MANILA – The Indonesian lawyers of Mary Jane Veloso maintained that she is not guilty, and that her conviction and death sentence was only a result of lack of witnesses and evidence that should have been presented at the trial to support her account – that she is a victim of human trafficking.
Lawyers from Rudyantho and Partners, the law firm hired by the Philippine embassy only after Mary Jane Veloso’s conviction, visited the country last week to meet with government agencies and their Philippine counterparts from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) to discuss Mary Jane’s case against her recruiters, Ma. Kristina Sergio and her live-in partner Julius Lacanilao.
In an exclusive interview with this reporter, Rudyantho, the lead Indonesian counsel, said Mary Jane’s case is the same as other criminal cases they have handled. But evidence and witnesses that would corroborate Mary Jane’s statement were not presented before they took on the case.
“What I want to find out is how she (Sergio) can open her heart and try to explain to the public what is true, maybe she can regret what happened before, explain the true story from Manila to KL (Kuala Lumpur) to Yogyakarta to clear to the public and to Indonesian authorities that Mary Jane is not really guilty,” Rudyantho, a lawyer of 20 years, said.
Mary Jane was arrested in Indonesia back in 2010 for allegedly trying to smuggle in 2.6 kilograms of heroin, contained in the bag her recruiter Sergio gave her.
The district trial
Agus Salim, one of the Indonesian lawyers, said he was excited when he learned that he was assigned to handle Mary Jane’s case. It was, he added, a “new case” for him. But his high spirits was dampened almost immediately as soon as he started to scan the Filipina’s case file.
Salim, a lawyer of 15 years, said Mary Jane’s conviction and being meted with the death penalty was not fair.
“Honestly, Mary Jane is not guilty,” Rudyantho said, adding that if he could get the witnesses, “I can help her.”
Rudyantho believes that the conviction was due to the miscommunication between Mary Jane and her former lawyer. The two, he said, do not have a common language that they are both fluent in. The interpreter, on the other hand, was still a university student at the time.
He said they were able to get hold of the interpreter’s certificate of graduation, dated 2011, which means that she was still a student for the duration of the trial. He added that it was not common practice in Indonesia to use an unqualified interpreter.
“The problem is, the (police-appointed) lawyer at the time (of the trial) did not question this fact. That is also my big question,” he said.
Ismail Muhammad, one of Mary Jane’s Indonesian lawyers, was researching on jurisprudence that could help them on the case when he came across that of a Thailand national whose death sentence was overturned when the issue of poor translation was raised.
The same ground was used for the first application for judicial review of Mary Jane’s case. This, however, was denied on March 25. Rudyantho said the Supreme Court said in its decision that there is no rule stating that the interpreter should be a graduate. While this is not a conflict in decision, he said, it was a “conflict in practice.”
“They forgot that legal language is much different from conversational language,” he said.
Prior to the filing of the first judicial review, as early as 2011, Rudyantho said they asked Philippine embassy officials to investigate Sergio.
In a timeline released by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) paid Mary Jane a visit to get her account only last March 31, a few days after the Indonesian Supreme Court junked the petition for the first judicial review. Meanwhile, the Veloso family, according to the timeline released by migrant rights group Migrante International, asked government agencies to investigate Sergio twice – in 2010 and in 2012.
The NUPL, whose legal services were requested by the Veloso family last April 7, formally asked PDEA, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Interagency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat) to investigate Mary Jane’s recruiter in letter-complaints dated April 16 and 17.
Attached to the letter-complaints were the affidavits of the Veloso family dated April 15. The transcript of Mary Jane’s handwritten account, the original of which is still in the custody of the Philippine embassy, was also included.
The lawyers filed what was described in media reports as a “stronger” second petition for judicial review on April 24, stating that Mary Jane is a victim of both drug and human trafficking.
Rudyantho said the second petition was not accepted by the Sleman District Court, not because of its content, but due to administrative policies. The Constitutional Court, he said, provides no limit for the application for judicial review for as long as there are new evidences that would be presented.
But the Supreme Court, which is different from the Constitutional Court, in its internal memorandum, issued in 2014, limited the application for a judicial review to only one.
Rudyantho said one of the options is to file a third application for judicial review if there is a positive resolution in the legal proceedings in the Philippines against Sergio and Lacanilao.
But just as Mary Jane’s lawyers are working hard on the legal strategies, Rudyantho said, the diplomatic track should continue. He said the Indonesian President’s right to grant clemency remains possible and that this has no limitation.
Legal proceedings in the Philippines
Muhammad said the Filipino private lawyers provided a big help to them with the filing of the complaints against Mary Jane’s recruiters. After all, he added, the temporary reprieve was handed at the last minute to give the legal proceedings here in the Philippines a chance, following Sergio and Lacanilao’s seeking police protection due to alleged threats to their lives.
So far, the two are facing three charges in relation to Mary Jane’s case: large-scale illegal recruitment, estafa and human trafficking. The first preliminary investigation was held on May 8 and at least three more are scheduled in the following weeks.
The Department of Justice, in its inquest resolution, said the recruiters have admitted being members of an international drug syndicate and even explained how they go about their operation. But Sergio and Lacanilao’s lawyers, ironically from the Public Attorney’s Office, which has a mandate to provide free legal services to indigents, said authorities have yet to show a signed confession of the two.
Meanwhile, more complainants have surfaced, pointing at Sergio as the one who recruited them. One is reportedly incarcerated in Hongkong, duped into carrying a bag where 800 grams of heroin was secretly stashed in.
Muhammad said the human trafficking angle of Mary Jane’s case was the Filipino private lawyers’ contribution in their efforts to beef up her defense. In this light, he added, they would have to find supporting evidence that the bag was not hers and that someone instructed her to go to Yogyakarta.
The 26-year-old lawyer Muhammad did not expect that Mary Jane’s case would become an international issue. This is the first criminal case that he handled in his five years as a lawyer, dealing mostly with corporate cases. The “roller coaster of emotions,” he added, has changed his perspective in life.
“This is a very special case. I believe that there is a chance for everything. The temporary reprieve made me believe in God’s grace. I was not a religious person before,” he said, who was with Mary Jane’s sisters at the Nusakambangan Island on the eve of the Filipina’s scheduled execution on April 28.
Muhammad said he first met Mary Jane in the second week of April 2015. He described her as a strong and happy woman, who was practically friends with everyone, including jail authorities.
Back in 2013, the Veloso family paid Mary Jane a visit for an entire month. All of their expenses, from airfare, hotel accommodation and food, were paid for by jail authorities that were very close to Mary Jane. On the eve of her scheduled execution, even jail authorities were reportedly in tears.
Rudyantho described Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s decision to stop the execution as a “wise decision.” In this light, he said, the public could see how serious he is to ensure that justice is served to those in need, especially Mary Jane.
Widodo met with members of migrant rights advocates on April 28, the eve of Mary Jane’s execution, after which his decision to stay the execution was announced.
Asked if there are chances for Mary Jane to be freed, Rudyantho said it would not be easy. But he is optimistic that justice would be served, and that they are working for, at the minimum, a commutation of her sentence. (bulatlat.com)