“My daughter is innocent. The whole world knows that. But why is it taking that long to set her free?”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – More than six months since her stay of execution, the trial against the alleged recruiters of Mary Jane Veloso began today, Nov. 11, with a complainant positively identifying the accused as those who also attempted to recruit her thrice.
But the trial of the two accused was held only for the charges of large-scale, syndicated illegal recruitment, while their arraignment for human trafficking charge was deferred anew.
Lorna Mitch Valino, 20, narrated before the Sto. Domingo Regional Trial Court Branch 37 that Ma. Cristina Sergio, live-in partner of her “kinakapatid” (godbrother) Julius Lacanilao, repeatedly attempted to recruit her to work abroad, once in 2012 and twice in 2014. Sergio told her that working as manicurist or pedicurist outside the country would bring in money.
When asked how she responded to these offers, Valino said she reiterated that she was not yet of age and that she could not leave behind her now two-year-old son.
Valino’s large-scale, syndicated illegal recruitment complaint, along with other complainants, served as basis for the warrant of arrest issued against Sergio and Lacanilao, whom Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipina on death row in Indonesia, said recruited her.
Apart from this, Sergio and Lacanilao are facing qualified human trafficking, illegal recruitment and estafa in relation to Mary Jane’s case.
Mary Jane was sentenced to death in Indonesia more than five years ago for allegedly carrying 2.6 kilograms of heroin. Her scheduled execution was stayed at dawn of April 30 due to strong public outcry that she was a victim of human trafficking and, in the first place, should not have been charged and consequently convicted.
Her family has long decried that Mary Jane was deprived of government legal assistance.
Arraignment deferred anew
Despite arguing that there remains no legal impediment, Judge Nelson Tribiana granted the deferment of the arraignment of accused Sergio and Lacanilao for the qualified human trafficking complaint.
The arraignment was set last Sept. 18 but was deferred due to the motion for the bill of particulars filed by the defense lawyers. Judge Tribiana, in an Oct. 23 decision, said the prosecution had complied in particularizing the offense that Sergio and Lacanilao committed, and reset the arraignment today.
But the defense submitted today a motion for reconsideration on the court decision.
Lawyer Edre Olalia, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers secretary general and private counsel of Mary Jane and her family, said this should not serve as basis for the deferment of the arraignment.
Olalia said the deferment of arraignment can only be on the grounds of a pending judicial review before the Department of Justice, a prejudicial question, and if the accused has an unsound mind.
“Unless of course they would like to admit that they have unsound minds?” Olalia asked, addressing the defense camp. There was an eerie silence for several seconds before Howard Areza of the Public Attorney’s Office and lawyer of the accused, retorted, “But he is asking a rhetorical question.”
Later, Areza also hinted that they may also seek a petition for judicial review and said, “We will eventually get into that.”
In a joint statement, Olalia and NUPL assistant secretary general for legal services Ephraim Cortez said the lawyers of the accused “continue to unscrupulously dribble the proceedings in the human trafficking case filed by Mary Jane and her family.”
Olalia, during the hearing, referred to this as “dribbling the case” and “legal shopping.”
“I feel very irate. I wanted to make a scene during the hearing. But I really tried my best to calm down. My daughter is innocent. The whole world knows that. But why is it taking that long to set her free?” a teary-eyed Celia Veloso, Mary Jane’s mother, told Bulatlat.com after the hearing.