The recent admission of pork barrel scam co-conspirator Ruby Tuason highlights anew the political nature of the Witness Protection Program. Contrary to popular thinking, the WPP and the discharge of a witness as a state witness are two different things. The first is an executive act which, for all intents and purposes, is under the control and supervision of the Secretary of Justice, The latter is a judicial act and will require that the person sought to be discharged as a state witness first be charged in court.
The Witness Protection Program was created by an act of Congress, RA 6981. Under this statute, a person may either apply to the program if:
a) the offense in which his testimony will be used is a GRAVE FELONY as defined under the Revised Penal Code, or its equivalent under special laws;
b) his testimony can be substantially CORROBORATED in its material points;
c) he or any member of his family within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity is subjected to THREATS TO HIS LIFE OR BODILY INJURY or there is a likelihood that he will be KILLED, FORCED, INTIMIDATED, HARASSED OR CORRUPTED to prevent him from testifying, or to testify falsely, or evasively, because or on account of his testimony.
As a consequence of being admitted into the program, a protected witness may be granted immunity for the crime for which he is testifying, be granted protection and a safe house, and may even keep his loot. This is because according to the web page of the DOJ, a person admitted into the program “may not be subjected to any penalty or forfeiture for any transaction, matter or thing concerning his compelled testimony or books, documents or writings produced.”
A discharge as state witness, on the other hand, is pursuant to Section 7, Rule 119 of the Revised Rules of Court. Unlike the WPP, the Rules of Court require that a state witness should have already been charged for a crime in court. A person then can be discharged as a State witness if the court is satisfied that:
(a) There is ABSOLUTE NECESSITY for the testimony of the accused whose discharge is requested;
(b) There is NO OTHER DIRECT EVIDENCE AVAILABLE for the proper prosecution of the offense committed, except the testimony of said accused;
(c) The testimony of said accused can be substantially CORROBORATED in its material points;
(d) Said accused does NOT appear to be the MOST GUILTY; and
(e) Said accused has NOT at any time been CONVICTED of any offense involving moral turpitude.”
While both provide for testimonial immunity for the accused who will testify for the state, it is clear that the WPP provides for more benefits. This includes protection, a safe house, and even the right to keep his loot. Moreover, unlike the discharge of a state witness, a person may be admitted into the WPP and be accorded all benefits of the program, including immunity form prosecution, on a very low threshold, that the testimony may be corroborated on its material points. It does not matter hence if the testimony is redundant nor that the testimony will not involve new matters that only the witness can testify on.
Simply put, admission into the WPP -which is tantamount to impunity for one’s criminal acts – is a highly political act. Unlike discharge of a state witness in court, all that is required is that there must be an alleged threat on the life of the witness and that the testimony is subject to corroboration. This is why many are aghast at the possibility that Ruby Tuason, who should be equally be prosecuted as Enrile, Estrada et al, appears to be off the hook. Just because the Secretary of Justice now admits that the cases she filed in connection with the PDAF scam does not have her “slam dunk” testimony, she now wants an equally corrupt character to be off the hook.
I have always believed in good governance and that all corrupt people in government should be thrown behind bars. In this regard, we must ensure that all those who stole from the public coffers should all spend the rest of their lives behind bars, Certainly, the admission to the WPP of Ruby Tuason, including her right now to keep part of her loot, as I think she has said that she will only return a measly P 40 million, is more reason for decent citizens to be aghast at the manner by which the WPP is being implemented.
The WPP, including the Rules of Court provision on state witnesses, exists to ensure that those who breach the law should be punished for their acts. It certainly should not be implemented in a manner to make some criminals appear luckier than others.