Just less than a week away from the scheduled final RTC hearing on the presentation of prosecution witnesses, supporters of Mary Jane Veloso gathered anew to reiterate their call to uphold the Supreme Court decision allowing the deposition of her testimony through written interrogatories.
In a press forum held at the UCCP National Office chapel in EDSA on Wednesday morning Atty. Edre Olalia from the National Union of People’s Lawyers elaborated on the significance of the recent SC decision and its implications on the local cases against accused traffickers Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao. “I cannot preempt the RTC judge’s ruling but there is already a Supreme Court decision. I’m sure the defense will have their chance to explain why there’s a need for deferment but it is about time that they ask themselves, why anyone should be afraid of the truth? If they really believe that their clients are innocent, would it not be beneficial that we hear it directly from Mary Jane speaking to us whether the accused traffickers are really involved or not?” Olalia asked.
“We want to see and hear both sides but how can we equally hear both sides when they (PAO: Public Attorneys Office) keep on gagging her down to the gallows? God forbid but perchance she gets executed because of these numerous motions set by the legal counsel of the accused, will they be willing to hold themselves accountable for the life of Mary Jane? There can no longer be any motion for consideration in heaven. Nobody can bar the testimony of a material witness. Do not keep on invoking legal niceties and technicalities because this is not just about Mary Jane. We have so many OFWs victimised by human traffickers and illegal recruiters. The legal counsel of the accused will have their chance to cross examine Mary Jane’s written testimony.” Olalia added.
Olalia then directed attention to the relation of MJ’s case on Duterte’s war on drugs. “The Duterte government is claiming that it is waging war against drugs and they should be aware that Mary Jane as a victim, knows vital information about this international drug trafficking syndicate involving drug trafficking criminals from West Africa and other countries. This should help trace the flow of their criminal operations that have victimized unsuspecting OFWs.”
Asked about how the government can relate to these legal developments, Olalia said, “They really don’t have to wait for a decision from the RTC case here. The defense are due to present 30 of their witnesses. Are we going to wait for them to complete their presentation with only one hearing every month for one or two of their witnesses? We are afraid that these witnesses will only be there to claim that the accused couple Sergio and Lacanilao are kind people but that it is not the main issue. The main issue is their direct involvement in human trafficking against Mary Jane.”
The lawyers’ group NUPL represented by Olalia has long been active on the Mary Jane campaign. He added, “The key not only lies with legal strategies. There are other things that can be done to keep Mary Jane alive and be able to speak. We can continue to plead and implore. After all, the Supreme Court has already made a lot of statements on where the decision should lead. The government can work on Mary Jane’s behalf, either for commutation or for other ways that will pave the way for her eventual freedom.”
Expressing elation over the SC decision, Rev. Frank Hernando, the current Executive Secretary for Administration of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, worked for 14 years ministering to Filipino migrants in South Korea. He said, “The Church is very active and passionate in defending the rights and saving lives of OFWs. This is the consequence of Forced migration on Filipinos who are seeking better lives abroad. UCCP sent letters to SC urging the judicial authorities to allow MJ to testify. This will help other Filipino trafficking victims who are in jail. Di lang si MJ ang nagkaroon ng ganitong kaso (It’s not only MJ who have this case).”
Representing CWWM (Churches Witnessing with Migrants), Church Task Force for Mary Jane and PIMAHT or Philippine Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking, Rev. Marie Sol Villalon said, “We hope that before the 28th of October, we’ll hear the Duterte government committing to save Filipino victims of trafficking and all the rest of OFWs who are now suffering because of forced migration and the government’s labour export program.”
Grateful to all their supporters, Cesar Veloso, father of Mary Jane said, “We are very thankful to the Supreme Court for giving the chance to my daughter to testify. I hope that she will finally get her freedom and be reunited with us. I am very grateful to the lawyers and to all the supporters, if it were not for them, we would have been clueless on what to do. When Mary Jane’s sons heard about the SC decision, they really leaped for joy. They are looking forward to having their mother come home. We recently visited Mary Jane in prison, she was full of hope and she kept on encouraging us. I urge everyone to keep us in your prayers. We are calling on PAO to allow Mary Jane to speak.”
Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion lamented that it took almost ten years before Mary Jane was given the chance to finally speak against her traffickers. Concepcion stated, “This case is very important not only for Mary Jane Veloso but also for all victims of human trafficking. Up to this moment, we are still asserting that Mary Jane is indeed a trafficking victim and must be given the chance to present her testimony. She should never be silenced. Thousands of OFWs are unjustly locked in jails, many of whom are victims of government neglect without any access to lawyers. Once we succeed in getting MJ’s testimony, it will be considered an unprecedented legal victory and a precedent that will be beneficial for many OFWs faced by similar situations.”
A caravan organized by Mary Jane’s supporters is expected to head to the Branch 88 of the Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court on the 28th of October to attend the scheduled hearing on the trafficking cases against Sergio and Lacanilao.