“They are remorseless.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
STO. DOMINGO, Nueva Ecija – The recruiters of Mary Jane Veloso pleaded “not guilty” to charges of estafa and illegal recruitment filed against them by the Veloso family, in the arraignment here today, Sept. 18, at the Regional Trial Court Branch 37.
The arraignment for a third case, qualified human trafficking, against Maria Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao was deferred to Nov. 11, after the defense lawyers filed a motion for a bill of particulars. The motion, filed on Sept. 14, asked the court to direct the prosecution to define how qualified trafficking was committed by the accused.
Edre Olalia, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers secretary general, said the case is still “moving forward.” But Mary Jane’s mother, Celia Veloso, was not as patient.
“I am really irritated. But I knew she would deny the charges because she is really remorseless,” said Veloso to Bulatlat.com, referring to Sergio.
Mary Jane was set to be executed in Indonesia on April 29 for drug trafficking, but the Indonesian government spared her at the last minute due to local and international pressure, which appealed that Mary Jane was a victim of human trafficking.
Howard Areza of the Public Attorney’s Office and lawyer of the accused argued that the charges against Sergio and Lacanilao were not clear.
“It appears that the information did not contain or aver with definiteness and particularity how the alleged act of Trafficking in Persons is in its qualified form under RA 9208,” the motion read.
The Republict Act No. 9208 is the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.
The defense asked the prosecution to identify “whether the allegation of exploitative purpose refers to prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, involuntary servitude or debt bondage.”
The defense also alleged that the prosecution “failed to state with particularity the alleged scheme” in which Mary Jane was duped, deceived and manipulated to carry the suitcase to Indonesia.
They also want the prosecution to clarify what Mary Jane’s “incarceration” meant, and put them to task to produce court records from Indonesia.
During the preliminary investigation in May, Sergio and Lacanilao’s lawyers had already asked the Department of Justice to help them produce said court records. But State Prosecutor Susan Azarcon declined and said it is up to the defense to produce such files.
Olalia had earlier said that Indonesian court records in relation to Mary Jane’s case is legally immaterial to the case at hand.
“Whether or not Mary Jane was convicted, it does not determine the culpability of the accused,” he told Bulatlat.com.
Areza said the defense only wants to make sure they know exactly they are up against.
Judge Nelson Tribiana gave the prosecution 10 days to respond.
Apart from the charges filed by the Veloso family, Sergio and Lacanilao are also facing large-scale illegal recruitment from three other complainants. Defense lawyer Areza asked the court to defer the pre-trial hearing as they plan to file a petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals (CA).
Areza told Bulatlat.com that they are already finalizing the petition for the CA, which comes after the Nueva Ecija judge denied their motion to dismiss the charges in July. They will also file a motion for reconsideration.
“It is bad enough that you are banking on your motion to defer the proceeding, in the speculative hope that a temporary restraining order will be issued. It is worse that you are moving inchoate legal remedy that is inexistent based on amorphous ground of usual abuse of discretion,” Olalia said during the hearing.
Tribiana ruled for the pre-trial to proceed.
Sergio and Lacanilao entered a not guilty plea during their arraignment last Aug. 20.
The prosecution has set 13 trial dates and 17 for the defense. The first trial date is set on Nov. 11.
Meanwhile, Mary Jane remains in death row. The Indonesian government had earlier announced that execution of those in death row is no longer a priority. When Darling broke the news to her sister Mary Jane, the latter only managed to say, “Amen, amen, amen!”
“She is very happy,” Darling added.
But Mary Jane’s parents remain resolute to continue the case against her recruiters and prove her innocence.