MANILA—In light of the recent controversy tagging members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the kidnap-slay of a Korean executive residing in Pampanga, Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) Partylist Rep. Sherwin Tugna called on his colleagues at the House of Representatives to hasten the passage of the proposal to strengthen the government’s Witness Protection Program (WPP) to encourage more witnesses to come out and help in the resolution of a crime.
“Witnesses are vital in our pursuit of justice. They play a crucial role in completing the big picture on what transpired during the commission of the crime. It is imperative that the government provide them with the much needed protection in exchange for their cooperation in the investigations,” Tugna said.
The partylist lawmaker made the appeal after noting that witnesses have yet to surface to help shed light on the Korean’s kidnap-slay despite appeals from the government.
On Monday evening, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II appealed to those who can provide information on the Jee Ick Joo case to surface and coordinate with the government to help bring justice to Jee’s family.
Tugna said he filed House Bill No. 464 at the beginning of 17th Congress in an effort to revisit and strengthen Republic Act No. 6981, otherwise known as the “Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act.”
HB No. 464 aims to make stronger the protective custody being provided by the government to informants or witnesses who could supply corroborative information to the investigators.
“While RA 6981 has been beneficial to those who chose to avail of the protective custody under the Department of Justice, I believe that it is high time to revisit the decade-old witness protection law and introduce amendments to give more benefits to the witnesses and their families. This is in consideration of the possible outcome of the witnesses’ decision to come out and pursue cases against those who they know have committed crimes,” Tugna said.
Benefits include but are not limited to access to secure shelter, medical attention and livelihood assistance.
HB 464 also seeks to provide education assistance from primary to college level to the children of the witnesses to compensate for the prolonged absence of the family member admitted to the program.
Under the current program, educational assistance would be given to the witness’ dependent children if the witness dies or is permanently incapacitated.
“But the most important amendment of the current law is that the testimony of any witness admitted to the witness protection program shall be perpetuated so as to ensure that it has been given at the earliest possible time sufficient to the prosecution of the cases to be filed,” Tugna said.
He cited the case of Gerardo Santiago, owner of the funeral home linked to the Jee slay case.
It is widely-believed that the body of Jee Ick Joo was brought to Santiago’s funeral parlor, Gream Funeral Services, after he was strangled to death inside Camp Crame.
Santiago sought admission to the protection program after he received death threats prior to his return to the country.
“Santiago’s testimony is very important in uncovering those who are involved in the kidnapping and murder of Jee Ick Joo. If Santiago would be proven to be a credible witness, he should be admitted into the WPP. If he is receiving threats right now, what more if Santiago begins giving a detailed testimony on what he knows,” Tugna said.
“As a popular saying goes, dead men tell no tales. The perpetrators will do everything to prevent witnesses from testifying. It is possible that there are more witnesses but some are simply too scared to cooperate,” he said.
In the meantime, the lawmaker urged all stakeholders to actively participate in discussing the WPP Reform bill so as to hasten its passage.
“I call on the DOJ, witness protection groups, and my colleagues to join in improving the pending witness protection program reforms. Let us show that potential witnesses need not cower in fear,” Tugna said.