CA ruling vs Veloso testimony in illegal recruitment case 'frustrating, ironic' - lawyers

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 05 2018 05:27 PM | Updated as of Jan 05 2018 05:40 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - The lawyers of Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipino migrant worker on death row in Indonesia, on Friday expressed disappointment at the Court of Appeals (CA) decision barring her testimony against her alleged recruiters. 

The case being heard at the Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court (RTC) is critical in proving her innocence in drug trafficking charges that had led to her conviction in Indonesia. 

This week, the appellate court overturned the lower court's decision to allow Veloso to testify against her alleged recruiters, granting the latter's motion.

"This injunction is both frustrating and ironic," said the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL), which stands as counsel for Veloso.

"What we are just asking is for her to tell her story in full and with the guarantees of due process intact and in accordance with the basic rules of evidence, sans dilatory or complicated legal technicalities nor prior restraint," the group said in a statement.

"No fundamental right is violated if Mary Jane is allowed to answer written interrogatories as the accused through counsel will be present when her deposition is taken in Indonesia in the presence not only of the same Philippine judge hearing the case for human trafficking, illegal recruitment and swindling, but also other concerned judicial and consular officials of the Philippines and Indonesia."

Veloso was sentenced to death in October 2010 after she was caught with 2.6 kilograms of heroin at a Jakarta airport. She argued that she was unaware that her recruiters planted the illegal drugs in a suitcase they had given her for the trip.

Indonesia stopped her execution in 2015 after the Philippine government said her testimony would be vital in the human trafficking charges against her alleged illegal recruiters Maria Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao.

In February last year, the Nueva Ecija RTC granted the prosecution's motion to take Veloso's testimony. The deposition was supposed to be taken at the Yogyakarta prison and upon due and proper arrangement.

But the CA decided to block Veloso's deposition, favoring Sergio and Lacanilao's motion.

In its decision, the appellate court said the RTC violated the 1987 Philippine Constitution and Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure, which accord the accused the right to meet the witnesses against them face to face, or the right to confrontation. 

The appellate court pointed out that under the said rules, “the conditional examination of a prosecution witness shall be made before the court where the case is pending in light of the constitutionally enshrined right of the petitioners to meet the witnesses face to face."

The CA stressed that the cross-examination of a witness is an “absolute right, not a mere privilege.”

The CA also said Nueva Ecija RTC Branch 88 Judge Anarica Castillo-Reyes did not have any territorial jurisdiction to preside over or observe the taking of Veloso’s deposition, which was also contained in her assailed ruling.

“While we commiserate with the plight of Mary Jane and recognize the prosecution’s need to take and perpetuate her testimony, unless and until the aforementioned constitutional and statutory provisions are revised, modified or amended, we have no other option but to apply the same,” the CA said in its ruling.

“[T]he first and fundamental duty of the court is to apply the law,” the appellate court added.

Veloso's lawyers said they are coordinating with state prosecutors and indirectly with the Office of the Solicitor General "so our plea for a reconsideration will be given a fair shake."

"Given the novelty of the legal situation involving two jurisdictions and her circumstances of being detained in a foreign land unable or disallowed to go home as yet, her deposition would shed light on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," the NUPL said.

"Just let her speak out and let her story stand on its own. Or shall we wait for her to be sent to the gallows with her mouth gagged?," it said.

Last year, Veloso's mother Cecilia and relatives of other migrant workers set for execution abroad asked President Rodrigo Duterte to save their loved ones right before Indonesian President Joko Widodo's state visit to the Philippines.

Duterte later advised overseas Filipino workers to follow laws in the countries where they are employed.

In an exclusive interview with ANC in April last year, Widodo said he was not ruling out clemency for Veloso, but said it would depend on prevailing laws in his country and how the court would rule on the case.

"I respect the prevailing laws and regulations in Indonesia. Same thing goes for Mary Jane Veloso's case," he said in Bahasa. -- with a report from Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News