(DOJ building)

(DOJ building)

MANILA (Mabuhay) – A House member has criticized the insufficient budgetary support being given to the government’s Witness Protection Program (WPP) despite the many high profile cases pending at the Department of Justice (DOJ).

During the plenary deliberations Wednesday night on the P3.5 billion proposed budget of the Department of Justice for 2015, Rep. Jonathan A. Dela Cruz (Party-list, Abakada) said the P190.7 million allocation for the DOJ’s WPP program next year can only cover two or three high profile cases being handled by the DOJ.

“This particular amount is good for only two or three high profile cases. What kind of Witness Protection Program do we have?,” said dela Cruz during his interpellation of Rep. Mercedes K. Alvarez (6th District, Negros Occidental) who sponsored the DOJ’s budget on the floor.

Alvarez said the original budgetary request of the DOJ for its WPP was P219 million, but the Department of Budget and Management approved only P190.7 million. Dela Cruz was further disappointed after learning from Alvarez that personnel assigned at the WPP do not have permanent employment status.

“Why is that the case? The WPP is a very critical program of the government. I don’t understand why we don’t have plantilla positions (at the agency handling it),” said dela Cruz.

He also asked if these personnel are specifically trained to handle the WPP. “WPP witnesses require protection in a manner deserving of witnesses in high profile cases,” said dela Cruz.

Alvarez said there are 318 personnel assigned to the WPP, 247 of whom have contractual status while 71 are organic, meaning they belong to the different units of the DOJ. Of the 247 contractual personnel, 210 are assigned to security protection while the remaining 37 are doing administrative work.

“There are no permanent employees in the WPP, only contractual employees,” said Alvarez.

Alvarez said the DOJ has proposed the amendment of “The Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act,” and one of the proposals is to regularize the status of employees under the WPP.

Dela Cruz vowed to help in pushing for the immediate amendment of the law. “So there is already a proposal to amend the law for purposes of ensuring a certain level of permanence in the WPP. We will request the chairman of the committee on justice to accelerate the process of amendment,” he said.

The WPP is a program established under Republic Act No. 6981 otherwise known as “The Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act,” which seeks to encourage a person who has witnessed or has knowledge of the commission of a crime to testify before a court or quasi-judicial body, or before an investigating authority, by protecting him from reprisals and from economic dislocation.(MNS)