De Lima files raps vs Aguirre, Guevarra for making felons state witnesses

Published November 6, 2018, 3:27 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Czarina Nicole Ong

Detained Senator Leila De Lima has filed charges against former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and his successor, Secretary Menardo Guevarra, before the Office of the Ombudsman for illegally admitting convicted criminals into the Witness Protection Security and Benefit Program (WPSBP).

Sen. Leila de Lima (PRIB Photo by Alex Nuevaespaña/2 August 2016/Manila Bulletin)
Sen. Leila de Lima (PRIB Photo by Alex Nuevaespaña/ /Manila Bulletin File Photo)

De Lima mentioned five specific dates in the complaint – September 20, 21, October 6, 10, and November 24, 2016 – when the committee on justice of the House of Representatives conducted hearings in relation to the alleged proliferation of the illegal drug trade inside New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

During the hearings, Aguirre presented 11 witnesses, some of whom are convicted felons. They are Jojo Baligad, Peter Co, Vicente Sy, Hans Anton Tan, Herbert Colangco, Noel Martinez, Froilan Trestiza, Engelberto Durano, Nonilo Arile, Jaime Patcho, and Rodolfo Magleo.

They were granted immunity because of Section 12 of Republic Act 6981 or the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act. But because of the hearings, several criminal complaints were filed against De Lima.

She believes that they were granted immunity “illegally,” and their cases – ranging from murder, kidnapping to homicide, among many other things – were subsequently dismissed by the DOJ because they “will be utilized as prosecution witnesses.”

But since their crimes involve moral turpitude, which is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as acts of baseness, vileness or the depravity in private and social duties which man owes to fellow man or society, De Lima stressed that they should be disqualified from being state witnesses.

The fact that Aguirre recommended and even insisted their witness protection status is “clear contravention of the law,” said De Lima.

“The DOJ, under Secretaries Aguirre and Guevarra, has granted the confessed illegal drug traders immunity from prosecution as state witnesses, in blatant violation of Section 10(f) and 12 of R.A. 6981, which provide that criminals convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude cannot be turned state witnesses and granted immunity,” De Lima said in the complaint affidavit.

“Through the same actions, then Secretary Aguirre and now Secretary Guevarra also violated Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” she added.

De Lima explained that Aguirre’s actions reeked of partiality and bad faith, because he turned criminals into state witnesses just so he can use them against her.

As for Guevarra, De Lima said he was deceitful about these criminals’ witness protection status. In a letter dated August 30, 2018, he denied a request that would confirm the inclusion of these individuals in the WPSBP Program. Guevarra claimed confidentiality concerns kept him from revealing this information.

It is “unfathomable” for the female senator how these two Justice secretaries missed the fact that convicted felons cannot become state witnesses. “There is no room for any judgment call as their circumstance as convicts for crimes involving moral turpitude is beyond debate and is readily apparent,” she said.

She wants them both to be held liable for violations of Article 208 of the Revised Penal Code for abusing their powers to favor convicted felons and protect them from prosecution and Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft Law.

Meanwhile, she wants Guevarra to be administratively liable as well for gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct.