MANILA (UPDATE)—The Supreme Court (SC) has allowed Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipina convicted of drug trafficking in Indonesia, to testify through deposition in the human trafficking case against her alleged recruiters in Nueva Ecija, in a development that could affect her status on death row.
The SC Third Division on Wednesday granted the petition filed by Veloso’s lawyers seeking to set aside the Court of Appeals’ decision disallowing the deposition.
Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court Branch 88 had initially allowed the prosecution to take Veloso’s deposition by way of written interrogatories in August 2016 but the CA reversed this in December 2017, citing constitutional grounds and procedural rules.
But the Supreme Court, in a press release on Friday, said that “to disallow the written interrogatories will curtail Mary Jane’s right to due process.”
The decision comes as the Nueva Ecija court gave the prosecution a final chance to present its last witness on October 28.
The prosecution wanted to present Veloso’s side because she claimed she was duped by her recruiters, Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao, who were her neighbors in Talavera, Nueva Ecija.
Veloso said Sergio and Lacanilao offered her a job as a domestic helper in Malaysia but when she arrived there, she was told the job was no longer available. She was sent to Indonesia instead, with a plane ticket and a luggage provided by Sergio.
Upon arrival at the airport in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, however, Indonesian authorities arrested her for allegedly carrying 2.5 kilograms of heroin inside her luggage.
In October 2010, an Indonesian court sentenced her to death by firing squad and she was supposed to be executed on April 29, 2015 but a last-minute reprieve spared her life, following the surrender of Sergio and Lacanilao.
SIGNIFICANCE OF SC RULING
The prosecution considers Veloso’s testimony vital in proving its case.
Securing a human trafficking conviction in a Philippine court, in turn, could positively affect Veloso’s chances of escaping the death row.
“It may pave the way to a possible permanent reprieve, pardon or amnesty or even commutation of service by the Indonesian government,” lawyer Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), said in an earlier statement.
NUPL serves as the private prosecutor in the human trafficking case.
The ruling in favor of Veloso hinged on the interpretation of procedural rules.
The CA had denied Veloso’s deposition by written interrogatories saying that Rule 23 of the Rules of Court (ROC) applies only in civil cases, not to criminal cases as it would violate the accused’s right to meet the witnesses face to face and to confront and cross-examine them during trial.
It added that rules on criminal procedures only allow conditional examination of the accused under section 15, Rule 119 of the ROC.
But the SC said the CA was wrong in strictly interpreting Rule 119 and allowed the application of Rule 23 on written interrogatories “in the interest of substantial justice and fairness.”
In the same ruling, SC referred to the SC Committee on Revision of the Rules the Office of the Solicitor General’s recommendation that the Court come up with a set of rules to govern future transnational cases where a prosecution’s vital witness in a criminal proceeding is unavailable as against the accused’s constitutional right to confront witnesses face-to-face.
The OSG filed the motion for reconsideration asking the CA to reconsider its ruling. It also filed a motion to resolve the petition filed with the SC.
Meanwhile, Veloso's family was elated by the development, saying she could now explain her side of the story.
"I am very thankful to the Supreme Court for giving us hope. Mary Jane can now explain her side and tell the truth to the whole world," her mother Celia said in Filipino.
In a video posted by overseas workers group Migrante International, Celia said her daughter has been languishing in prison for 10 years.
"Her children are growing up without the care of their mother. We hope that on the 28th, the truth will finally be revealed," she said.
"I hope the whole world will hear her, especially our government, so that she can soon be free and be reunited with her family."