Court deals blow to Filipino woman on death row

Manila court bars drug convict Mary Jane Veloso giving testimony against alleged recruiters outside Philippines
Court deals blow to Filipino woman on death row

Women activists hold a rally in Manila in 2015 to call for a stay of execution for Filipino migrant worker Mary Jane Veloso who was convicted of drug trafficking in Indonesia. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

A court in Manila has ruled that a Filipino woman on Indonesia's death row cannot give testimony against her alleged recruiters outside a court in the Philippines.

The ruling, handed down last month but only released to the media last week, puts into jeopardy the life of Mary Jane Veloso, convicted of drug trafficking in Indonesia in 2010.

Indonesia granted Veloso a stay of execution in April 2015 to allow her to testify against her alleged recruiters who face human trafficking and illegal recruitment charges in the Philippines. She claimed she was tricked into trafficking heroin. 

Veloso's testimony in the cases is essential for the prosecution. 

But the alleged recruiters — Maria Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao — were able to convince the Philippine Court of Appeals to bar Filipino judge Anarica Castillo-Reyes from going to Indonesia to take the deposition.

Veloso was supposed to give a deposition this month in Indonesia's Wirogunan Penitentiary, where she is detained, in the presence of the Filipino judge.

In its ruling, the Philippine appellant court said allowing the deposition without the presence of Sergio and Lacanilao "violates" their right to confront Veloso in person.

It also noted that "[g]enerally, the examination of witnesses must be done orally before a judge in open court" for the judge to test the witness' credibility.

The court said it is "not oblivious to the sad and unfortunate fate that befell" Veloso, but added that the circumstances in the case of Sergio and Lacanilao call for the application of court rules. 

The court added that, "the first and fundamental duty of the court is to apply the law."

Veloso's lawyers expressed disappointment, saying the court decision was "both frustrating and ironic." 

Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers said what Veloso's legal team is asking is for her to tell her story in full and with the guarantees of due process intact.

"No fundamental right is violated if [Veloso] is allowed to answer written interrogatories as the accused through their counsel will be present when her deposition is taken," said Olalia.

"Just let her speak and let her story stand on its own," said the lawyer.


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