The Supreme Court has allowed the taking of the testimony of convicted drug trafficker Mary Jane Veloso against her recruiters by way of deposition in Indonesia.
In the case of People of the Philippines v. Maria Cristina P. Sergio and Julius L. Lacanilao (G.R. No. 240053), the Court’s Third Division, during its Division hearing last Wednesday, October 9, and through the ponencia of Justice Ramon Paul L. Hernando, granted the petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court and reversed and set aside the December 13, 2017 decision of the Court of Appeals that overturned the August 16, 2016 Resolution of the Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court, Branch 88. The RTC granted motion of the prosecution to take the deposition by written interrogatories of Mary Jane in Indonesia.
Thus, the Court reinstated and affirmed with modification the ruling of the RTC and ordered that the deposition of Mary Jane be taken before the Philippine Consular Office and officials in Indonesia pursuant to the Rules of Court and principles of jurisdiction.
Likewise, the Court noted and referred to the SC Committee on Revision of the Rules for its appropriate action the recommendation by the Office of the Solicitor General for the Court to promulgate a set of rules for the guidance of the Bench and the Bar in transnational cases that may arise in the future, where a prosecution’s vital witness in a criminal proceeding is unavailable for reasons other than those listed in Section 15, Rule 119 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure vis-à-vis the enforcement of the accused’s constitutional right to confront witnesses face-to-face.
The Court said that to disallow the written interrogatories will curtail Mary Jane’s right to due process.
The Court held that the RTC did not gravely abuse its discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it granted the taking of testimony of Mary Jane by way of deposition through written interrogatories in light of the conditions of Mary Jane’s reprieve and her imprisonment in Indonesia. It further held that there are compelling reasons to liberally construe the procedural rules and apply suppletorily the Rules on Civil Procedure.
The Court found reversible error in the assailed CA ruling when the appellate court gave due course to the petition for certiorari of respondents Maria Cristina P. Sergio and Julius L. Lacanilao considering that the errors ascribed therein were mere errors of judgment which do not lie in a certiorari proceeding.
In overturning the RTC’s decision, the CA held that contrary to the RTC’s findings, the conditional examination of witnesses in criminal proceedings are primarily governed by Rule 119 of the Rules on Criminal Procedure.
The High Court, however, held that Section 15, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court was inapplicable in the instant case. Section 15 of Rule 119, which provides the examination of witnesses for the prosecution, states that “[w]hen it satisfactorily appears that a witness for the prosecution is too sick or infirm to appear at the trial as directed by the court, or has to leave the Philippines with no definite date or returning, he may forthwith be conditionally examined before the court where the case is pending.”
The Court held that such was not the case of Mary Jane noting that she cannot even take a single step out of the prison facility of her own volition without facing severe consequence. Her imprisonment in Indonesia and the conditions attached to her reprieve denied her of any opportunity to decide for herself to voluntarily appear and testify before the trial court in Nueva Ecija where the cases of the respondents of illegal recruitment were pending.
The Court held that that CA, in denying the State’s motion for deposition, appeared to have strictly and rigidly applied and interpreted Section 15, Rule 119 without taking into consideration the concomitant right of due process of Mary Jane and the State as well as the prejudice that will be caused to Mary Jane or the People with its pronouncement.
The Court further held that in light of the unusual circumstances surrounding Mary Jane’s case, it saw no reason not to apply suppletorily the provisions of Rule 23 of the Rules on Civil Procedure in the interest of substantial justice and fairness. Rule 23 of the Rules of Court provides the provision in the depositions pending action, when may be taken, persons before whom depositions may be taken in foreign countries, and deposition upon written interrogatories; service of notice and interrogatories.
Mary Jane, who was neighbors with respondents Cristina and Julius in Talavera, Nueva Ecija, claimed that she was offered by the latter a job as domestic helper in Malaysia. Upon arrival in Malaysia, Mary Jane, however, was informed by Cristina that the job intended for her was no longer available. She was eventually sent to Indonesia, by Cristina who provided her with the plane ticket as well as a luggage, for a seven-day holiday with a promise that she will have a job upon her return to Malaysia. Upon her arrival at the Adisucipto International Airport in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Mary Jane was arrested by police officers for allegedly carrying 2.5 kilograms of heroin inside her lugged. She was charged with drug trafficking before the District Court of Sleman, Yogyakarta, Indonesia which later sentenced her to death by firing squad.
The Supreme Court Public Information Office will be posting a copy of the decision in the SC website once it receives the official copy from the Office of the Clerk of Court En Banc.