New DOJ chief reviews program for state witnesses

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 02 2010 12:13 PM | Updated as of Jul 02 2010 10:01 PM

MANILA, Philippines - On her first day at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Secretary Leila De Lima vowed to resolve all high profile cases expeditiously and competitively while eyeing a review of the department's witness protection program.

"Test me on this promise," De Lima told officials and employees at turnover ceremonies Friday morning at the DOJ office.

The new secretary laid out an agenda for the department, containing programs such as a review, audit, and re-implementation of the witness protection program (WPP).

De Lima, former chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), called the current implementation of the program "weak," alluding to the recent deaths of witnesses in the Maguindanao massacre.

She told reporters the witness protection program was key in administering justice.

"We are called to perform and deliver 100 percent justice for all persons," De Lima said. "Our true master is the law, justice, human rights, the protection of the Filipino people."

She reminded DOJ employees that the department received "marching orders" direct from President Aquino, who mentioned only De Lima and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala in his inaugural address.

"Feel pride that our mandate comes from the very top. Should he waver, he will be judged," De Lima said, referring to Aquino's promise of justice. "All of us at the Department of Justice will be judged against the same standard."

De Lima expressed interest in taking a part in the DOJ's task force on anti-trafficking in persons, being one of her promises to her colleagues in the CHR.

She called for a review of other task forces and elimination of a number if needed. She singled out prioritizing the task forces on anti- smuggling and immigration to aid the government's fund-raising activities.

Among her other programs were making inventories and audits of the offices under the DOJ, and an increase in the number of prosecutors

De Lima later said she would attend various briefings to familiarize her with the department.

She also thanked outgoing DOJ Secretary Alberto Agra and his predecessor, Agnes Devanadera, for guidelines released during their terms and their campaign to reduce the backlog of cases filed at the DOJ, now numbering more than a thousand.

Agra symbolically turned over the department's flag to De Lima. He described De Lima as "incorruptible" and recalled the 15 years he had known her among the "handful" in election law practice.

"I am sure she will be relentless with a purpose," Agra said.

Agra also turned over to De Lima documents that included the department's budget, 11 circulars and rules issued during his four-month term, a report on the DOJ's zero-backlog program, and a wish list of reforms he wanted implemented.

He proudly mentioned addressing all 128 cases filed during his term, leaving De Lima with those unresolved cases passed to him.

Agra, who caused a controversy by being appointed by former President Gloria Arroyo in the waning months of her term, said he was going back to school.

He enrolled in two non-law courses at the Ateneo de Manila University.