Category: Articles


By Renato G. Mabunga, Ph.D.

(This is a shortened version of the research commissioned by the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) to provide guidance and make better its Sanctuary Program. This is an exposé of selected countries Witness Protection Programmes (WPP) in an attempt to draw some lessons to further protection of witnesses and their families from eventual retaliation of antagonistic elements of society.)

Introduction:

As the term suggests “witness protection programme” is a security mechanism provided for threatened witnesses and their families or other related persons or any person involved in the justice system whose lives are endangered due to testimonies they are willing to divulge to shed light to a crime in order to propel the rule of law. The idea behind being in this program is to protect vital informants and to ensure fair and successful prosecution. This is propelled by the assumption that “person who committed the crime is usually the type of person who will take retribution against the party who is willing to tell what they seen” (Lopez, 2008). This means provision of protection before, during and to some extent after a trial.

Usually, witness protection is required in cases against organized crime. This is so after law enforcement’s or professional evaluation that witnesses are more likely at risks of intimidation or threats by supporters of a defendant or accused. However, there is much likely to see when the accused of a crime is part of the law enforcement institution. There is a need to establish effective protection mechanisms alongside building the capacity and ensuring the integrity of those who implement the programme.

In the Consolidated Response (07-008) of the International Network to Promote the Rule of Law or INROL (Toomey, 2007), it classified protection measures as Short-term Measures and Longer-term Measures to Protect Witnesses. Both measures detail out legislative and regulatory requirements in determining who and when to protect; strategies on how to protect; the use of procedural and formal witness protection. Short-term measures are those that need temporary protection while the case is under investigation. Long-term measures are those that need total relocation and change of identity even as the trial has ended because of the gravity of the case and its repercussions to the witnesses and their families or other related persons.

Among the many features of witness protection range from protection of witness’ identity during investigation and trial, assigning security detail, court injunctions and retraining orders, provision of safe houses, allotment of monthly allowances, provision of new identity and the other covert plans and made-up stories for protection. All these necessitate the effective functioning of the all the pillars of justice system. These also require persons under the program to prepare from temporary to total dislocation both physically and economically; emotional and psychological detachments from members of the family and friends; trauma and distrust – which are all detrimental if not handled properly not only to the witnesses but more so to their families especially the children.

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The Situation:

Human rights discourse is very vibrant worldwide, in Asia, and in the Philippines.  It is the central concern of the disadvantaged peoples together with the human rights workers, practitioners or human rights defenders (HRDs) of the world.  It is constantly challenged by many States and their apparatuses, corporations and groups whose intent veers away from aspirations of people they vow to serve.

Human rights are all about dignity.  They are that which make a person human being.  Rights are basic entitlements a person possesses to become truly human.  They are the minimum expression of human dignity.

Tracing back from the Western scholars, human rights concepts are said to have evolved from the notion of Natural Law.  That, the world is governed by an invisible order which has endowed every person the concept of a perfect justice discernable by human reason; making all human kind equal in rights and dignity.  The doctrine of natural law presupposes the existence of a natural moral code based upon the identification of certain fundamental and objectively verifiable human goods.  The enjoyment of these basic goods is to be secured by our possession of equally fundamental and objectively verifiable natural rights.  Thus, the foundation of human rights, to wit:

The recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world (UDHR, 1948; ICCPR, 1966; ICESCR, 1966).

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood/sisterhood without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.  Furthermore, no distinction shall be made based on the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty (UDHR, 1948).

Today, human rights are continued to be asserted and yet continuously violated.  Even human rights defenders whose noble desire is to facilitate the birthing of a culture of peace and respect are not spared of threats and attacks.

