Whistleblowers might get free plastic surgery

by RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 13 2014 12:23 AM | Updated as of Feb 13 2014 08:23 AM

MANILA – The House Committee on Justice on Wednesday approved a proposed bill on the government's Witness Protection Program (WPP), which allows among others, a change of name and physiology, and even a facelift, of qualified witnesses.

According to Iloilo 5th District Rep. Niel Tupas, this is to ensure that witnesses in the program will be secure from retaliation after they have testified in court.

"Their records will still be there, but they will have a new name to conceal their identity, which they could use in transactions," Tupas said.

Tupas, however, said the bill does not include a provision on sex change.

“Practicality will be limited to plastic surgery sa face at katawan… kasi pag gender change, the purpose isn’t to conceal, it’s personal, so hindi na kailangan gastusan ng gobyerno,” he explained.

The bill, according to Tupas, states that the secretary of justice, upon the application of the witness covered under the program and in accordance with the rules, may order a change of first name, middle name and/or family name of the witness covered, without need of a separate judicial order or administrative proceeding.

Tupas also said they will create a Witness Protection Bureau under the DOJ, to be headed by a director with assistant secretary rank.

“May mga provisions na medyo bago. Meron din legislative witness protection program, dati wala. May legal assistance pag hina-haraass. Sa shelter, ie-extend sa pamilya within 2nd degree of consanguinity. Generally it is for the duration of the case,” Tupas said.

Any person who has witnessed or has knowledge or information about a crime and has testified, is testifying, or about to testify before any judicial or quasi-judicial body, or before any investigating authority, including witnesses in congressional investigations, may be admitted into the WPP.

Currently, witnesses under the WPP may receive benefits that include the following:

* Security protection services;
* Immunity from criminal prosecution and not to be subjected to any penalty or forfeiture for any transaction, matter or thing concerning his compelled testimony or books, documents or writings produced;
* Secure housing facility;
* Assistance in obtaining a means of livelihood;
* Reasonable traveling expenses and subsistence allowance while acting as a witness;
* Free medical treatment, hospitalization and medicine for any injury or illness incurred or suffered while acting as a witness;
* Burial benefits of not less than P10,000 if the witness is killed because of his participation in the program;
* Free education from primary to college level for the minor or dependent children of a witness who dies or is permanently incapacitated;
* Non-removal or demotion in work because of absences due to his being a witness and payment of full salary or wage while acting as witness.