De Lima worried over safety of poll cases’ witnesses
MANILA, Philippines—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Friday said she would meet with Commission on Elections Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. on Tuesday to discuss how to better protect witnesses in the election sabotage cases filed against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
De Lima said she, too, was worried about the safety of the witnesses after one of them, election officer Russom Mabang of Pandag, Maguindanao, failed to show up on Thursday at the Pasay City court for a hearing on the petition for bail filed by Arroyo.
“We would encourage them to have themselves placed under [the government’s] Witness Protection Program (WPP) if there are security concerns. Because of the information we got, we would have to reconsider that. We are just waiting really for the Comelec to refer those witnesses to the WPP if warranted.”
After Mabang’s no-show, the joint Comelec-DOJ prosecution panel decided not to present its main witness, former provincial administrator Norie Unas, for security reasons.
At a press conference on Thursday, Brillantes said that Mabang’s disappearance was probably meant to scare Unas.
However, Judge Jesus Mupas considered the case submitted, prompting the panel to seek a reconsideration.
“They (the prosecution panel) got worried, alarmed, when they learned that one of their witnesses could not be reached and they have information that there were security concerns, security threats on Unas. On exercising their best judgment, they decided not to present Unas for the meantime,” De Lima said.
Unas was supposed to testify about Arroyo’s alleged instruction to another coaccused, former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan, to ensure the win of administration senatorial candidates in the province. Mabang, who was to provide corroborating testimony, was scheduled to appear in court before Unas.
According to the panel, Mabang promised to show up at the hearing but was apparently distressed in the past days because of callers asking him not to testify.
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