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Human rights from its very inception are a large and encompassing concept.  It talks about human dignity.  It is all about dignity… and it is for ALL regardless race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.  Accordingly, it has evolved from  the idea that the world is governed by an invisible order which has endowed every person the concept of a perfect justice discernable by reason; making all humans equal in status of rights and dignity.  This concept of perfect justice has fortified both reason and conscience of each person to act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood/sisterhood without distinction, without discrimination.  This makes dignity a relational and a dynamic term and not just an empty concept or an ideal.  It becomes tangible in a relationship.  It finds meaning in relation with others and may be totally restored only with the help of others or of a network.

A network on the other hand, is a complex set of systems, which amplifies a message or a need or a call.  From the viewpoint of Organization Development (OD), network is the interconnection of various systems to take the form of a whole.  From individual HRD’s focal system to his or her organization as sub-systems, to his/her direct networks or the macro and related systems dealing with the protection of human rights defenders and victims down to other external organizations – the mega-system – dealing with human rights and upholding dignity of persons and communities in general.  It is a web of strings from which, one system provides and receives support to and from another system to ensure achievement of a larger goal.  An organization as a system in this regard maybe compartmentalized with various departments or programs doing specific jobs, yet in a larger view, each output serves the “reason for being” or the mandate of the organization.  Such implementation of mandate is the its contribution to a larger network of systems or to the larger whole working for the protection of human rights defenders and the promotion of human rights in general.  This defines the lines of engagement of each organization to a network in the overall platform of protection for HRDs.

This is the ideal role of a network: to facilitate and process information, come up with specific plans and arrive at concrete actions or activities within the bounds of each organizational mandate and philosophy to arrest and eliminate impending threats to organization or so as not to disrupt the dynamism of the “whole”.

Yet given the differences of each political beliefs and the degree of condition faced by each HRD, the ideal role of a network has become more of a challenge rather than a natural flow of relations.  At the onset, it is obstructed by external environment or external systems – the government, its security forces and other instrumentalities.   A case in point is the stigmatization of HRDs as “enemies of the state”.  Modern historical development of this terminology can be traced back when the Philippine government wantonly exerts all energies in winning the “war’ against insurgency.  From way back when freedom lovers were called “guerrillas” during the Spanish, Japanese and American occupation, to being tagged as “rebels, communists and insurgents” during the cold war campaigns and “terrorists and separatists” at the time of the post 9/11 era.  This idea has been galvanized into the psyche of ordinary Filipino people.  That, when an issue related to security of HRDs crops up, organizations have to battle up explaining first the legitimacy of human rights work before it can go into discussing the merits of the case itself.  It becomes mindset for most Filipinos when seeing people doing fact-finding missions, documenting cases, rallying and demonstrating in front of government offices and public places, to mark them as anti-government for reason that existing norm calls it to be so — a nuisance, opt to destabilize the government.

Within human rights organizations or within the network system itself, it is confronted with a much more dilemma.  A strong political and ideological divide impacts on and weakens the overall capacity of the human rights network.  It softens foundation for protection and decelerates resolution of cases of human rights violations.  “Turfing” is commonly the name of the game – those who do not toe the line of internal political directives, has no right to middle into the affairs of a case allegedly under the command of other’s.  Most often than not, the principle of non-cooperation is at work.  Worst, basic human rights principle of non-discrimination is breached.

Mistrust is plaguing internal relationship of the Philippine human rights movement – a reality unconsciously forcing the movement back to the era of sectarianism and highly sectoral perspectives.  It is losing the spirit of human rights for all.  And, by being so, losing the war against violators and thereby losing tract of the struggle for justice.

Thus, given the concrete condition of country’s human rights movement today, one practical role of a network is to help reorient human rights work to include “all” particularly the protection and promotion of the rights of human rights defenders.  Here, organizational vision, mission and programs must be revisited and aligned at resolving conflict in understanding and practical orientation on human rights and human rights work.  Between each network of organizations and defenders is a primary challenge to build bridges rather than continually burning ones.  To do this, is to start with small venues of cooperation – an issue-based cooperation that would slowly eradicate suspicions and initially rebuilds foundations of trust.

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