The Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act
Republic Act No. 6981, also known as The Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act, is an act providing for a witness protection, security and benefit program and for other purposes. It 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. The said act was approved on 24 April 1991.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is the department responsible for the formulation and implementation of a “Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Program.”
Admission into the Program
A person who has witnessed or has knowledge of the commission of a crime and has testified or is testifying or is about to testify before a judicial or quasi-judicial body or any investigating authority, may be admitted into the Program provided, that:
- The offense in which the Witness' testimony will be used is a grave felony as defined under the Revised Penal Code, or its equivalent under special laws
- The Witness' testimony can be substantially corroborated in its material points
- The Witness or any member of his or her family within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity is subjected to threats to his or her life or bodily injury or there is a likelihood that he or she will be killed, forced, intimidated, harassed or corrupted to prevent him or her form testifying, or to testify falsely, because or on account of his or her testimony
- The Witness is not a law enforcement officer, even if he or she would be testifying against another law enforcement officer. Only the immediate member of his or her family may avail of the protection provided for under this Act.
A witness or his or her family may get an application form from the Secretariat of the Witness Protection Security and Benefit Program located at the Department of Justice Building in Padre Faura, Manila. The applicant may also get the form from the nearest Regional State Prosecutor.
The whole process of application and the information or documents submitted in support of the application are confidential and cannot be released without the written order of the DOJ or the proper court.
After the examination of the applicant and other relevant facts and the Department is convinced that the requirements of this Act and its implementing rules and regulations have been complied with, the applicant will be admitted to the Program. The Witness will be required to execute a sworn statement to detail his or knowledge or information on the commission of the crime. The Department will issue the proper certification. The Witness is also required to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Government.
Witness in Legislative Investigations
In case of legislative investigations in aid of legislation, a Witness may be admitted into the Program upon the recommendation of the legislative committee where his or testimony is needed when in its judgment there is pressing necessity therefor. Such recommendation should first be approved by the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case maybe.
Memorandum of Agreement with the Person to be Protected
Before a person is provided protection under this Act, he or she shall first execute a memorandum of agreement. The MOA shall set forth his or her responsibilities which includes:
- To testify before and provide information to all appropriate law enforcement official concerning all appropriate proceedings in connection with or arising from the activities involved in the offense charged
- To avoid the commission of a crime
- To take all necessary precautions to avoid detection by other of the facts which concern the protection provided to him under this Act
- To comply with legal obligations and civil judgments against him or her
- To cooperate with respect to all reasonable requests of officers and employees of the Government who are providing him or her protection
- To regularly inform the appropriate program official of his or her current activities and address
Substantial breach of the MOA shall be a ground for the termination of the protection provided under this Act. Before terminating such protection, the Secretary of Justice shall send notice to the Witness stating the reason for such termination.
Confidentiality of Proceedings
All proceedings involving application for admission into the Program and the action taken thereon shall be confidential in nature. Except upon written order of the DOJ or the proper court, no information or documents given or submitted in support thereof shall be released. A person who violates the confidentiality of said proceedings shall upon conviction be punished with imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than 6 years and deprivation of the right to hold a public office or employment for a period of 5 years.
Rights and Benefits of a Witness
- To have a secure housing facility until he or she has testified or until the threat, intimidation or harassment disappears or is reduced to a manageable or tolerable level. A Witness shall also be entitled to relocation and/or change of personal identity at the expense of the Program when the circumstances warrant. This right may be extended to any member of the family of the Witness within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity.
- To be assisted by the DOJ in obtaining a means of livelihood. A relocated Witness shall be entitled to a financial assistance from the Program for his or her support and that of his or her family in an amount for such duration as the Department shall determine.
- In no case shall the Witness be removed from or demoted in work because or on account of his or her absence due to his or her attendance before any judicial or quasi-judicial body or investigating authority. The employer should be notified through a certification issued by the DOJ within a period of 30 days from the date when the Witness last reported for work. In the case of prolonged transfer or permanent relocation, the employer shall have the option to remove the Witness from employment after securing clearance from the DOJ and upon the recommendation of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
A Witness who failed to report for work because of his or her duties as a witness shall be paid his or her equivalent salaries or wages corresponding to the number of days of absence occasioned by the Program. Any fraction of a day shall constitute a full day salary or wage.
- To be provided with reasonable traveling expenses and subsistence allowance in such amount as the Department may determine for his or her attendance in the court or where his or her testimony is required.
- To be provided with free medical treatment, hospitalization and medicines for any injury or illness incurred or suffered by him or her because of his or her duty as a Witness.
- If a Witness is killed because of his or her participation in the Program, his or her hair shall be entitled to a burial benefit of not less than PHP 10,000 from the Program exclusive of any other benefits he or she may be entitled to under other existing laws.
- In case of death or permanent incapacity, the Witness' minor or dependent children shall be entitled to free education, from primary to college level in any state or private school, college or university as may be determined by the Department as long as they have qualified thereto.
Speedy Hearing or Trial
The judicial or quasi-judicial body or investigating authority shall assure the Witness a speedy hearing or trial and shall endeavor to finish said proceeding within three months from the filing of the case.
