A bill in the House of Representatives seeking to transfer supervision of the Witness Protection Program (WPP) to regular courts does not sit well with government prosecutors.
The WPP, which protects whistleblowers, is under the command of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“The proposal to remove the WPP from the DOJ would seriously undermine our prosecutors’ ability to obtain and sustain our witnesses’ collaboration in the investigation and case build-up,” Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, also the chief of the National Prosecution Service (NPS), said over the weekend.
Arellano heads the country’s more than 2,500 prosecutors.
“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.
The NPS leader appealed to legislators to “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.”
The dean of the New Era College of Law, Abraham Espejo, joined Arellano in opposing the transfer of the WPP to the regular courts.
“Obviously, if the Witness Protection Program will be stripped from the DOJ, it will immensely weaken and affect its exercise of investigative powers and case build-up in the prompt filing and prosecution of offenses in court,” Espejo said also over the weekend.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier objected to the measure.
House Bill (HB) 4583 is authored by Deputy Speaker Sergio Apostol, who said it is necessary to “shield the [WPP] from possible corrosive politics.”
“Dismantling lawless elements in our society requires getting information that can be difficult to obtain without witnesses,” he pointed out.
Apostol warned of the possibility that, under the current program, witnesses could be subjected to “intimidation and suppression,” which could lead to “failed prosecutions” of cases.