Prosecutors buck transfer of WPP to courts

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jul 14 2014 08:59 AM | Updated as of Jul 14 2014 04:59 PM

MANILA - Government prosecutors are opposing a bill in the House of Representatives seeking to transfer the Witness Protection Program (WPP) from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to the courts.

Prosecutor General Claro Arellano warned that House Bill 4583 authored by Deputy Speaker Sergio Apostol could have grave repercussions on the dispensation of justice.

“The proposal to remove the WPP in the DOJ would seriously undermine our prosecutors’ ability to obtain and sustain our witnesses’ collaboration in the investigation and case buildup,” he said.

“Dismantling lawless elements in our society requires getting information that can be difficult to obtain without witnesses.”

Arellano said witnesses could be subjected to intimidation and suppression if the WPP is removed from the DOJ’s supervision.

Considering the insufficiency of court resources, it could lead to “failed prosecution” of cases, he added.

Arellano, who heads over 2,500 prosecutors nationwide, said witnesses are important as cornerstone of a successful criminal justice system.

“In a society where the use of forensic evidence is at its infancy, we, prosecutors, rely on our witnesses’ ability to recall and relate relevant information, essential to the successful prosecution of cases,” he said.

Arellano said lawmakers must judiciously evaluate the wisdom of the bill.

“We, at the National Prosecution Service, hope that our legislators will continue to allow us to provide security and support to our witnesses, in facilitating their ability to give the kind of testimony required for the maintenance of the rule of law,” he said.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima also opposes HB 4583.

However, Apostol said the WPP’s proposed transfer to the courts is necessary to “shield the program from possible corrosive politics.”

De Lima said the proposal is hinged on a wrong premise and “a sweeping and reckless accusation.”

Hundreds of WPP-covered witnesses in various criminal cases nationwide were admitted in the program “on the basis of clear standards,” she added.

Witness protection is an essential and indispensable ingredient in the prosecution of criminal offenders, De Lima said.

Apostol said Republic Act 6981 creating the WPP was enacted into law to encourage an individual who has witnessed or has knowledge of the commission of a crime to testify before a court, a quasi-judicial body, or an investigating authority, by protecting him/her from probable reprisals and from unavoidable economic dislocation.