Senator Chiz Escudero is pushing for a more comprehensive whistle-blower protection bill that will provide more options to potential state witnesses in choosing the government agency they want to seek shelter for personal security.
This after Alfred Mendiola, the primary witness against the notorious Dominguez brothers’ carjacking ring, was killed last week while under the government’s witness protection program.
“Clearly, we need to revolutionize our current witness protection program,” Escudero said.
Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, is asking the House of Representatives to approve Senate Committee Report No. 47 (SCRN 47) on Senate Bill 2860 or the proposed Act Providing for Protection, Security and Benefits of Whistleblowers.
Senate Committee Report No. 47 gives a voluntary witness the right to choose which implementing agency he intends to be admitted to as a whistle-blower or witness.
The bill provides that the Senate, Congress, the Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Human Rights and Public Attorney’s Office can each promulgate their own rules in implementing their respective witness protection, security and benefits program for qualified witnesses.
At present, only the Department of Justice has the sole power to manage and institute the state witness protection program.
“We are pushing for this whistle-blower bill because it has a wider application. It is more inclusive and it encourages more witnesses to come forward and be under an agency of their choice where they are more comfortable, where they have better trust in,” Escudero said.
The senator lamented that whistle-blowers and witnesses are always put under constant threats and intimidation to stop them from testifying, and this should prompt the government to provide more options to ensure their safety.
“We want to provide options for our people to have distinct and independent agencies from any other bureau for witness protection programs. We want to avoid pitfalls where the investigation might be prejudiced and the safety of the witness might be jeopardized especially when public authorities are involved,” Escudero added.
One of the key features of the proposed legislation is Section 8, which provides for the preservation of testimony. Once admitted into the program, a whistle-blower may preserve his/her testimony pursuant to Rule 134 of the Revised Rules of Court in the event of loss or unavailability of the testimony.
“This is an additional measure to preserve and depose of an already executed testimony,” Escudero said. “What happened with Alfred Mendiola was very unfortunate considering he is under the protection of the state. It sends an uncomfortable signal about our protection system. I hope that Mendiola was able to give out his testimony as a witness and that it has been proceeded in accordance with Rule 134.”