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Editorial

Breakthrough for Mary Jane

/ 04:08 AM February 05, 2020

Buried under the avalanche of troubling reports last week on the confirmed presence of the novel coronavirus in the Philippines was the uplifting news that the heartless recruiters of Mary Jane Veloso had been sentenced to life in prison for large-scale illegal recruitment.

In her decision promulgated on Jan. 30, Judge Anarica Castillo-Reyes sentenced Maria Cristina P. Sergio and Julius Lacanilao to life imprisonment and ordered them to pay a fine of P2 million after prosecutors “mustered sufficient evidence to secure a guilty verdict.”

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While the case was not about Veloso’s illegal recruitment but those of three other complainants — Lorna Valino, Ana Marie Gonzales, and Jenalyn Paraiso, Veloso’s townmates in Nueva Ecija, whose testimony Castillo-Reyes found to be “positive and credible” — Veloso’s family and lawyers have reason to be elated by the decision after a five-year wait.

First, the ruling bolsters the chances of Veloso to secure a similar verdict for her own case pending before the same court. Second, and more importantly, it gives fresh justification for the Philippines to press the Indonesian government to revisit Veloso’s case and perhaps even free her from death row.

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Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and private counsel for Veloso, said: “We are of course glad that justice has been served even if only partially and initially through Mary Jane’s fellow victims. Even if their case is distinct from Mary Jane’s, we believe that Sergio and Lacanilao’s conviction stands as a testament to Mary Jane’s story— that she was not a drug courier but an unwitting victim of the same illegal recruiters.”

“The Indonesian government may see this development to consider clemency or commutation of sentence and free her (Veloso),” added NUPL spokesperson Josalee Deinla.

Veloso was arrested at the Yogyakarta airport in 2010 after Indonesian authorities found more than two kilograms of heroin in her luggage.

Found guilty by the Indonesian courts, she was sentenced to death by firing squad in 2010. She was scheduled to be executed in 2015, but Veloso was granted a reprieve at the last minute on April 29, after the Aquino administration — prodded by a groundswell of public clamor for Veloso, who was seen as a hapless victim of human trafficking — appealed to the Indonesian government to let Veloso testify against her recruiters.

According to Veloso, she had been recruited by Sergio to work as a domestic helper in Malaysia. But upon arrival, she was told that the job was no longer available, so she was sent to Indonesia instead. Sergio provided her the luggage for a supposed seven-day holiday in Indonesia that was later found to contain some 2.6 kilograms of heroin. Veloso said she had been fooled by her recruiters into smuggling the illegal drugs into Indonesia.

For Veloso’s parents, the verdict is bittersweet; their daughter remains on death row, and the Duterte administration is not signaling any intent to exert efforts to engage the Indonesian government and win justice for Veloso.

Palace spokesperson Salvador Panelo was immediately skeptical of the implications of the court ruling, saying that while the Palace lauded the verdict, he doubted it would have any bearing on Veloso’s own case.

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“There is no connection. She’s being charged with the crime there (Indonesia) — nothing to do with the conviction of traffickers here,” Panelo declared in a media briefing.

President Duterte likewise said just months after he was elected president in 2016 that he would not “interfere” if Indonesia would decide to execute Veloso on the drug smuggling charges, given the strong antidrug stance he shares with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who had made clear that the execution was only “delayed, not canceled.”

Won’t the administration even try this time, given the significant court finding that validates Veloso’s story, which should at least be seen as a mitigating element in her case?

This is a breakthrough development that cries out to be used to the hilt to help Veloso — whether to argue for a rehearing of her case, or to ask for clemency and her release from death row.

Veloso is not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, ordinary Filipino driven to seek work abroad to fall prey to heinous criminal opportunism by her countrymen. She, and many others like her who end up in perilous circumstances in foreign lands, deserve to be helped in every way possible by a government and a country kept afloat by an OFW economy.

As the NUPL said: “We all owe it to millions of our compatriots who meet misfortune at the hands of unscrupulous people who take advantage of their vulnerabilities brought about by dire economic need at home.”

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TAGS: Editorial, illegal recruitment case, Julius Lacanilao, Maria Cristina P. Sergio, mary jane veloso
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