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.

GUILTY: When the defense acted as prosecutors


The rule is that the prosecution must prove the strength of its case. It cannot rely on the weakness of the defense. But in the historic conviction of Renato C. Corona, it was strangely the defense that ensured that   Corona would be the first officer in Philippines history to be removed from office through impeachment.

The prosecution rested its case solely on Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment, to wit: that he failed to disclose to the public his statement of Statement of Assets, Liability and Net Worth as required under the Constitution. This could have meant either of two things: one, he did not disclose his SALN as required by law; or two, he was not truthful in his declarations thereat.

At the onset of the trial, the prosecution immediately subpoenaed the former CJ’s SALN that it had alleged, and rightfully at that, should have been made public. This means that the prosecution could not have meant to prove that his declarations in the SALN were untruthful precisely because they had not seen them. This was why they wanted Marites Vitug and Harvey Keh to take the witness stand:  to state that they were denied access to these SALNs.

I reckoned that the Congressmen must have thought that the former CJ would go the way of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierres. That is, that he would resign as soon as the articles are filed. But the former CJ did not resign. Confident, perhaps, that the prosecution did not have the goods on him, he opted to wage battle with the prosecutors and Malacañang.

The CJ was right. The prosecution did not have the goods on him. It appears that the prosecution only commenced with its case build-up after the transmittal of the impeachment articles to the Senate.  In fact, they were so excited when the Land Registration Authority provided them with a computer printout of 45 properties allegedly belonging to the former CJ that they run to town with it even before they had the chance to verify the veracity and accuracy of the list.

And for it, they got tremendous flack. While they managed to prove the existence of 11 properties, the damaged has been done. Senators would take turns lambasting them for vilifying the name of the former CJ by revealing raw information to the public rather than to the impeachment court.

After which the prosecution had very little. There was BIR Commissioner Kim Henares who testified that the ex-CJ could not have lawfully acquired his declared property with his declared lawful income alone. But this was declared immaterial because the articles of impeachment did not allege that the ex- CJ amassed ill-gotten wealth.

Then there was the flip-flop in the PAL attendant’s case under Article three. But even if the flip-flop did happen, the Senate was not impressed since this could not be attributable to the CJ alone, the SC being a collegial body. The prosecution then sought to prove that Corona received lots of free trips from PAL through the so-called platinum card. But this too was not allowed. Finally, the prosecution presented Justice Secretary Leila De Lima who unfortunately, did not have personal knowledge on how the former CJ allegedly altered records of court proceedings to make it appear that the majority of the court had already enjoined her from preventing former President GMA from leaving the country. Justice Serreno, in her dissent, claims that this was subject to certain conditions- which had not yet been complied with.

By the time the prosecution had rested, the betting was that the former CJ would be acquitted. But the strangest thing happened: the defense actually picked up the cudgels for the prosecution. First, they summoned Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and enabled her to present to the impeachment court the AMLAC report detailing that the ex-CJ had US$10-12million in bank deposits. Then the defense flip-flopped and contrary to its initial refusal, allowed the CJ to take the stand. In his opus, the ex-CJ proved what the prosecution could not: that he had US$2.4 Million and about 80 Million pesos in deposits, sums which he did not declare in his SALN. The climax was when the former CJ walked-out of the proceedings after his 3 hour monologue. That was the turning point. Even those who were unsure of the CJ’s guilt could not absolve him lest they themselves earn the public ire.

The rest is history. On the basis of both the testimony of the Ombudsman and the former CJ, and courtesy of the latter’s walkout, the  Senate found Corona guilty. Thank goodness for the defense. It did a splendid job for the prosecution!

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!