“They brought her to a situation in which she almost died.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
STO. DOMINGO, Nueva Ecija – Mary Jane Veloso’s sister Maritess Laurente positively identified the two accused in the illegal recruitment, qualified human trafficking and estafa cases as the trial against the recruiters finally began today, March 29, at the Sto. Domingo Regional Trial Court here.
“For me, my sister placed her trust on the wrong persons. They brought her to a situation in which she almost died,” Laurente said before an open court.
The accused, Ma. Cristina Sergio and her live-in partner Julius Lacanilao, were both present at the Sto. Domingo Regional Trial Court Branch 37.
Asked for comment by Bulatlat after she was positively identified by Laurente, Sergio said, “no comment.”
Laurente, who is the first witness presented by the prosecution, was teary-eyed during her testimony. She was presented by Ephraim Cortez, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers assistant secretary general for legal services.
In a joint statement, NUPL secretary general Edre Olalia and assistant secretary general for education Josalee Deinla said, “Mary Jane’s sister withstood attempts by the accused to puncture her candid testimony, sticking to her petrified account of what her sister experienced and told her.”
In her testimony, Laurente said her brother Christopher had expressed doubts on the supposed job offer to Mary Jane.
“Why was the processing so fast? Why did it only take five days? That is too good to be true,” she quoted Christopher.
Laurente said she only learned of Mary Jane’s plan to work abroad on April 16, 2010 at their parents’ house in Zaragosa town in Nueva Ecija. Mary Jane said she will earn P25,000 ($540) a month as domestic helper in Malaysia.
Two days later, they met again at their parent’s house. Here, Mary Jane was short of P6,000 ($130) and borrowed from her parents to purchase the ticket to Malaysia amounting to P7,000 ($151)
Mary Jane finally left for Malaysia on April 21, 2010. As she bade farewell to her family, she assured her family not to worry about her because Sergio, who has repeatedly been in and out of the country, would not put her in danger.
Laurente said it was on May 11, 2010 through a phone call from Mary Jane that they learned about what transpired in Malaysia and how she landed in prison in Yogyakarta.
Mary Jane told her that there was no job waiting for her in Malaysia. But Sergio assured her that she knows a lot of people and would find her a job. She was then told to travel to Indonesia and was given a luggage by Sergio. The luggage came from a certain Ike, the brother of Sergio’s alleged boyfriend Prince.
Ike, one of the accused in the qualified human trafficking case, remains at large.
On the same day, the Veloso family trooped to Lacanilao’s house, where Sergio was staying. Laurente said they hoped to confront them about Mary Jane’s predicament.
“Why did you do that to our sister? We thought she has a kind employer?” she remembered telling Sergio.
Laurente said the accused even replied to them in English, to which her father Cesar Veloso replied, “Wag mo kaming ini-English. Di ka namin naiintindihan.” (Don’t speak to us in English, we can’t understand you)
Sergio then reassured the Veloso family that the international syndicate she belongs to can get Mary Jane out of prison, even if that means spending millions. She asked the Veloso family to wait for three months and not to speak publicly about the case.
But three months later, Mary Jane told her family no one came for her. At this point, the Veloso family began to ask for government help, going from one agency to another. Laurente said that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was still not aware of Mary Jane’s case when they spoke to one of their case officers.
Granting of reprieve
Laurente also vividly recalled what transpired hours before Mary Jane’s scheduled execution. She and her sister Darling were at the Nusakambangan island, infamously known as the execution island, as they were requested by Mary Jane to retrieve her remains.
When they heard the gunshots, Laurente said they were crying because they thought that Mary Jane was among those already shot to death.
She added, in tears, that it was only about 15 minutes later when they learned that Mary Jane was granted temporary reprieve.
Defense lawyer Howard Areza of the Public Attorneys Office (PAO) cited an Indonesian news report that Mary Jane knew that there were “black tapes” stitched to the luggage.
But Laurente refuted it, saying that the very reason her sister was sentenced to death was because she was given a poor translator.
Visit to Indonesia
During the hearing, Laurente presented before the court four photos that showed their jail visits at the Wirongunan prison in Yogyakarta back in February 2015.
Among the photos presented as evidence before the court is a photo of Mary Jane eating lunch with her two sons. Laurente said this is the first time in five years that her sister spent time with them.
She also presented her passport, which bore immigration stamps from their visits to Indonesia.
During the pretrial conference, lawyers from PAO, who are representing accused Sergio and Lacanilao, rejected admitting that Mary Jane is in prison and remains in death row unless documents that prove such is submitted before the court.
Olalia and Deinla said in the joint statement that, “these stand-alone documents debunk outlandish arguments of the accused that the arrest, conviction, and continuing imprisonment of Mary Jane are matters that still need to be proved by official documents despite overwhelming public knowledge and notoriety.”
Before Laurente took the witness stand, members of the Church Task Force #SaveMaryJane campaign prayed over Mary Jane’s sister. The task force launched the online petition at Change.org, which gained hundreds of thousands of signatures to ask the Indonesian government to spare Mary Jane from the gallows.
Norma Dollaga of the task force told the media before the hearing that she hopes they would be able to provide support and strength to Laurente.
“I was really nervous when I took the witness stand. But when the questioning began, I became more confident. I wanted to narrate everything I remembered, but I was kept from doing it,” Laurente told Bulatlat, referring to the constraints of court procedures.
After the hearing, Areza said Laurente’s testimony was only based on “hearsay” and that it would be better if Mary Jane can testify herself. He added that Laurente’s testimony is “not enough” to bring conviction.
Areza said they did not ask further questions during the cross examination because of “compassion,” as Laurente was earlier already in tears.
Deinla said if the defense lawyers were truly compassionate, proceedings “would not have taken this long.”
Mary Jane, who was granted temporary reprieve at dawn of April 29, remains on death row in Indonesia.
The prosecution is set to present 12 witnesses, while the defense is set to present 17. During the termination of the pre-trial, both camps have agreed to trim down the number of their witnesses to be presented, depending on the outcome of their testimonies.
Apart from the cases filed by the Veloso family, Sergio and Lacanilao are also facing large-scale and syndicated human trafficking case filed by other victims of the accused who surfaced days before Mary Jane’s scheduled execution.