Immunity for Ruby, Dennis not a done deal | Inquirer Opinion

Immunity for Ruby, Dennis not a done deal

/ 12:17 AM March 22, 2014

The “state witness rule” and the roles of Ruby Tuason and Dennis Cunanan in relation to the PDAF-related plunder cases in the Ombudsman should be clarified so as not to mislead the public.

The cases having been filed in the Office of the Ombudsman, the authority to grant immunity now lies solely with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. Section 17 of the Ombudsman Act of 1989 (Republic Act No. 6770) specifically provides: “The Ombudsman may grant immunity from criminal prosecution to any person whose testimony or whose possession and production of documents or other evidence may be necessary to determine the truth in any hearing or inquiry or proceeding being conducted by the Ombudsman or under its authority, in the performance or in the furtherance of its constitutional functions and statutory objectives.” This does not even require the approval of the Sandiganbayan since no information has yet been filed with that court.


While the Department of Justice (DOJ) has the authority to extend privileges to “state witnesses” in the selection of strategies, the final say lies with the Ombudsman who has also that authority under Section 32 of the Ombudsman Act. Accordingly, witnesses Cunanan, Tuason and many others still have to pass the test under the Ombudsman Act. Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Teofisto Guingona III and others should not preempt the Ombudsman in determining the credibility of these “state witnesses”; that task is not theirs to do.

The DOJ may exercise its power under the Witness Protection Program (WPP) to extend help and assistance to these witnesses, unless the Ombudsman decides otherwise to include these witnesses among those accused before the Sandiganbayan. In which instance the authority of the Sandiganbayan now comes into play. However, in the many cases the DOJ (as complainant) has yet to file in the Ombudsman, it may still have the prerogative to include or not the “state witnesses” it deems fit for WPP coverage, this being its executive function, as it does in criminal cases falling outside the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan.


The rationale is best expressed by our Supreme Court in ruling that “the determination of who should be used as a state witness to bolster successful prosecution of criminal offenses is an executive function” (People vs Magdamit). The prosecution may err in the selection of its strategies, but such errors are not for “neutral courts” to rectify anymore than courts should correct the blunders of the defense (Mapa Jr. vs Sandiganbayan).

In all humility, we had the opportunity to start with the implementation of the Anti-Graft Law of 1960 when, in 1963, I was hired as a “graft buster.” We risked our lives and found out that the job was not easy. The late Cesar Climaco was then our chair, when politics became a hindrance.

Let’s give the DOJ and the Ombudsman a chance to do their jobs; after all these cases have yet to be tried by the Sandiganbayan.


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TAGS: Dennis Cunanan, DOJ, Letters to the Editor, ombudsman, opinion, PDAF, plunder, Ruby Tuason, State Witness
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