More victims of Mary Jane recruiter surface

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MANILA, Philippines – More victims of the alleged recruiter of Mary Jane Veloso, the overseas Filipino worker (OFW) sentenced to death in Indonesia for drug smuggling, have surfaced.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima confirmed yesterday that two other persons have come out and claimed they were also victims of the supposed scheme of Ma. Kristina Sergio, who is under police protective custody while facing charges of illegal recruitment, human trafficking and estafa by swindling over Veloso’s case.

“These two are claiming they were also victimized by the alleged recruiter,” she bared.

But De Lima did not give further details regarding the identities or whereabouts of the victims pending verification by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

She only explained that these other cases would be treated separately from that of Veloso’s complaint against Sergio, her live-in partner Julius Lacanilao who introduced Mary Jane to Sergio, and a man of African descent identified only as Ike.

De Lima said Veloso stands as witness and complainant in the criminal complaint filed last week by the NBI against Sergio, Lacanilao and Ike, which the government cited in successfully convincing the Indonesian government to suspend her execution at the eleventh hour.

“This NBI complaint only covers the case of Mary Jane. She has personal knowledge on the circumstances and could prove her claim that she’s just a victim, that she was duped into carrying that luggage with illegal drugs there in Indonesia,” De Lima pointed out.

Reports said another woman surfaced in a popular social networking site claiming that she also encountered Sergio at an airport. She said the recruiter asked her to bring a luggage, but she turned down the request. Authorities are reportedly looking into this fourth case against Sergio.

The Department of Justice has issued a subpoena on Sergio and Lacanilao, who were directed to appear before Assistant State Prosecutor Susan Azarcon at 2 p.m. on May 8 and 14 for preliminary investigation on the charges.

No travel to Phl

The Indonesian government will not allow Veloso to travel to the Philippines to give her testimony in court in connection with the case filed against her recruiter.

A report in the Jakarta Post said Indonesia considered as impossible the Philippine government’s request to allow Veloso to appear in court on May 8 and 14.

According to the report, Attorney General’s Office (AGO) spokesman Tony Spontana said the government would instead ask Veloso to conduct a video conference or present a written testimony to prove her innocence during the planned court hearing in the Philippines against Sergio.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippines still has to ascertain the extent of the reprieve granted to Veloso, as Indonesia maintained that it is temporary and does not wipe away the conviction.

The Philippine embassy in Jakarta will be meeting with Indonesian authorities on Monday to determine the extent of the reprieve.

Veloso is back at the Yogyakarta jail from prison island Nusakambangan after deferment of her execution.

What major role?

Meanwhile, Veloso’s mother Celia yesterday aired her grievances toward the Aquino administration, belying reports that the government played a major role in her daughter’s grant of reprieve.

“We’ve returned home to the Philippines for payback. This is not about money. The government owes us because they tricked us,” Celia told reporters.

In apparent reference to Aquino, she said: “He is telling the whole world that he helped save my daughter’s life. That is not true. Get ready, we are here to charge you. We will fight you.”

Veloso’s sister Marites Laurente said the Philippine government failed to provide her with a capable interpreter during her trial.

Veloso’s family is hopeful that despite her death sentence, Mary Jane will come home alive.

“We believe Mary Jane will come home alive,” her sister Maritess told the crowd during the Labor Day rally in Manila yesterday evening.

She said they will not stop until justice for her sister is served.

‘We did what we could’

Responding to criticisms, President Aquino said yesterday that the government did everything it could to save Veloso from death.

“We were not involved in the creation of the problem. You must remember she was arrested, if I am not mistaken, in April of 2010,” he said.

“But what if I throw it back to you, what more can the government do? You know, from the counsels that were provided, from the intercessions done through President (Joko) Widodo, with foreign ministers, through the Attorney General… bringing the entire (Veloso) family there also,” Aquino said.

The President said the illegal drug problem was very serious for Indonesia and the Philippines and Jakarta had been stressing the number of its people affected by the menace on a daily basis.

“They keep using the phrase that they are in an emergency situation,” he said.

Aquino vowed that the government would continue working to help Veloso secure clemency.

The President earlier ordered authorities to fast-track the case being built against the alleged illegal recruiters of Veloso, hoping that any positive developments would lead to a better fate for her.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III also said yesterday that Veloso’s family refuses to recognize the role Aquino played in the grant by the Indonesian government of reprieve for her.

“But in the interest of fairness and accuracy, the facts would show that President Aquino and other government officials had indeed exhausted all efforts possible in pleading mercy and compassion for Veloso with the Indonesian government,” Albano said.

“The Indonesian government itself revealed that it was President Aquino’s last-minute plea to Indonesian President Widodo that helped clinch the last-minute reprieve for Mary Jane,” he added.

Albano pointed out that he could not understand why Veloso’s family cannot recognize this fact and refuses to believe the Indonesian government’s statement.

“Overall, it was the power of prayers and the faith and hopes of a unified Filipino nation that really worked to save Mary Jane from the dreaded Indonesian firing squad,” he said.

Congressional inquiry

Gabriela Rep. Emmerenciana de Jesus said yesterday the women’s party-list group will continue to support all efforts to bring Veloso home, expedite justice and make those responsible accountable.

De Jesus said she will file next week a resolution to launch a congressional inquiry on the government’s response, or lack of it, in addressing the case of Veloso and other Filipinos in jail abroad.

She said it is important to look into whether the Philippine government, specifically the DFA, is giving ample and appropriate assistance to migrant Filipinos jailed all over the world.

“While all avenues are now being exhausted to finally bring Mary Jane Veloso home, efforts must likewise be exerted to look into the plight of 88 other migrant Filipinos awaiting their fates on death row and hundreds more in at least 7,000 in jails all over the world,” De Jesus said.

“It’s clear in Mary Jane Veloso’s case that she was nearly abandoned by the DFA that’s why she was almost executed by firing squad. How much effort exactly is the Philippine government exerting to assist our OFWs?” De Jesus asked.

Dep’t of Foreign Employment

For his part, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has called for a review of the country’s anti-trafficking in persons law and the performance of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).

Marcos said that the case of Veloso was “a rude awakening for all of us that despite our efforts, much remains to be done to combat all forms of human trafficking.

“We need to revisit our anti-trafficking in persons law to find out if we need to improve its provisions and review the performance of the IACAT to determine if it’s in the side of implementation where our effort is lacking,” Marcos said. – With Aurea Calica, Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero, Pia Lee-Brago, Marvin Sy, AFP

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