MANILA – The Supreme Court (SC) has stood by its earlier ruling allowing Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipina on death row in Indonesia, to testify in a Philippine case against her recruiters.
In a resolution dated March 4, but received by Veloso’s lawyers only on Friday, the SC Special Third Division denied with finality the motion for reconsideration filed by the Public Attorneys Office (PAO) on behalf of Veloso’s recruiters, Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao.
“[T]he basic issues raised therein having been duly considered and passed upon by the Court in the aforesaid decision and no substantial argument having been adduced to warrant its reconsideration,” the 5-page resolution said.
Veloso, who was convicted by an Indonesian court in 2010 for drug trafficking, was scheduled to be executed in April 2015 but a last-minute reprieve by Indonesian President Joko Widodo saved her from death by firing squad after the Philippine government said her testimony would be vital in the human trafficking charges against her recruiters.
She claimed she was duped by Sergio and Lacanilao, her neighbors in Talavera, Nueva Ecija, into accepting a non-existent domestic worker job in Malaysia. She was later sent to Indonesia where she was caught with 2.5 kilograms of heroin inside the luggage provided by Sergio.
Her lawyers had hoped that her testimony would help secure a conviction against her recruiters, which, in turn, could help her get out of death row.
Given the distance and the impossibility of Veloso travelling to the Philippines to testify in court, her lawyers sought to take her testimony through written interrogatories where questions may be sent in by both sides and her answers taken while in prison.
But the Court of Appeals (CA) disallowed this citing procedural rules, saying section 23 of the Rules of Court on deposition by written interrogatories only applies to civil cases as it would violate the accused’s right to confront the witnesses.
The Special Third Division, however, overturned the CA decision in October last year by employing a relaxed procedural interpretation.
In a ruling penned by SC Associate Justice Ramon Hernando, the SC allowed the application of Rule 23 in the case of Veloso “in the interest of substantial justice and fairness.”
In its latest ruling, the Special Third Division also denied PAO’s move to set the case for oral arguments before the Supreme Court en banc saying the SC en banc is not an appellate court where decisions of its divisions may be appealed too.
FINAL LEGAL STUMBLING BLOCK REMOVED
The SC ruling removes “the final legal stumbling block for the taking of her deposition,” Veloso’s lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Laywers (NUPL) said in a statement.
“In effect, this means that the Nueva Ecija trial court hearing the qualified human trafficking, illegal recruitment and estafa against her illegal recruiters Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacalinao can now schedule the dates for the taking of Mary Jane’s testimony,” they said, referring to the case pending before a Nueva Ecija court.
“In time, not only will the illegal recruiters be held to account but her innocence will eventually be judicially established and we look forward to her coming home free as a logical consequence,” they added.
In January this year, a Nueva Ecija court convicted Sergio and Lacanilao of large-scale illegal recruitment involving 3 other Filipina victims.
The NUPL acknowledged the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and the Department of Justice for their support in pushing through with the deposition, expressing confidence the deposition will help her get out of death row.
“Let Mary Jane speak out now and bring her home in time. It is a long and tortuous journey but we will get there,” they said.