MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) now has its own Witness Protection Program (WPP) which seeks to protect the lives of witnesses in human rights violations cases.
It recently approved a resolution detailing operational guidelines and rules of procedure that should encourage witnesses to testify by offering them protection and assistance.
Under the CHR’s WPP, witnesses in human rights violations cases get a secure housing facility; food, clothing and other necessities for daily sustenance; medical care; education for a child witness; and security escort to and from the place of hearing before any judicial, quasi-judicial or investigating body.
The guidelines state that protection can also be extended to the spouse and children of the witness “and shall continue even after such witness has given his or her testimony before the Commission or any court or administrative body, until such time that the threat to the life and or security of the witness had finally ceased, or until such time as deemed terminated by the Commission.”
The rules provide that a survivor of a human rights violation who has testified or is willing to testify and his or her immediate family and any person who is an eyewitness or who has personal knowledge regarding the commission of a human rights violation may be admitted into the program.
Prior to admission, witness must have executed a sworn statement stating personal knowledge of the complete facts regarding a human rights violation, including his or her participation in the same if any.
Among the factors that have to be considered in deciding who is qualified to be placed under the WPP is the gravity or severity of the human rights violation committed; the imminence of danger or threats to life of the witness; and materiality and relevance of the testimony along with the requirement that the witness does not appear to be the most guilty in the commission of the abuse.
Once admitted, a Memorandum of Undertaking (MOU) between the CHR and the witness will be forged which means that the CHR shall ensure the protection, safety and security of the witness and provide the witness the necessary assistance.
In exchange, the witness shall comply in good faith with the terms and conditions of the undertaking which means that the person shall freely testify and provide information; shall comply with the orders of the Commission and or competent authorities and shall not perform any act or engage in any activity that will compromise the integrity of the Commission.
The witness shall also refrain from activities that will compromise security and safety; shall not leave the safe house premises except in an emergency situation; shall not engage in illegal, criminal and immoral acts, or any act that will violate the human rights of others; and shall not take illegal drugs or drink liquor.
Women and children under the WPP will also receive special protection by being placed in a safe house or shelter separate from male witnesses except when the male witness is her husband or son while pregnant women and nursing mothers shall be afforded special consideration by reason of their biological needs and gender.
The CHR approved the operating guidelines of the program on April 8, 2010 through a resolution signed by chairperson Leila de Lima and commissioners Norberto de la Cruz and Ma. Victoria Cardona. –Michael Punongbayan (The Philippine Star)