Whistleblowers urge DOJ to expel Mercado from Witness Protection Program
An organization of whistleblowers urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to remove former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado from its Witness Protection program (WPP).
Whistleblowers Association of the Philippines headed by Sandra Cam added that there should be an investigation on reports that Mercado was among those being contacted by former Palawan governor Joel Reyes and former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes while hiding in Thailand.
The Reyes brothers were accused of masterminding the killing of broadcaster Gerry Ortega in 2011.
“We are calling the DOJ to expel Mercado from the WPP. You are not supposed to use cellular phones sa WPP without permission from his escort, and he was communicating with a fugitive,” Cam said.
Mercado has been admitted to the government’s WPP due to his testimony on allegations of corruption against Vice President Jejomar Binay and his family.
Among the allegations of Mercado were the supposed overpricing in the Makati City Hall Building II and anomalous deals in the Boy Scout of the Philippines, of which Binay is president.
Cam added that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, as well as WPP Director Martin Meñez, should explain how Mercado was able to communicate with the Reyes brothers while under WPP.
She said there has to be an impartial investigation.
Cam’s statement came a week after reports came out that the Philippine National Police had retrieved call data and short message service (SMS) records of the Reyes brothers communicating with their associates, one of which was Mercado, while hiding in Thailand.
The Reyes brothers slipped out of the country in March 2012, a few days before arrest warrants were issued against them. The two reportedly flew to Vietnam, with Joel Reyes supposedly using a fake passport under the name “Joseph Lim Pe.”
The brothers were arrested two weeks ago in Phuket, Thailand. They were brought back to the Philippines in the early hours of September 25 and are currently detained at the Puerto Princesa City Jail in Palawan.
The Reyes brothers’ case was among the instances cited by Cam in June in which the Department of Justice had allegedly displayed its “double standards” in dealing with individuals seeking admission to the Witness Protection Program.
On Thursday, Cam reiterated that the Reyes brothers’ three-year evasion from arrest was a “very concrete example of the double standards” of De Lima, whom Cam pointed out was a former election lawyer of Joel Reyes.
Cam said neither the DOJ nor the National Bureau of Investigation did anything to track down the Reyes brothers.
“It was people from the PNP who found the Reyes brothers. Hindi totoo na nag-surrender sila but they were arrested. They were already in surveillance, not by the NBI, but by the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group,” she said.
Cam appeared at the Senate in June 2014 to oppose the confirmation of De Lima before the Commission on Appointments.
The camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay, through its spokesman for political affairs Rico Quicho, had already urged the DOJ to remove Mercado from the WPP if an investigation by the agency would prove he communicated with the Reyes brothers while they were on the run from government authorities.
Asked how Mercado and the Reyeses came to know each other, Cam said the men were known in the cockfighting circuit.
“Joel Reyes and Vice Mayor Mercado have the same vice, sabong. They are sabongeros. They are politicians who always gamble in sabong… It’s public knowledge na kahit kristo (bet takers) ng sabungan, kilala sila,” Cam said.
Cam said if De Lima would not remove Mercado from the WPP, she hoped the Justice secretary’s successor would. De Lima is set to retire from the DOJ for a possible Senate bid.
“Sana iyong pumalit kay De Lima ay totoong secretary of justice, hindi iyong secretary of justice of President Aquino,” she said.
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