SEVERAL columns ago, we wrote about how the Witness Protection Program (WPP) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) is fast becoming the refuge of scoundrels seeking to save their own skin.
The way we see it, the ease with which admitted felons already charged with serious criminal offenses are being taken into the WPP—which is tantamount to immunity for their criminal acts—is an abuse and bastardization of the witness protection law.
The recent admission of pork-barrel scam co-conspirator Dennis Cunanan into the WPP exemplifies the dysfunctional application of a law that was intended to punish the guilty, not reward them.
Cunanan is the former deputy director general of the Technology Resource Center (TRC), the state firm reportedly used as a conduit by Janet Napoles to pocket public funds.
In September last year, Cunanan was charged along with 38 other people, including Napoles, with plunder before the Office of the Ombudsman.
At that time, Cunanan denied any involvement in the PDAF-related projects processed by the TRC from 2007-2009. And in his original sworn affidavit before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, he reportedly claimed he was just the deputy director general of TRC when the supposed PDAF transactions happened.
Less than a month later, Cunanan changed his tune.
In a new affidavit before the NBI, Cunanan declared that lawmakers confirmed their signatures on the letters they had sent to the TRC endorsing Napoles-backed NGOs. He, however, tried to downplay his participation saying that that his role as deputy director general of TRC in the PDAF projects was “merely perfunctory and ministerial.”
Apparently, Cunanan had earlier applied as a state witness, after serving as a “resource person” of Atty. Levito Baligod, the lawyer of Benhur Luy and his fellow whistleblowers.
Last week, or six months after his application, Cunanan became the Aquino administration’s newest state witness in the pork barrel scam case.
Cunanan now admits having personally dealt with Napoles who he says even admonished him “not to make the process, particularly, the release of the funds to the NGOs, slow and difficult.” He says Napoles also dropped the names of three senators as well as several other congressmen whose names he could no longer recall.
Why Cunanan only remembered the names of the three senators but not these congressmen – whom he admitted often personally followed-up the immediate release of checks to their selected NGOs – remains a mystery.
Despite Cunanan’s selective amnesia, it’s evident that he’s not the “bit player” in the pork barrel scam that he portrays himself to be. He was part of the syndicate that manipulated and profited from government funds.
In fact, the approval of Cunanan’s application into the WPP was reportedly delayed due to a disagreement on whether he should return the sizeable “commission” that he pocketed from the PDAF transactions.
For Baligod, however, that’s a non-issue because Cunanan would have gotten it anyway as part of his “benefits” from the WPP. Amazing!!
True, encouraging and securing the cooperation of witnesses is crucial to prosecuting certain crimes. But the WPP mustn’t be used by criminal “insiders” to avoid jail time while keeping their “loot.” Otherwise, it will be seen as a reward for their cooperation, and more dangerously, an incentive for confessed criminals to give false testimony that they believe government prosecutors want or need.
Perhaps that’s the reason why many folks are taking issue with the DOJ giving Cunanan a “Get Out of Jail, Free” card.
Senator Grace Poe, for one, says that Cunanan’s participation in the scam puts into question his own integrity as a potential state witness and that the DOJ should think twice in allowing a co-conspirator to get off the hook.
Even a lawyer for some whistleblowers objected to Cunanan’s inclusion in the list of state witnesses, pointing out that he was already charged with plunder in the pork barrel scam case.
Clearly, the problem lies in the DOJ’s treatment of confessed criminals as “whistleblowers” rather than mere “informants.”
As explained by a organized crime expert, “[informants]disclose information for personal benefit, some for money but most as a means to reduce the liability for their own illegal conduct, either voluntarily or due to coercion . . . By contrast, a whistleblower makes the disclosure not for any private benefit but in order to benefit a larger community . . .”
Informants, therefore, should not to be entitled to the same privilege given to true whistleblowers.
It has been the United States government’s policy, for instance, that persons who have committed serious crimes should not be allowed to avoid jail time by agreeing to testify. Instead, for their cooperation and testimony, “insiders” in criminal conspiracies are offered a “cooperation plea agreement,” which allows them to plead guilty in exchange for reduced jail sentences.
That’s obviously not the case in the Philippines.
Here, criminal “insiders” like Cunanan get to laugh all the way to the bank.