Drilon opposes bill removing WPP from DOJ

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

(UPDATED) SENATE President Franklin Drilon said he is opposed to a bill that seeks to remove the Witness Protection Program (WPP) from the Department of Justice (DOJ), the government's primary prosecution arm.

The Senate leader threw his support behind Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who sought to retain jurisdiction on the WPP under the DOJ, which is the subject of House Bill 4583 filed by Deputy Speaker Sergio Apostol seeking to transfer administration of WPP to lower courts.

As former justice secretary, Drilon said he fully understands the need for the DOJ to retain control of the WPP.

"It is the duty of the DOJ being the lead prosecutor to gather credible witnesses who have knowledge about the crimes committed. But to persuade a witness to speak out is not an easy task. It is where the WPP plays an important role because it is being used by prosecutors to convince a witness to testify against a criminal offender," said Drilon.

"The WPP is a factor that convinces witnesses to cooperate with the DOJ in its duty to prosecute criminal offenders and provide justice. It is also therefore the obligation of the DOJ to give 24-hour protection to the lives of state witnesses and provide for their needs while they are in government's custody," he added.

Drilon pointed out that there are standards the DOJ follow to enrol a witness into WPP and "politics is definitely not a consideration."

"The primary considerations are the relevance of the testimony and the threat to the life of the state witness. Politics does not and should not play any role in determining who qualifies as state witness," he said.

De Lima said accusing the WPP of partisan politics is "sweeping and reckless."

"As in the fulfillment of DOJ's mandate, overall, politics is never a consideration in our administration of the WPP. As WPP implementors, we are ever conscious of the sensitive nature and crucial importance of WPP. Hence, we fulfill our WPP-related tasks with utmost diligence, objectivity and professionalism,” she said.

She reminded Apostol that witness protection is an "essential and indispensable ingredient in the prosecution of criminal offenders," a function that belongs to the Executive department.

"It's therefore quite illogical and unwarranted to divest the executive, thru the DOJ, of the powers and prerogatives relating to WPP," de Lima said.

During his time as justice secretary, Drilon said the WPP became effective in the conviction of then Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez.

The Senate leader concluded that the WPP has been an effective government mechanism for the administration of justice in the country. (Camille P. Balagtas/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)

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