Sleepy Nueva Ecija town wakes up for Mary Jane Veloso drama
TALAVERA, Nueva Ecija—Whether through online searches or accounts on television and in newspapers, this sleepy town 161 kilometers north of Manila has drawn unexpected attention for the simple reason that migrant worker Mary Jane Veloso once called Esguerra village here her home.
Talavera has become part of the media landscape because it is also home to Maria Kristina Sergio and her partner, Julius Lacanilao, who are facing charges for their suspected role in sending Veloso to Malaysia in 2010, which eventually led to her arrest and conviction for smuggling heroin into Indonesia.
“We have been lending support for the cause of Mary Jane since [news about her conviction and scheduled execution emerged],” Mayor Nerivi Santos-Martinez said.
She said the local government had given relatives of Veloso financial assistance so they could travel to Manila and get support for her.
She said Veloso’s relatives also sought help from the local government when close family members, including her children, flew to Indonesia last week to be with her before her execution by firing squad.
At the municipal building here, a tarpaulin streamer announces the town’s plea to save Veloso from death row.
The streamer reads: “Save Mary Jane. The town of Talavera is praying for her deliverance.”
The town has seen how this unwanted attention has played out for Sergio and Lacanilao, who have sought police protection for fear of reprisal after news reports took them to task over Veloso’s predicament.
The two have been charged with human trafficking, illegal recruitment and fraud by the National Bureau of Investigation.
They have been ordered to appear in the Department of Justice for their preliminary investigation on May 8 and 21.
Sergio said the threats came from Veloso’s relatives.
But Imelda Magday, Veloso’s aunt, denied that the threats came from them, adding that these were most likely coming from members of an illegal drug syndicate.
“We cannot help but laugh at her statements. If indeed there are threats, these must have been coming from members of an illegal drug syndicate,” she said.
Veloso’s grandmother, Milagros Fiesta, also belied Sergio’s claims. “How can that happen? My children and other relatives are not here,” she said.
Sergio, in an earlier interview with the Inquirer, said she just helped Veloso find a job abroad, and did not set her up as a drug mule by forcing her to fly to Indonesia carrying a bag concealing illegal drugs.
Veloso became acquainted with Sergio, a native of Naga City, through Lacanilao.
Sergio, who described herself as a freelance marketing consultant for a realty company, said she helped Veloso enter Malaysia as a tourist so she could find a job after an offer in Dubai hit a snag.
Anti-Sergio rallies not allowed
Esguerra village chair Jimmy Dumaguit said life had never been the same for the community since Veloso blamed the couple for her woes.
“We have joined prayer vigils in Cabanatuan City for Veloso. However, we have not allowed anyone from holding rallies against Sergio and Lacanilao,” Dumaguit said.
“Sergio and Lacanilao are also our townmates. They have not approached us for assistance but if they need our support, we are ready to give them whatever we can,” Martinez said.
“We can’t dismiss them if they come. Let the court decide if they are guilty or not,” she said.
Dumaguit said Veloso and her parents used to own a house in the village, but they sold the property and relocated to Barangay Caudillo in Cabanatuan City.
Veloso married Michael Candelaria and they lived in a house adjacent to the home of Candelaria’s parents, he said.
Martinez said Veloso’s situation had drawn the town’s sympathy. With a report from Armand Galang, Inquirer Central Luzon
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