to prosecute criminal actions.
The CA’s Former Eleventh Division granted the petition filed by Veloso’s alleged recruiters, Ma. Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao, to reverse and set aside the ruling of the Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court (RTC).
Nueva Ecija RTC Branch 88 Judge Anarica Castillo-Reyes ordered the Philippine consulate in Indonesia to secure Veloso’s deposition from her cell in Wirongunan Penitentiary in Indonesia.
However, Veloso’s alleged recruiters argued that her deposition would violate their right to confront the witnesses against them face to face, which is guaranteed under Section 14, paragraph 1 of the 1987 Constitution.
The CA agreed with the petitioners that Veloso should be present before a trial if she were to testify.
“Generally, the examination of witnesses must be done orally before a judge in open court,” the appellate court said in the 18-page decision dated December 13, 2017.
But Calida argued that Veloso could fall under the exception instead of the general rule in instances where a prosecution witness cannot personally appear in court.
“Her personal appearance before the trial court for the presentation of her testimony cannot be reasonably expected owing to her detention in an Indonesian jail. Undeniably, the resort to deposition in the present criminal case is not expressly prohibited by law nor jurisprudence,” Calida said.
Calida added that allowing the taking of Veloso’s deposition would still be lawful under Rule 23 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure and would not violate the constitutional rights of Sergio and Lacanilao.
The said provision states that the testimony of any person may be taken by deposition upon oral or written interrogatories.
Calida said this was the same provision that the RTC has used in its decision allowing the taking of Veloso’s deposition in her jail cell in Jakarta.
“The Court of Appeals should recognize that in the performance of their duties amid the constantly and rapidly changing legal landscape, trial courts are persistently called upon to read laws not as estate mausoleums of texts, but as living, breathing and evolving documents,” the solicitor general said.
In the same motion, Calida also asked the CA to dismiss the instant petition filed by the respondents against the use of Veloso’s statements in the hearing.
In a statement, lawyer Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers who is helping the Velosos in the case said the OSG’s move is a welcome development.
“We gladly welcome this position by the OSG on this specific case and particular issue as it is compatible and is on all fours with our submission as Philippine counsels for Mary Jane and her family,” Olalia, who is the NUPL president, said.
He said that Sergio and Lacanilao have already “categorically and unequivocally” admitted that Veloso was a “victim” who did not know that her luggage contained heroin when she was arrested in 2010.
“Hence, to stop her from testifying is not only simply absurd and a gross injustice but is a matter of life and death for her,” Olalia added.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo stopped Veloso’s execution on April 29, 2015 after then President Benigno Aquino III appealed her case and explained that her testimony is vital in the case she has filed against her recruiters.
She has been detained since 2010 after she was apprehended by Indonesian authorities at the Yogyakarta airport for bringing in more than two kilograms of heroin.
Earlier, the Department of Foreign Affairs assured the family of Veloso of the government’s continued support as well as for her to be able to prove her case that she is a victim of human trafficking despite the CA ruling.