By Dane Angelo M. Enerio
THE Court of Appeals (CA) has upheld its decision to block the testimony of convicted drug mule Mary Jane Veloso against her alleged illegal recruiters, dismissing her plea to testify under extraordinary conditions.
Ms. Veloso, who is currently on death row in Indonesia for allegedly smuggling drugs in April 2010, was granted by the Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court Branch 88 in February 2017 to use a deposition against Maria Cristina P. Sergio and Julius L. Lacanilao, her alleged illegal recruiters. This was reversed by the CA in a decision dated Dec. 13 of last year.
Upholding their initial decision, the 8-page resolution promulgated on June 5 that was penned by CA Former Eleventh Division Associate Justice Ramon M. Bato Jr. said, “the right of a party to confront and cross-examine opposing witnesses in a judicial proceeding is a fundamental right and part of due process,” junking the motion for reconsideration filed by the Office of the Solicitor-General (OSG) on Jan. 16.
According to the petition by the OSG, the rights of Ms. Sergio and her partner Mr. Lanacilao would not be violated as Ms. Veloso’s deposition would still be constitutional.
The CA, however, was not persuaded, saying, “by insisting that we should reconsider our decision dated 13 December 2017 and allow the taking of the testimony of Mary Jane Veloso by deposition upon written interrogatories in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in effect, the OSG would want us to disregard Section 14(2), Article III of the 1987 Constitution.”
This section states, “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, and shall enjoy the right to be heard by himself and counsel, to be informed of the nature of the accusation against him, to have a speedy, impartial and public trial, and to meet the witnesses face to face, and to have compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence in his behalf.”
“The Judiciary is the ‘ultimate guardian of the Constitution.’ As magistrates, it is our ‘sacred and solemn duty’ to uphold the Constution,” the CA said.
Ms. Veloso’s April 29, 2015 execution was suspended so she could act as a witness in her case but Indonesian law barred her from leaving the country temporarily, leaving her with a deposition as the only option to testify.
Despite this, the CA said in the resolution, “assuming arguendo that the testimony of Mary Jane Veloso is absolutely necessary or indispensable to prove the guilt of the petitioners in the consolidated criminal cases, under the circumstances obtaining, through proper diplomatic channel, the government should convince Indonesia to allow Mary Jane Veloso to testify in Philippine Courts.”
Edre U. Olalia, Secretary General of the National Union of Peoples’s Lawyers (NUPL) and Ms. Veloso’s lawyer, said he “will not rest” in the wake of the court’s decision.
“It is regrettable that our own courts are constrained or unable to adapt or be responsible to unique situations such as the peculiar circumstances of the case in order to satisfy the more compelling interests of justice,” Mr. Olalia said.
He explained, “we shall legally intervene as private prosecutors and will raise it to the Supreme Court (SC). We shall also revisit and exhaust other options and channels to ensure that Mary Jane is rightfully saved from the gallows on legal, political, and humanitarian grounds. We shall not rest.”