Ruby Tuason and the WPP: Some criminals are luckier than others

ImageThe 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.

Corona’s contemptible performance

Like millions of others, I was glued to the television the other day watching Chief Justice Renato Corona testify in his own impeachment trial.

Everything about last Tuesday was dramatic. First, there was his refusal to take the stand. He then relented and agreed to testify after the Ombudsman had detailed Anti-Money Laundering Council documents indicating that the chief justice had at least $12 million in various accounts. Prior to last Tuesday, his counsels and talking heads assured the public that Corona would “tell all” and would expose the malice of the individuals who falsely testified against him.

On the day itself, there was a meticulous script acted out by “B” actors, who now deserve acting awards. There was the traditional mass officiated by religious leaders closely identified with former President Gloria Arroyo, the usual illegal mass action by court officials and employees, and even a hero’s send-off for the embattled Corona.

At the Senate itself, the script was literally visible: a couple of pages of a monologue read out by Corona himself, a major deviation from ordinary court proceedings where witnesses are never allowed to deliver opening statements. This was a very carefully written script. Its writers knew that the opus would be allowed by a court that has repeatedly declared that it would respect the magistrate if and when he takes the stand. More importantly, its writers knew that the people would be watching.

And boy, what a show it turned out to be!

The scripted monologue itself was pathetic. Not only was it very poorly written, it was also bereft of the truth that Corona promised the nation. Half of it was mud thrown at the President, Ronald Llamas, and even Franklin Drilon. The other half was about the dirty laundry of the Basas.  Was Corona unmindful that his own children and wife were members of the same clan? The Senate President repeatedly asked him if he was finished, but he went on with his litany on matters, which were irrelevant and immaterial. And when he finally addressed the issue leveled against him by the Ombudsman, he resorted to a negative pregnant: the Ombudsman was lying but he admits having dollar deposits which according to him, are absolutely confidential and need not be declared in his SALN.

Prior to his appearance, a little known employee of the BIR, of all agencies, which the chief justice himself quoted in his monologue, opined that dollar deposits do not have to be disclosed in the SALN.

After which, he resorted to a conditional waiver of the secrecy of his dollar and pesos deposits, which takes effect only if and when the 188 congressmen who voted to impeach him and Franklin Drilon sign similar waivers. Talk of a cheap trick!

And after an excruciating two hours of vilification and self-pontification, he states that he is the chief justice of the Republic and leaves the stand.

I still can’t decide which was more offensive: his litany of mud or his walkout. I ask this because he is not just a very high official sought to be removed from his office. He is the chief justice if the land and as such, should personify the prestige and dignity of the legal profession. By resorting to mudslinging at the stand, Corona broke all rules of evidence that were developed over time to ascertain precisely the truth of controverted matters. And by walking out, he has shown contempt not only for the Senate sitting as an impeachment court, but to the rule of law itself, which as chief justice, he should be the first to uphold. If his departure were really for medical reasons, why did he not ask for leave of court? That would have been easy and would certainly have been granted on humanitarian grounds. It does not help that he was captured on camera clearly intent on leaving the Senate on cue. Clearly, what he and his advisers did not anticipate was that the Senate President would order the lock-out of the Senate to prevent him from leaving.

As I write this, it has become apparent that the chief justice will not return to the Senate as he is reportedly in the intensive care unit. I do not question his state of health as that is now between him and his creator. What I condemn is his performance that degraded the legal profession and eroded the people’s trust in the rule of law.

At the very least, Corona has proven to all that he does not deserve to remain as chief justice!