After Senate probe, Binay critic pushes witness protection review
MANILA, Philippines – Former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado is hoping the Senate would include in its report suggestions to improve the Witness Protection Program (WPP), following the end of the yearlong investigation into the corruption allegations against Vice President Jejomar Binay.
“Hindi po ako nakakapaghanapbuhay nang malaya. Ako ho ay binabantayan ng security ng DOJ (Department of Justice) at ng ating kapulisan. So marami hong bagay na nawala sa ‘kin,” Mercado said at the 25th and last hearing on Binay conducted by the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee on Tuesday, January 26.
(I could no longer earn a living freely. Security personnel from the DOJ and the police are always escorting me. I lost so many things.)
Mercado, a former political ally of the Vice President, admitted before senators that he and Binay received kickbacks from various city government projects in Makati, where Binay was mayor for 21 years. (READ: Makati corruption witness: Who is Ernesto Mercado?)
Mercado, along with lawyer Renato Bondal and Barangay Olympia chairman Nicholas Enciso VI, had been admitted into the WPP for testifying in the Senate probe.
Whistleblowers admitted into the WPP receive several benefits, including the following:
- Security protection and escort services
- Immunity from criminal prosecution and not to be subjected to any penalty or forfeiture for any transaction, matter, or thing concerning his or her compelled testimony or books, documents, or writings produced
- Secure housing facility
- Assistance in obtaining a means of livelihood
- Reasonable traveling expenses and subsistence allowance while acting as a witness
- Free medical treatment, hospitalization, and medicine for any injury or illness incurred or suffered while acting as a witness
- Burial benefits of not less than P10,000 if the witness is killed because of his participation in the WPP
- Free education from primary to college level for the minor or dependent children of a witness who dies or is permanently incapacitated
- Non-removal or demotion in work because of absences due to his being a witness and payment of full salary or wage while acting as witness
During the hearing, Mercado said government employees who are aware of possible corrupt practices by officials are discouraged from becoming whistleblowers for a number of reasons.
“Kung ang isang tao ho na may nalalamang katiwalian na nangyayari sa ating pamahalaan, kung hindi niya kayang proteksyunan ang kanyang sarili, hindi niya kaya ‘yung financial na pangangailangan ng kanyang pamilya, ay nanaisin na lang po ng tao na siya ay manahimik,” said Mercado.
(If there is someone who has information about corruption in the government but is unable to protect himself and support his family financially, then he will just opt to keep quiet.)
“Una, risky sa buhay niya. Pangalawa, anong ipapakain niya sa pamilya niya kung siya ay ordinaryong empleyado? Siguro po isa ‘yun sa dapat nating pag-ukulan ng pansin sa programa ng Witness Protection Program para maka-encourage pa tayo ng ibang taong may nalalamang katiwalian dito sa ating bayan [na magsalita],” he added.
(First, it’s a risk to his life. Secondly, what would he feed his family if he’s just an ordinary employee? These are some of the things under the WPP that we can look into to encourage others to speak up against corruption in the country.)
Senate blue ribbon subcommittee chairman Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said the committee report, which is expected to be released next week, may include suggestions on how to improve the WPP as well as possible legislations that may enacted from them.
Mercado a ‘liar’
Lawyer Rico Quicho, the Vice President’s spokesperson for political affairs, doubted Mercado’s claims on Tuesday.
“Mister Mercado has been seen and even videotaped gambling away millions in cockpits and casinos,” said Quicho.
He was referring to a 2014 testimony of a Makati city hall official who told senators that Mercado was known to have a “high-living lifestyle” while he was still sitting as vice mayor.
Quicho also denied Mercado feared for his life as a witness.
“[Mercado] even makes the rounds of Makati barangays to campaign for his daughter who is the running mate of the acting mayor. Once again, Mr Mercado has been exposed as a liar,” Quicho said.
Mercado’s daughter Karla is the administration party’s vice mayoral candidate in Makati. She is running alongside acting Mayor Romulo “Kid” Peña Jr. – Rappler.com