QUEZON City, Philippines (November 18) – We are once again hearing about the Witness Protection Program. One is left wondering how it really works, how does one qualify for it and what are the benefits of the program.
Republic Act No. 6981, also known as “The Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act” established the Witness Protection Program. It is a government program for those people who are willing to testify or has a knowledge on a certain commission of crime. It aims to give protection to these people.
A person can be admitted to the program if he has knowledge regarding the commission of a crime and is willing to testify in order to help the investigation. Even a criminal who is a part of the commission of the crime can be legible if he was designated as a State witness.
Of course, it is not that easy to enter the Witness Protection Program. As a matter of fact, there are disqualifications to the admission. One big disqualification is that if the witness or his family does not face death threats as well as threats of force, intimidation, corruption or harassment.
Usually, those who are qualifiedare those that have important testimonies regarding grave felonies or complex crimes, such as murder and drug-related crimes.
Recently, alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa asked about being placed under the Witness Protection Program. This is after what happened to his father, Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. The elder Espinosa was found dead after being killed inside his cell at Baybay sub-provincial jail in Leyte.
In an interview, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said, even without the request, they will place Kerwin Espinosa under the program if it is found out that he really needs protection.
Kerwin Espinosa also admit that he is now being threatened. His family in Leyte is also being threatened as well. As such, the Government proposes to put his relatives up to the second degree of consanguinity on the witness protection program if he agrees to be a witness against the illegal drug trade in the Philippines.
If he agrees, Kerwin and his family will receive a full protection and benefits from the WPP including secure housing facility, security and escort service, assistance in obtaining a means of livelihood, free medical treatment, reasonable travel expenses and subsistence allowance.
Not only that, a State witness can also get payment of full salary or wage due to absences, while acting as a witness.
Before being admitted to the WPP, Kerwin should execute an affidavit. The affidavit will be evaluated to determine if he is qualified to be placed under the custody of Witness Protection Program.
The witness can only be discharged from the program if he already completed his witness duty, or if he fails or refuses to testify. Moreover, after being honorably discharged as a witness, he and his family may be relocated in an area where he will be safe and/or given a new personal identity. He may also be given one-time financial assistance for his support and that of his family.
Kerwin Espinosa was already arrested and may already be back in the Philippines by the time this article is published. He will be placed under the custody of the Philippine National Police due to security concerns.
(written by Francis Albuen, edited by Jay Paul Carlos, additional research