January 24, 2012
Sotto wants stricter WPP rules
Should a witness who could be making a false testimony be covered under the Witness Protection Program? How are they screened? Who determines whether they are credible or not, and thus qualified to be covered under the WPP?
Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente C. Sotto III wants the Department of Justice to refine, review, and reevaluate its assessment of witnesses to be placed under the WPP, so that justice is properly served.
Sotto pushed for a reexamination of the WPP rules this week as 11 senators endorsed the Senate committee on Blue Ribbon report on the alleged anomalous acquisition of second-hand helicopters by the National Police to the Ombudsman.
Among the witnesses who testified in the investigation was Lion Air president Archibald Po, who pinned down former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo as the real owner of the second-hand choppers purchased by the PNP.
In his testimony, Po, who has applied for the WPP, also testified that losing presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. also bought and loaned helicopters during the 20004 national campaign.
However, Sotto, who was Fernando Poe's campaign manager, said that such claim was bereft of truth as he strongly denied Po's assertion.
Sotto said there is a need for a review of the WPP guidelines given such characters as Po and to ensure that only qualified and credible witnesses are covered under it.
"With the various benefits, rights and privileges attached to the WPP, it is necessary that we make sure that they afforded only qualified and deserving witnesses,' Sotto said.
"It is therefore incumbent upon the appropriate authorities to thoroughly look into the credibility and reliability of each witnesses availing the WPP in order to properly serve its purpose," he added.
This is the second time that Sotto aired his concern for an urgent evaluation in the WPP, which provides government protection, security and benefits to witnesses in crime. The lawmaker introduced Senate Resolution 319 in Dec. 2010, urging the Senate committee on justice and human rights to conduct an inquiry for legislative purposes on how the Department of Justice evaluates those who will be covered under the WPP and if the objectives of the law creating it has been achieved. The resolution was prompted by reports that the supposed star witness in the Vizconde massacre case, Jessica Alfaro, faked her way in making authorities believe she was an eyewitness to the crime . Even as she enjoyed all the benefits under the WPP, including being relocated outside of the country for a new lease in life, the Supreme Court however, ruled she was not a credible witness. "There is a need to inquire as to the efficacy of the screening process so as to ensure that only qualified, credible and genuine witnesses are afforded the rights and benefits under the Witness Protection Program," Sotto stated in his resolution.
The lawmaker pushed for higher penalties for witnesses who give false testimonies and possibly, exclusion from WPP coverage.
In seeking a review, Sotto also pointed to reports that some witnesses under the WPP are more favored than others in terms of benefits and protection.
The WPP was established under the Republic Act No. 6981, or "the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act." The law seeks to encourage a person who has witnessed or has knowledge of the commission of a crime to testify before a court or quasi-judicial body, or before an investigation authority, by protecting him from reprisals and from economic dislocation.
Under the existing law, the screening approval and implementation of the program is under the absolute control of the DOJ.
Section 8 of RA 6981 provides that witnesses shall have the following rights and benefits:
1) security protection and escort services,
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