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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Boost funding for witness protection program to fuel campaign vs political killings

Opposition Senator Chiz Escudero on Thursday called on the administration to increase funds for its Witness Protection Program (WPP) to boost the campaign against political killings and other heinous crimes instead of rewarding informers.

"People will only be emboldened to come forward with information on political killings if they know that they will be protected against reprisals," he explained.

"Sadly, the budget for the Department of Justice's witness protection program is good for the Makapili system. Hindi naman pwedeng bumili na lang tayo ng bayong para itakip sa mga ulo ng naglalakas-loob na magbahagi ng kanilang nalalaman sa mga krimen," he said.

Escudero said that improving the program was one of the recommendations made by Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, two years ago but the government made no efforts to consider the proposal.

He said that he could not agree more with Alston in his report to the UN Human Rights Council, as reported in the papers, that the government failed to institute reforms to address the problem of political killings, particularly on the witness protection program.

Escudero, who chairs the Senate committee on justice and human rights, said that a measly P114 million had been allocated this year for the witness protection program, which includes the benefits provided under Republic Act 6981.

He said that of this amount, only P378,000 is intended for personal services and the rest is for maintenance and other operating expenses.

"Those who kill public figures in a manner so easy will not find it hard to silence whistleblowers. All the more must the guarantee of immunity from harm be solid and strong if the accusing finger is pointed at rogues in uniform," he said.

"This missing link in the war against crime, particularly extrajudicial killings, must be plugged. Otherwise, people will stay on the sidelines when they see that doing their civic duty will be hazardous to their health," Escudero said.

The senator explained that since its inception in 1991, the personal service allocation of WPP has been nailed at P378,000 annually, which can only provide for only two persons. The program, he said, also has to borrow staff of the national prosecution service to perform its duties.

Escudero however said that many of these seconded personnel are now being recalled due to an increase in caseload in their mother unit.

"This shows the inadequacy of the program and this is a question of funding. If the government wants to win the fight against political killings, then it should show its firm resolve by strengthening the only government program that protects witnesses," he said.

In addition, Escudero also called for an increase in the amount of indemnification for victims of heinous crimes and unjust imprisonment.

He said that Republic Act 7309, the law that created the Board of Claims, provides the matrix of rates for the indemnification, which in any case does not exceed P1,000 each month for victims of unjust imprisonment or detention and P10,000 for victims or families of heinous crimes.

"The budget of the Board of Claims for 2009 is a mere P20 million. This should be increased in order to sufficiently indemnify victims," Escudero said.


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