MANILA, Philippines - The Acting Director of the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Witness Protection Program (WPP), Martin Menez, cries "unfair" the blame placed on the WPP for the death of Alfred Mendiola, star witness in the Venson Evangelista slay case.
Menez said Mendiola signed several waivers so that he may not be placed in a safehouse and unguarded 24-7 by WPP guards.
Since Mendiola was already discharged by the trial court as an accused, Menez said the WPP did not have the power to hold him against his will. Menez, however, clarified several measures were put in place to keep Mendiola safe.
Mendiola was found dead along with two male companions in Sta. Lucia proper, Barangay Salawag in Dasmariñas City, Cavite, Sunday morning.
"Yung pagsisisi sa WPP sa nangyari kay Alfred is very unfair kasi the WPP did everything, all the benefits that are availabe under the program were given to Alfred or, at least, were offered to him. In terms of security protection, we have offered him several times a safehouse but despite our offers, he refused to be placed under our safehouse or under our temporary shelter," Menez said.
This was the reason Mendiola was moved to the Bulacan Provincial Jail when he was still new with the WPP, he bared.
Brothers Roger and Raymond Dominguez, leaders of so-called Dominguez carjacking syndicate, are facing car theft and homicide charged for the abduction and slay of car-dealer Evangelista in Jan. 2011. Mendiola turned state witness against them.
In an interview with reporters on Tuesday, Justice Sec. Leila De Lima said the syndicate is the primary suspect in Mendiola's slay.
Mendiola was released from the Bulacan jail facility when the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 215 discharged him as an accused.
"When the court finally approved or granted the motion to discharge, then there was no more basis for the Bulacan Provincial Jail to hold him in custody kasi hindi na sya akusado. He was already a free man, so the Bulacan Provincial Jail turned him over back to the WPP," Menez said.
Again, Mendiola refused to be placed in a safehouse and formalized his request to Menez.
"Nung pasimula pa lang at inilipat sa provincial jail, nagwaiver din sya. Nung palabas siya at ayaw niya sa safehouse, sumulat siya sa akin, may waiver to that similar effect," Menez said.
Mendiola wanted to rent a place in Angeles City upon his release from the jail facility, but the WPP turned this down because he was "too close to danger there."
"We all know that it's within the area where the carnapping syndicates operate," Menez said.
The WPP, instead, relocated Mendiola.
"By way of agreement and naging usapan dun, ok, sabi namin kung ayaw mo talaga sa safehouse dadalhin ka namin sa malayong lugar. And dinala namin si Alfred sa malayong lugar where he was safe, and despite that, kahit nasa malayong lugar siya, we continued to monitor him everyday. May monitoring kami sa kanya kung kamusta na siya," Menez said.
"Inoffer uli namin yung safehouse, gumawa siya ng waiver uli, undertaking, may affidavit pa. Meron pa kaming memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Alfred, that he should avoid any activities by which his whereabouts may be traced. Dun sa moa nakalagay din na he will inform us of all his activities... di lang basta pinirmahan niya, sinumpaan nya yun, saka si Alfred matalinong tao kaya alam niya yun," he added.
Over the weekend, Mendiola did not inform the WPP of his whereabouts, Menez claimed.
"Without informing us, lumabas siya dun (latest location) at pumunta sa area kung saan siya delikado. Siya yung lumapit sa peligro, siya ung lumapit sa kapahamakan so it is totally unfair that the WPP will be blamed for this. Nilayo na namin siya sa peligro, lumapit sya sa peligro... parang mali naman na kami ang sisihin ninyo after all that we have done," Menez said.
In the course of the hearings at the trial court, Alfred's security details was heavy and he was always directed to wear a bullet-proof vest for his safety, Menez claimed. He added that coordination was even made with other law enforcement agencies to help secure Mendiola.
"He wanted freedom"
Menez said Mendiola wanted his freedom and privacy, after having been released from the Bulacan Provincial Jail.
"He [wanted] freedom especially siguro, narestrict siya noong nakulong sya. He [wanted] privacy. Pero alam ninyo, kapag napasok ka sa WPP, lalo kung may mga threats sa iyo as witness, dapat handa ka rin naman na magsakripisyo ng mga ganung freedom, ng ganung mga privacy," he said.
While the WPP is bent on securing witnesses, Menez called on witnesses to do their part.
"Dapat mag-iingat din yung testigo. First and foremost, buhay mo ang nakataya," Menez said.
During Tuesday's dialogue with the DOJ, Evangelista's father asked the WPP to detain witnesses who refuse to be kept in safehouses. Menez, however, said, they did not have the power or authority to do so under the WPP Act.
Amendments to the law need to be made, he said, to further strengthen it such as adding specific provisions on change of identity and relocation of witnesses.
Menez added that he understood the backlash received by the WPP for Mendiola's death since the program entails that details about witnesses and security arrangements for them should be kept confidential from the public.