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DOJ indicts Veloso’s recruiters

Maria Cristina Sergio AP/Aaron Favila

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday approved the filing of criminal charges against the recruiters of drug convict Mary Jane Veloso whose near execution in April attracted attention in both Indonesia and the Philippines.

Her removal from death row in Indonesia is being worked out by the Philippine government and concerned groups.

In an 18-page resolution approved by Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, the DOJ approved the indictment of Maria Cristina Sergio and partner Julius Lacanilao for illegal recruitment and estafa.

The two were also recommended charged with qualified human trafficking along with a certain “Ike,” the reported man of African descent who gave Veloso the bag containing 2.6 kilos of heroin, which led to her being sentenced to death for drug trafficking in 2009.

She was set to face the firing squad in April with several other foreign drug convicts but was granted an 11th hour reprieve after Sergio was arrested in the Philippines.

After Veloso was given a reprieve, the Indonesian government stressed the decision was only a “postponement” to allow time for police investigations. Her case attracted huge attention in both Indonesia and the Philippines, with near daily rallies of support and celebrities including boxing star Manny Pacquiao, pleading that her life be spared.

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The DOJ described Veloso as a “victim made to suffer the penalty of death.”

“She was exploited, deceived and made to believe that a job as a domestic helper was available for her in Malaysia,” read the resolution.

“Instead, complainant, without her knowledge and against her will, was made to transport prohibited drugs from Malaysia to Indonesia,” it said.

Preliminary investigation conducted by Assistant State Prosecutor Susan Azarcon also showed probable cause for the filing of charges against Sergio and Lacanilao by Veloso.

The DOJ said Sergio and Lacanilao are liable for illegal recruitment under Republic Act No. 8042 (Migrant Worker’s Overseas Filipino Act) as investigation showed that they enticed Veloso to go to Malaysia for a nonexistent job.

“In this case, respondent Lacanilao’s admission that it was he who introduced complainant to respondent Sergio who in turn promised a job as a domestic helper in Malaysia, makes them both liable for simple illegal recruitment,” it stressed.

It was also found during the preliminary investigation that the two respondents “engaged in activity of placement and recruitment by actually recruiting, deploying and transporting complainant Veloso to Malaysia without a valid license or authority required by law.”

The DOJ also found Sergio and Lacanilao liable for estafa under Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code since they collected P20,000 in fee from Veloso and even had her sell her cell phone and pawn her tricycle for her deployment in Malaysia.

“Clearly, complainant suffered damage as the promised job abroad was inexistent as well as the cash and the monetary value of the cellular phone and tricycle pawned to respondents,” it explained.

The DOJ also found Sergio, Lacanilao and Ike liable for human trafficking under Republic Act No. 9208 (Anti Trafficking in Persons Act).

“The evidence speaks of fraud and deception as the means employed by respondents in recruiting complainant,” the DOJ pointed out, citing the affidavit of Veloso taken from Wirongunan prison in Yogyakarta in Indonesia as well as supporting statements from her relatives.

The cases are set for filing this morning with the Talavera, Nueva Ecija regional trial court, according to Arellano.

Sergio and Lacanilao were already charged before the court based on a complaint filed by three other victims – Lorna Valino, Ana Maries Gonzales and Jenalyn Paraiso.

Veloso’s lawyer Edre Olalia welcomed the DOJ resolution, saying it could help prove her innocence before Indonesian authorities and help in the bid to save her from death row through clemency.  

Migrante International welcomed the DOJ ruling but advised the government and others involved in Veloso’s case to work doubly hard to have her permanently removed from death row.

“We have maintained at the onset that the charges against Sergio et al are solid. We celebrate this good news with Mary Jane, the Velosos, and all supporters of the #SaveMaryJane campaign around the world,” Sol Pillas, Migrante International secretary general, said.

Pacman offers help

Pacquiao, for his part, said he will visit Veloso on death row in Indonesia today and possibly raise her case with President Joko Widodo.

Pacquiao, who arrived in Indonesia on Tuesday, revealed his plans yesterday to reporters in the central Java city of Semarang, not far from the prison where Veloso is being held.

“I’m going to meet the president on Friday, so we will see what we can do,” he said.

Eight-division world champion Pacquiao made global headlines in May when he was beaten by Floyd Mayweather Jr. in Las Vegas in what was dubbed as “the fight of the century.”

Local media reported Pacquiao was also filming a TV commercial during his visit to Indonesia.

Widodo has vowed there will be no clemency for drug traffickers on death row as Indonesia is facing an “emergency” due to rising narcotics use.

At Malacañang, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said there is no letup in efforts to secure clemency for Veloso.

“The government’s determination to provide her protection and defend her rights remain,” Coloma said in a press briefing.

Coloma said the Indonesian government would be regularly updated on the case build-up against Veloso’s recruiters as part of efforts to save her life.

The Philippines has sought clemency for Veloso twice – in 2010 and before her scheduled execution in April.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said earlier everything would depend on the outcome of the investigation and prosecution of Veloso’s recruiters.

DFA spokesman Charles Jose explained that if the Philippines is able to file charges against Veloso’s recruiters and secure their conviction, then the government would be in a better position to renew its request for clemency for the single mother of two young children. Aurea Calica, Mayen Jaymalin

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