“We know his strong sentiments against drugs. We also know that he is fully informed of Mary Jane’s innocence. I know he will help her.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
STO. DOMINGO, Nueva Ecija – The family of a Filipina on death row in Indonesia is calling on President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to act to hasten Mary Jane Veloso’s release.
“We know his strong sentiments against drugs. We also know that he is fully informed of Mary Jane’s innocence. I know he will help her,” Celia Veloso, Mary Jane’s mother told Bulatlat.
Veloso took the witness stand again today, June 14, at the hearing before the Sto. Domingo Regional Trial Court in Nueva Ecija, north of Manila, as part of their family’s pursuit to hold her daughter’s recruiters accountable.
Mary Jane was apprehended in Jogjakarta, Indonesia six years ago for allegedly carrying 2.6 kilograms of heroin. Her family has maintained that she is a victim of human trafficking and that her being convicted and sentenced to death was due to the Philippine government’s lack of legal assistance.
On April 29, 2015, Mary Jane was the only convict spared from the gallows when Indonesia executed several of those convicted due to drug-related cases, following a strong global campaign to save her. Since then, Mary Jane’s case has become a rallying point for migrant rights activists, both here and abroad.
Maria Cristina Sergio and live-in partner Julius Lacanilao, accused of recruiting Mary Jane, are facing qualified human trafficking, illegal recruitment, and estafa.
During the election campaign, the Veloso family was saddened that none of the presidential candidates gave a statement about Mary Jane. But Veloso remains optimistic that Duterte will step in to help.
“If President Aquino was not able to do anything, I know Duterte would be willing to help,” she said.
During the hearing, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) assistant secretary general for legal services Ephraim Cortez asked the court to hold hearings at least twice a month to expedite the proceedings.
Cortez told Bulatlat after the hearing that while his request was not opposed by the defense lawyers, they only managed to schedule three hearings – on Aug. 12 and two more in September.
Howard Areza of the Public Attorney’s Office, who is representing the two accused, said they still have to look into schedule of other cases they are handling before they could commit dates.
The Veloso family has long asked for more hearing schedules. Last year, the Department of Justice found probable cause and filed the corresponding charges against the recruiters before the Sto. Domingo Regional Trial Court.
The proceedings, however, was repeatedly delayed when defense lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office filed several motions – including a bill of particulars, where they asked the prosecution to stipulate and explain why the accused could be tried for the human trafficking case. This resulted to the deferment of the arraignment of the accused in relation to Mary Jane’s case.
Meanwhile, the Sto. Domingo Regional Trial Court issued a bench warrant against Jenalyn Paraiso, who is one of the three complainants in a separate large-scale illegal recruitment case against both Sergio and Lacanilao.
Paraiso failed to attend today’s hearing, when she was supposed to take the witness stand. Cortez said the complainant may be “hesitant” or “scared.”
“But these are speculations. We will reach out to her to know her concerns,” he added.
The two other complainants, Mitch Valino and Ana Marie Gonzales, are finished with their testimonies.
The prosecution is set to present lawyer Basset Sarip of the Anti-Human Trafficking Division of the National Bureau of Investigation and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration director Lucia Villamayor.
Among those who attended today’s hearing are pastors and church workers from the United Methodist Church. They are also part of the Task Force Save Mary Jane, which was formed days before Mary Jane’s scheduled execution last year.
UMC Pastor Sol Villalon, who is also the co-chair of the Promotion of Church People’s Response, said, “This is part of the Church’s journeying with the family of Mary Jane. We will be with them in this fight.”