CA voids RTC ruling, bars Veloso testimony vs. recruiters

MANILA — The Court of Appeals has reversed the ruling of a local court allowing Mary Jane Veloso — the Filipina detained in Indonesia’s death row over drug charges — to testify in the criminal case against her recruiters through a deposition.

In an 18-page resolution dated Dec. 13, 2017, the CA’s 11th Division has granted the petitions for certiorari and prohibition filed by Veloso’s alleged recruiters, Ma. Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao, to reverse and set aside the ruling of the Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court (RTC).

In a resolution dated August 2016, Nueva Ecija RTC Branch 88 Judge Anarica Castillo-Reyes allowed the prosecution to take the testimony of the 32-year-old Filipina by way of deposition.

Veloso has been barred from testifying against her recruiters after the court order allowing her to testify was overturned.

“We are not unmindful of the gravity of the offenses charged against the petitioners. Likewise, we are not oblivious of the sad and unfortunate fate that befell Mary Jane. However, the circumstances in this case call for the application of Rule 119 which categorically states that the conditional examination of a prosecution witness shall be made before the court where the case is pending in light of the constitutionality enshrined right of the petitioners to meet the witnesses face-to-face or the right of confrontation and cross-examination. Especially since the cross-examination of a witness is an absolute right, not a mere privilege, of the party against whom he is called,” the CA said.

Castillo-Reyes ordered the Philippine consulate in Indonesia to secure Veloso’s statement from her cell in Wirongunan Penitentiary in Indonesia.

However, Veloso’s supposed recruiters argued that her statement would violate their right to confront the witnesses against them face to face as guaranteed under the Constitution.

They also said that they should be given the opportunity to cross-examine Velasco at the time when the testimony is given in open court and not during the deposition taking.

The CA said the petition filed by Sergio and Lacanilao was “impressed with merit” and that the “respondent judge erred in granting the subject motion”.

The CA agreed with the petitioners that Veloso should be present before a trial if she were to testify.

“Generally, the examination of witnesses must be done orally before a judge in open court,” the appellate court said.

Sergio and Lacanilao are facing human trafficking charges for allegedly duping her to smuggle illegal drugs in Indonesia last 2010. They remained under police custody.

Motion for reconsideration

Meanwhile, lawyer Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, which is representing Veloso in the case expressed disappointment over the CA resolution.

“On the contrary, her testimony is being prevented by our own courts, the Court of Appeals in particular upon the behest of the accused illegal recruiters’ defense team, which is both disappointing and ironic,” Olalia said.

He added that they are now coordinating with the public prosecution and the Office of Solicitor General for possible reconsideration.

“We are in coordination with the Public Prosecutors and indirectly with the OSG so our plea for a reconsideration will be given a fair shake. After all, what we just ask is for her to tell her story in full and with the guarantees of due process intact and in accordance with the weight and appreciation of evidence, sans dilatory or complicated technicalities,” he said.

Veloso was arrested in Indonesia in April 2010 for smuggling 2.6 kilograms of heroin.

In October 2010, she was sentenced to death but was granted a stay of execution in 2016 after the Philippine government said her testimony would be vital in the human trafficking charges filed against her illegal recruiters.