STO. DOMINGO, Nueva Ecija – Even as the Veloso family observed that the Mary Jane’s case against her recruiters is being delayed, her recruiters’ defense lawyers turned to the “outrageously ridiculous:” they refused to accept that she was actually arrested, detained, and convicted, and still sits on death row in Indonesia.
In the pre-trial conference at the Sto. Domingo Regional Trial Court in Baloc here yesterday, March 9, the defense lawyers of Maria Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao refused to stipulate these facts and insisted that the prosecution must produce necessary documents to prove Mary Jane’s arrest, detention, conviction and that she is still on death row.
The defense counsel came from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), led by their chief Persida Acosta.
The two accused are detained on charges of large-scale and syndicated illegal recruitment filed by women who surfaced before Mary Jane’s scheduled execution last year. The Veloso family had also charged the two with qualified human trafficking, illegal recruitment and estafa.
If the facts stipulated in the pre-trial is denied, then the party proposing would have to prove it in the course of the trial proceedings, said Josalee Deinla, assistant secretary general for education of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and one of Mary Jane’s private lawyers.
NUPL secretary general and also one of Mary Jane’s lawyers Edre Olalia asserted that Mary Jane’s “plight and circumstances are not only matters of judicial notice that need no further proof, but are also of wide public knowledge in the Philippines and around the globe.”
Olalia added that to “deny these evident facts is to miss the elephant in the room, so to speak, is outrageously ridiculous, and would make us the laughing stock of the world.”
Mary Jane Veloso continues to languish in death row in Indonesia almost a year after getting a temporary reprieve.
Toward the end of the hearing, a heated discussion broke between prosecution and defense lawyers. Olalia and PAO chief Acosta were overheard arguing over the delay in the proceedings. The latter said that they are handling cases of political prisoners and threatened to drop these cases.
Olalia replied, “Why are you taking it personally against us?” He added that Acosta pointed out things that were not relevant to the case, while they were setting the dates of the next hearings.
Later, Acosta said that Olalia was accusing them of delaying the proceedings, to which the latter retorted, “Well, it’s true.”
Defense lawyers had filed a motion to quash, and consequently, a motion for reconsideration for the first case. The arraignment was deferred three times. Deinla told me that for the second case, many months were spent when the defense filed a motion for particulars in the qualified human trafficking case.
Last week, defense lawyers filed a manifestation, asking the Sto. Domingo court to issue a gag order following the press statement that the NUPL posted on its Facebook page. They added that the accused are being subjected to “trial by publicity.” The NUPL lawyers filed a counter-manifestation yesterday opposing the issuance of a gag order saying that “it is an audacious attempt at censorship” and gives “too low regard” for the court’s capacity for independent and impartial judgment.
Judge Nelson Tribiana said that he “noted” the two manifestations and advised the two camps to put the issue to rest.
Calls for speedy trial
Meanwhile, there were four hearings set after yesterday’s proceedings for Mary Jane’s case: the pre-marking of evidence that would he held at the Department of Justice on March 15, the termination of the pre-trial conference on March 18, and two trial hearings on March 29 and April 28.
“I am happy with today’s proceedings,” Celia Veloso, mother of Mary Jane, told the media after the hearing, adding that she is hoping that it would eventually lead to her daughter’s freedom.
On March 5, Mary Jane’s family and her supporters gathered at a conference room of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines to call for the speedy trial of Mary Jane’s recruiters. During the gathering, Deinla said that while the cases filed against accused Sergio and Lacanilao are prospering, “it is not as fast as they hope it would be.”
Mary Jane’s execution was temporarily stayed at dawn of April 29 to give way to the court proceedings here in the Philippines.
Yesterday, complainant Lorna Mitch Valino, 20, finished providing her testimony for the syndicated and large-scale illegal recruitment case. Another complainant, Ana Marie Gonzales, will testify on April 28.
Migrante Partylist first nominee Garry Martinez said they are proud of Valino for her courage and candor in testifying before the court.
“Kahit gaano pinilit na siya ay sindakin, di siya natinag,” (No matter how they tried to rattle her, she kept her composure.) he told this reporter.
Meanwhile, the trial for the case filed by Mary Jane and her family will only begin on March 29, with Mary Jane’s sister Maritess Laurente taking the witness stand. (bulatlat.com)