“Kaso hindi kuko (Focus on the case, not the nails),” Garry Martinez quipped
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
STO. DOMINGO, Nueva Ecija – A regional trial court here entered a not guilty plea for Ma. Cristina Sergio and live-in partner Julius Lacanilao, accused of illegally recruiting Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipina on death row in Indonesia.
In their arraignment today at the Baloc Regional Trial Court Branch 37, Feb. 11, both the accused responded that they understood the charges against them, but remained silent when asked to enter their plea.
Sergio and Lacanilao are charged with qualified human trafficking, simple illegal recruitment, and estafa. Apart from cases involving Mary Jane, the two are also charged with large-scale illegal recruitment filed by three other victims.
Mary Jane’s execution was temporarily stayed at dawn of April 29 to give way to the court proceedings against her recruiters Maria Kristina Sergio and live-in partner Julius Lacanilao, whom the Filipina in deathrow said recruited her and victimized her into bringing the 2.6 kilograms of heroin to Indonesia.
Valino’s cross examination
The RTC Branch 37 also continued the hearing of the large-scale illegal recruitment case filed by other victims of the accused, with the cross examination of complainant Lorna Mitch Valino.
In her direct examination on Nov. 11, 2015, Valino narrated how accused Sergio had repeatedly attempted to recruit her back in 2012, 2014 and in 2015. She was still a minor when she was first recruited. Howard Areza of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), who is representing the accused, cross examined Valino. PAO Chief Persida Acosta also attended the hearing.
Valino, during her cross examination, said she did not report Sergio’s previous attempts to recruit her until in 2015 when she reported it to the police. It was during this time that Mary Jane’s case was brought to public attention.
In a previous interview with Bulatlat, Valino and other complainants said they were inspired to surface and file charges as it could have been any of them who suffered Mary Jane’s fate.
There was a heated discussion when Areza pointed out that based on Valino’s direct examination, it was 2013 and not 2014 when Sergio allegedly attempted to recruit her. National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers assistant secretary general for legal services Ephraim Cortez said it was a typographical error.
Another heated discussion flared up when Acosta accused Valino of lying in her affidavit, which said she was just turning 18 in 2014 when Sergio attempted to recruit her. Areza said this is crucial as the prosecution may claim that Valino was still a minor when she was recruited.
Assistant state prosecutor Mark Roland Estepa said that the 2012 attempt to recruit Valino alone is enough grounds to say that she was still a minor when Sergio offered her employment.
Areza also asked Valino if she, indeed, executed her affidavit last April 27, 2015 or if it was antedated for purposes of the trial. He presented a certificate from the notarial section of the Quezon City Regional Trial Section that stipulated that the notary public did not submit its report that month.
But the prosecution later withdrew their objection. NUPL secretary general Edre Olalia said the certificate secured from the notarial section of the regional trial court is “useless” as it does not reflect whether or not the document notarized exist or if it was antedated as insinuated by defense lawyers.
Truth to come out?
After the hearing, Areza refused to comment on how today’s hearing fared as he might be subjected to the sub judice rule. He, however, said that they are not trying to delay the proceedings. He also found his questions fair and that the “truth will come out soon.”
But Migrante Partylist first nominee Garry Martinez is not convinced. He said the defense camp should just go straight to the merits of the case.
“Kaso hindi kuko (Focus on the case, not the nails),” Martinez quipped, referring to the series of questions during the cross examination on how much Sergio paid for Valino’s manicure services and how long each session took.
Leah Veloso, Mary Jane’s eldest sister, an OFW who just arrived from Bahrain, expressed concern on the slow pace of her sister’s case against her recruiters.
“It has been more than five years, but we are still not close to finding the truth,” Leah told Bulatlat after the hearing.
Leah was nearly in tears when she recalled the days leading to her sister’s scheduled execution last April 29.
“I was very far from my family. I felt very helpless. I wanted to help but what was there to do? I called them very often and I worked even harder so I could send money,” she said.
After the hearing, Olalia reiterated his calls to “accelerate” but not hasten the court proceedings against the accused. He called on the court and the defense camp to consider holding more hearings either twice a month, an entire day per month or two consecutive days.