Any person who has participated in the commission of a crime who wishes to be a witness for the State, can apply and, if qualified, shall be admitted into the Program whenever the following circumstances are present:
- The offense in which the witness' testimony will be used is a grave felony as defined under the Revised Penal Code, or its equivalent under special laws
- There is absolute necessity for the Witness' testimony
- There is no direct evidence available for the proper prosecution of the offense committed
- The witness' testimony can be substantially corroborated on its material points
- The witness does not appear to be most guilty
- The witness has not been convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude.
An accused discharged from an information or criminal complaint by the court in order that he or she may be a State Witness pursuant to Section 9 and 10 of Rule 119 of the Revised Rules of Court may upon his or her petition be admitted to the Program if he or she complies with other requirements of this Act.
Before a person is admitted into the Program, he or she shall execute a sworn statement which describes in detail the manner in which the offense was committed and his or her participation therein. After the person is examined and his or her statement and other relevant facts, the Department will determine if the requirements of this Act and its implementing rules are complied with, it may admit such person into the Program and issue a corresponding certification.
If the person's application for admission is denied, his or her sworn statement and any other testimony given in support of said application shall not be admissible in evidence, except for impeachment purposes.
Effect of Admission of a State Witness into the Program
The provincial or city prosecutor shall give full faith and credit to the certification of admission into the Program by the Department. The former is required not to include the Witness in the criminal complaint or information and if included therein, to petition to the court for his or her discharge in order that he or she can be utilized as a State Witness. The court shall order the discharge and exclusion of the said accused from the information.
The State Witness shall be entitled to immunity from criminal prosecution for the offense or offenses in which his testimony will be given or used and all the rights and benefits provided in this Act.
Failure or Refusal of the Witness to Testify
A witness registered in the Program who fails or refuses to testify or to continue to testify without just cause when lawfully obliged to do so, shall be prosecuted for contempt. If he or she testifies falsely or evasively, he or she shall be liable to prosecution for perjury.
If a State Witness fails or refuses to testify or testifies falsely or evasively, or violates any condition accompanying such immunity without just cause, as determined in a hearing by the proper court, his or her immunity shall be removed and he or she shall be subject to contempt or criminal prosecution. The enjoyment of all rights and benefits under this Act shall be deemed terminated.
The Witness may purge himself or herself of the contumacious acts by testifying at any appropriate stage of the proceedings.
Any Witness admitted into the Program cannot refuse to testify or give evidence or produce books, documents, records or writings necessary for the prosecution of the offense for which he or she has been admitted into the Program on the ground of the constitutional right against self incrimination. He or she shall enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution and cannot be subjected to any penalty or forfeiture for any transaction, matter or thing which concerns his or her compelled testimony or books, documents, records and writings produced.
When the Witness refuses to testify or give evidence or produce books, documents, records, or writings, on the ground of the right against self incrimination, and the state prosecutor or investigator believes that such evidence is absolutely necessary for a successful prosecution of the offense or offenses charged or under investigation, he or she, with the prior approval of the department, shall file a petition with the appropriate court for the issuance of an order which requires the Witness to testify, give evidence or produce the books, documents, records, and writings described and the court shall issue the proper order.
The court shall order the arrest and detention of the Witness in any jail until the time that the Witness is willing to give such testimony or produce such documentary evidence.
Perjury or Contempt
No witness shall be exempt from prosecution for perjury or contempt committed while giving testimony or producing evidence under compulsion. The penalty next higher in degree shall be imposed in case of conviction for perjury. In contempt proceedings, the procedure prescribed under Rule 71 of the Rules of Court shall be followed but the penalty to be imposed shall not be less than one month but not more than one year imprisonment.
Credibility of Witness
The fact of the entitlement of the Witness to the protection and benefits shall not be admissible in evidence to diminish or affect his or her credibility in all criminal cases.
Penalty for Harassment of Witness
A person who harasses a Witness and thereby hinders, delays, prevents or dissuades a Witness from:
- Attending or testifying before any judicial or quasi-judicial body or investigating authority
- Reporting to a law enforcement officer or judge the commission or possible commission of an offense, or violation of conditions or probation, parole, or release pending judicial proceedings
- Seeking the arrest of another person in connection with the offense
- Causing a criminal prosecution or a proceeding for the revocation of a parole or probation
- Performing and enjoying the rights and benefits under this Act or attempts to do so
shall be fined not more than PHP 3,000 or suffer imprisonment of not less than 6 months but not more than one year, or both, and shall suffer the penalty of perpetual disqualification from holding public office in case of a public officer.
A Witness is discharged from the Program when:
- He or she has already testified or has completed his or her witness as a duty
- He or she refuses to testify
- He or she is no longer regarded as a necessary witness
- The danger falls away
As the Witness becomes honorably discharged, he or she and any member of his or her family with the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity may be relocated in an area where he or she will be safe and/or given a new personal identity. He or she may also be given one-time financial assistance for his or her support and that of his or her family.
- “Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Program”.Republic of the Philippines Department of Justice.(Accessed on 22 November 2013).
- “Republic Act No. 6981”.University of Minnesota.(Accessed on 22 November 2013).
- “Republic Act. No. 6981”.The LAWPHiL Project.(Accessed on 22 November 2013).