Nueva Ecija court convicts Mary Jane recruiters

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star
Nueva Ecija court convicts Mary Jane recruiters
She was granted a stay of her execution in April 2015 in exchange for testifying against her alleged recruiters.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — Two job recruiters linked to Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipina on death row in Indonesia for transporting drugs in 2010, were sentenced to life imprisonment yesterday for large-scale illegal recruitment against three other jobseekers in Nueva Ecija.

Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao were found guilty in the case filed by victims Lorna Valino, Ana Marie Gonzales and Jenalyn Paraiso before the Regional Trial Court Branch 88 in Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija.

In her 27-page decision, Judge Anarica Castillo-Reyes found Sergio and Lacanilao guilty of violating Republic Act 8042.

While Veloso’s complaint against the recruiters is separate, it is being tried by the same judge. The decision may bolster her defense that she is a victim of her recruiters, who allegedly duped her into transporting heroin from Malaysia to Indonesia. The argument led to a stay of her execution.

Apart from the prison term, the two were ordered to pay a fine of P2 million.  

Court records showed that Sergio and Lacanilao attempted to recruit Valisno, Gonzales and Paraiso for employment abroad, but did not have the required license from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to do so. 

The judge, after considering the “positive testimonies of the complainants,” ruled that both accused’s act of promising or advertising employment abroad without the necessary license from the POEA constitutes the offense of illegal recruitment.

Moreover, Reyes noted that the offense was committed against three individuals, which is the minimum number of victims under RA 8042 to elevate the crime to large-scale illegal recruitment.

While Gonzales issued an affidavit of desistance in the course of the trial, the court said it did not affect the credibility of her testimony.

Reyes ruled that Gonzales had satisfactorily explained the reason why she executed the affidavit of desistance, citing that because of life’s hardships she barely had time to attend court hearings.

The court noted that Gonzales still affirmed her positive assertions that both accused proposed overseas employment to her.

Both Sergio and Lacanilao denied the accusations and claimed that they were never in the business of recruiting people for employment abroad.

But the judge ruled that the prosecution had “mustered sufficient evidence to secure a guilty verdict.”

It is noteworthy that at the time the victims were being recruited to work abroad, they had already been hearing stories that Sergio and Lacanilao were behind the recruitment of their neighbor Veloso, who ended up incarcerated on a drugs charge in Indonesia.

Court records showed that the complainants decided to press charges against Sergio and Lacanilao in 2015 even if they were never deployed abroad, because they somehow hoped that it would help the cause to save their neighbor from execution.

The complainants’ lawyer Edre Olalia, of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said they are pleased with the verdict handed down by Reyes.

Reyes is also the judge in a separate trial in which Lacanilao and Sergio face charges of human trafficking, simple illegal recruitment and estafa involving Veloso.

Veloso is represented in that case by the NUPL.

“We (NUPL) are of course glad that justice has been served even if only partially and initially through Mary Jane’s fellow victims. Even if their case is distinct from Mary Jane’s, we believe that Sergio and Lacanilao’s conviction stand as a testament to Mary Jane’s story – that she was not a drug courier but an unwitting victim of the same illegal recruiters,” Olalia said.

In April 2010, Veloso was arrested in Indonesia for bringing in 2.6 kilograms of heroin in her suitcase. She was sentenced to death in October 2010 but her execution did not push through because of the moratorium issued by former Indonesian president Susilio Bambang Yudhoyono. 

She was granted a stay of her execution in April 2015 in exchange for testifying against her alleged recruiters.

At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo also hailed the decision, but said it has nothing to do with the drug trafficking case involving Veloso in Indonesia.

“As a lawyer, there is no connection. She’s being charged with a crime there. Nothing to do with the conviction of the traffickers here,” said Panelo, who is also the chief presidential legal adviser.

When President Duterte assumed office, he informed Indonesian President Joko Widodo in 2017 that the Philippines would not interfere with Indonesia’s legal processes and instead, will take a hands-off policy on the Veloso case. – With Christina Mendez

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