By Rey Panaligan
The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed its decision which nullified a trial court order that allowed Mary Jane Veloso to testify against her alleged illegal recruiters through a deposition inside her detention cell in Indonesia where she is facing death sentence for illegal drugs trafficking.
In a resolution written by Associate Justice Ramon M. Bato Jr., the CA denied the motions for reconsideration filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and Veloso’s mother, Celia, together with about 3,000 members of Migrante International.
The CA said the motions have no merit because the 1987 Constitution provides that Veloso’s alleged recruiters, Ma. Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao, have the right to face their accusers.
Veloso was arrested upon her arrival at the Yogyakarta airport in Indonesia for bringing a drug-laden luggage in 2010. She was sentenced to death.
The death sentence was temporarily put on halt last April 29, 2015 after then President Benigno Aquino III appealed her case to Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
Sergio and Lacanilao were charged with human trafficking before Judge Anarica J. Castillo- Reyes of the regional trial court (RTC) based in Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija. They have been detained since then.
On motion by the prosecution, Judge Reyes ordered the Philippine Consulate in Indonesia to secure Veloso’s deposition from her cell in Wirongan Penitentiary.
When the trial court denied Sergio and Lacanilao’s plea to reconsider the judge’s order, they elevated the issue before the CA.
Granting Sergio and Lacanilao’s petition, the CA ruled:
“We are not unmindful of the gravity of the offenses charged against the petitioners (Ma. Cristina P. Sergio and Julius L. Lacanilao, the alleged illegal recruiters). 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 constitutionally enshrined right of the petitioners to meet the witnesses face to face or the right of confrontation and cross examination.”
Section 1, Rule 115 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure states that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be entitled… to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him at the trial.”
A deposition “is a written testimony made under oath by a witness who is unable to testify in person concerning facts known to him….”
In their motion for reconsideration, Veloso’s mother and the members of Migrante International told the CA:
“We appeal that you consider the merits of the motion and order the immediate taking of Mary Jane’s deposition in Indonesia. We urge you to let Mary Jane have her equal opportunity to testify before the judge as you afford Sergio and Lacanilao their constitutionality-guaranteed rights. Let the light of justice prevail by uncovering the truth about the circumstances which led to the continuing suffering of Mary Jane,” the group said in its letter.
Solicitor General Jose C. Calida had submitted a motion to reconsider the CA’s decision.
Calida pointed out that the CA “grossly ignored the extraordinary circumstances” of the case and should not have applied strictly the rules on conditional examination of a prosecution witness like Veloso.
The Rules of Court under Section 15, Rule 19 provide that prosecution witnesses may be conditionally examined only on two basis: that the witness is too sick or infirm to appear in court and that the witness has to leave the country with no definite date of return, Calida said.
But Calida said Veloso should be exempted from the provision of the rules because she is under detention in Indonesia which has jurisdiction over her.
The CA denied both motions.