“Walang katumbas, walang katumbas na salapi. Sinira niya ang buhay namin.” (Money could not repay the suffering this has caused our lives.)
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
STO. DOMINGO, Nueva Ecija – “Walang katumbas, walang katumbas na salapi. Sinira niya ang buhay namin.” (Money could not repay the suffering this has caused our lives.)
This was how Celia Veloso responded to the question on the monetary relief that her family is willing to accept for the hardships that they suffered because of what happened to her daughter, Mary Jane, the Filipina human trafficking victim who remains on death row in Indonesia.
Celia testified in court here today, April 28, as Mary Jane’s case against her recruiters slowly proceeds.
A year ago today, Mary Jane was scheduled to be executed along with eight other convicts in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. But at dawn of April 29, she was granted temporary reprieve amid massive local and international campaigns. Indonesian President Joko Widodo suspended her execution to allow her to pursue charges against her recruiters in the Philippines. Her recruiters, Ma. Cristina Sergio and live-in partner Julius Lacanilao “sought refuge” with the police earlier that day.
Both were eventually arrested and detained when other victims, all women, surfaced and pressed charges against them. They currently face two sets of charges: illegal recruitment, qualified human trafficking, and estafa filed by Mary Jane’s family; and large-scale and syndicated human trafficking filed by their other victims.
Remembering Mary Jane’s plight
In tears, Celia recalled how her daughter was forced to accept the offer to work abroad due to their dire conditions here. Sergio had promised she would receive a salary of P25,000 ($530) per month.
She said she was initially reluctant to allow Mary Jane to work abroad. But she eventually agreed and lent her daughter P6,000 ($130) so that Sergio could purchase her plane ticket. When they bade her goodbye, Mary Jane promised her family she would remit money as soon as she got her first pay.
On April 27, the Veloso family went to Sergio’s place to thank her for giving Mary Jane an opportunity to have a decent-paying work. The recruiter told the Veloso family Mary Jane had very good employers who bought her a lot of clothes, gave her pocket money, and milk for her son.
Celia said that just more than a week later, the Veloso family was back at Sergio’s house to assail her for putting Mary Jane in trouble. The family learned from Mary Jane that she was arrested and detained.
“We were very angry. But Sergio did not appear to be bothered at all. She patted my back and told us to keep quiet because she is working for a big international syndicate. She asked us to give her three months to get Mary Jane out of prison,” Celia said.
She added that Sergio threatened the family not to speak to other people or before the media about Mary Jane’s case. Else, she said they would go after her family and even Mary Jane.
“It was not just about Mary Jane. We felt that the entire family was scheduled for execution,” she said, when asked how she felt when she learned that Mary Jane was to face a firing squad.
Celia said it was difficult for the family when they learned of Mary Jane’s predicament. It was no less than Mary Jane who told her family that she was already sentenced to death.
She also shared several instances when the family visited Mary Jane while in detention – the latest was just this January, when the Filipina on death row celebrated her first birthday after the temporary reprieve.
“Didn’t I tell you, Mother, that an innocent person would be spared even if one is holding on to even just one thread of hope?” Mary Jane told her mother when they met again after she was spared from execution.
On qualified human trafficking
Before Celia took the witness stand, defense lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) objected and argued she would not be able to prove that Sergio committed the violations under qualified human trafficking.
In a previous Bulalat interview, PAO lawyer Howard Areza explained that they were asking the prosecution to identify “whether the allegation of exploitative purpose refers to prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, involuntary servitude or debt bondage,” as stated in Republic Act 9208, or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.
State prosecutor Mark Roland Estefa reiterated that the issue has already been settled when the court issued a decision on Oct. 23, 2015, saying that the exploitative purposes stated were only “at the minimum.”
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers assistant secretary general for legal services Ephraim Cortez, for his part, said Mary Jane’s mother Celia will testify facts, not legal interpretation, as it would be up for the court to decide if the prosecution was able to prove the allegations against the accused.
Judge Nelson Tribianna allowed Celia to take the witness stand.
Meanwhile, Ana Marie Gonzales, one of the complainants in the illegal recruitment case, also took the witness stand today related to the illegal recruitment case. She was assisted by Cortez.
Gonzales, the second witness presented by the prosecution, shared how both Sergio and Lacanilao attempted to recruit her twice – once in 2008 and another in 2014.
During the 2014 attempt to recruit her, Gonzales said the recruiters tried to make her sign a contract. She was told she can work in Malaysia as a household helper and that she needed to go to Manila for a training.
She refused the offer.
Gonzales also positively identified both the accused.
She also said that she issued an affidavit of desistance last year, which she executed before PAO lawyers handling the case of the accused, when she went to their office to “ask for help.” She said she found the court proceedings inconvenient and may affect her livelihood.
Gonzales issued another affidavit, still last year, to reaffirm her commitment to pursue charges against the two accused.
One year since stay
After Mary Jane’s stay of execution, her family had vigorously pursued charges against her recruiters. Last year, the Department of Justice found probable cause and filed the corresponding charges against the recruiters before the Sto. Domingo Regional Trial Court Branch 27.
The proceedings, however, was repeatedly delayed when PAO lawyers filed several motions, such as one for a bill of particulars, which asked the prosecution to stipulate and explain why the accused could be tried for human trafficking. This resulted to the deferment of the arraignment of the case filed by Mary Jane.
On March 28, Mary Jane’s sister Maritess Veloso-Laurente testified before the court.
After today’s hearing, Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez said they appreciate the court’s effort to expedite the proceedings. But he said his group hopes that more steps would be taken towards the speedy resolution of the case.