GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/14 Apr) – Noting the dangers they face in convicting crooks, President Benigno C. Aquino III strongly backed Thursday the arming of state prosecutors, even telling them that they can learn from him.
Aquino disclosed that the Department of Justice, the Philippine National Police and the Prosecutors League of the Philippines (PLP) have already signed a memorandum of agreement that will prioritize the firearms licensing application of prosecutors.
“If you need a so-so [gun] instructor, I’m also willing to volunteer,” the President, a gun enthusiast, told the 23rd PLP national convention here.
It was Aquino’s first presidential visit to this city, the base of more than a dozen media victims of the infamous November 23, 2009 massacre in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao, the trial of which is expected to drag for several years given the more than a hundred suspects.
The massacre, which killed 58 people, including 32 media workers, was allegedly perpetrated by members of the powerful Ampatuan clan, including former Maguindanao governor Andal S. Ampatuan Sr.; Zaldy U. Ampatuan, suspended governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; and Andal U. Ampatuan Jr., former mayor of Datu Unsay town who allegedly headed the gunmen.
With a government concerned about the safety of government prosecutors, especially when taking high-profile cases, Aquino backed his pro-gun stance for prosecutors by telling them, “We cannot allow mere intimidation to stop us all from doing our jobs.”
Aquino said that security orientation seminars would be conducted for prosecutors in the different parts of the country through the European Union Philippine Justice Support program, with already 50 of them benefiting from the project also undertaken with the Justice department.
On top of favoring gun-toting prosecutors, Aquino also urged them to resist the temptation of money.
“Wag sana ninyong tularan ang iba na agad nababaliktad ang paninindigan oras na lapagan sila ng sako-sakong pera (May you not follow others who change their stance when offered with sacks of money),” he said.
The President claimed that under his 10-month old administration, the conviction rate of government prosecutors rose to 25 percent from a mere 14 percent under the previous administration, commending Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for the feat.
To further enhance the prosecutors’ performance, Aquino said the justice department’s allocation for prosecution services were raised by more than P260 million in the 2011 General Appropriations Act.
On the other hand, the President said the budget for the Witness Protection Program was also increased by almost 80 percent to P151 million from P84 million in a bid to encourage people to stand against crooks.
The amount could cover 640 witnesses or whistleblowers, he added.
Earlier, Malacañang has certified as one of its priority bills the Whistleblower’s Act. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)