DOJ's witness protection takes a hit

by Caroline Howard, ANC

Posted at May 10 2012 11:59 PM | Updated as of May 14 2012 07:05 PM

MANILA, Philippines - News of the death of accused-turned-state witness Alfred Mendiola on Sunday came as a shock to Arsenio “Boy” Evangelista, father of slain car dealer Venson Evangelista.

Evangelista said they were not aware that Mendiola wanted to leave the justice department's Witness Protection Program (WPP), or that he would be discharged from its custody.  

He said he only found out 2 days ago following a meeting with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who showed them Mendiola's written request to opt out of the WPP.

“Wala kaming update na idi-discharge siya from the WPP. As a matter of fact, as early as Sunday, a source told me he was dead. I was really shocked..." Evangelista said on ANC's "Headstart."

Mendiola was considered the prosecution's "star witness" in the murder of carjack-slay victim Venson Evangelista.

Mendiola, along with two companions, was found dead in Sta. Lucia proper, Barangay Salawag in Dasmariñas City, Cavite, Sunday morning.

The three were tied, gagged and shot in the head.

Evangelista said Mendiola’s murder was disheartening more than a year after his son’s death.

“Nakakapanghina because inalagaan namin ito. Credit goes to the public prosecutors of Quezon City.  Day and night, nagtatrabaho sila. We have an airtight case. Sayang lahat even physical evidence, talagang binantayan namin ito, even the basic needs of Alfred Mendiola, yung panggastos niya nagchi-chip-in kami,” he said.

He said the Justice department may only have itself to blame for Mendiola's death.

"Since may MOA [Memorandum of Agreement] kami dapat sundin yun... I think may lapse din dito ang WPP because dapat 24/7 dapat binantayan nila ang star witness na ito considering mayroon siyang previous incident of bombings sa cel niya. Siguro it’s about time ma-amend at magkaroon ng clear-cut rules and regulations ang WPP."

WPP: Mendiola violated protocols

Martin Menez, acting director of the WPP, said the accusation “unfair” since Mendiola had signed several waivers and opted to have his freedom and privacy instead of security in a safehouse.

The WPP chief said the justice department does not have the power to hold any witness against his will.

"It is totally unfair that the WPP will be blamed for this.  Nilayo na namin siya sa peligro, lumapit pa siya sa peligro... Kung ang testigo ayaw nila sa loob ng programa, hindi namin pwede posasan,” he said.

He added: "Sa kanya mismo nanggaling ayaw nya sa safehouse...and in fact he wrote me a letter formalizing that request."

Evangelista said the agency should have taken control of the situation and kept a high-profile and key witness like Mendiola under tight watch.

"High profile ito, vital witness...  Walang clear-cut rules dito kaya hindi nila ma-blame kami na lapses nila sila macriticize dito."

The DOJ said Mendiola committed many violations of WPP protocols, like using cellphones and accepting visitors.

Review of WPP rules

Evangelista said Mendiola's death is not just a setback to their case but a black eye to the country's justice system.  

He said it could potentially discourage current or potential witnesses from submitting themselves to the WPP.

He himself also appealed for government security.

"Worried kami lahat dito baka yung other witnesses sa WPP e matakot na o yung gusto magjoin sa WPP,” he said.

“Sana Malacañang will have a direct hand on this. Sana mabigyan kami ng security.  Si Alfred Mendiola napatay under the wings and shelter of the WPP kami walang ganoong program,” he added.

He welcomed Malacañang’s order to review the WPP. "Siguro kailangan bigyan ng ngipin yung WPP,” he said.

The Evangelista kidnapping and slay case is in the pre-trial stage. But Evangelista said they remain confident they will get justice.

The DOJ has said Mendiola's testimony will be adopted in the trial against the Dominguez brothers.  

Evangelista said the families of the victims are hoping for a speedy resolution to the case.

"We had a meeting with DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima, that the previous sworn statement of Mendiola will be adopted for the trial."

"Somehow lumalakas ang loob namin sa chance of conviction."