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Aguirre: Prelate harboring Kian witnesses faces obstruction of justice

Caloocan Bishop Pablo David holds a copy of a statement written by the father of a witness to Kian delos Santos’ killing during a press conference at the San Roque Cathedral on Saturday night. The witness’ father said he wished to join his children – two adults and four minors, including the witness – under the protection of the Catholic Church. JOVEN CAGANDE

MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II yesterday warned of possible criminal charges against Caloocan Bishop Pablo David and other people taking custody of a key witness in the killing of 11th grader Kian Loyd delos Santos during an anti-drug operation in Caloocan City last Aug. 16.

After the Philippine National Police and Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption failed to take custody of the witness and siblings from the prelate’s care despite their father’s consent in a tension-filled incident at the San Roque Cathedral last Saturday, Aguirre said he would direct the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to step in.

“We will first ask that the witness be turned over to the NBI. If they still refuse, then there could possibly be an obstruction of justice there,” the justice chief told The STAR.

Aguirre explained that witnesses, especially in high-profile criminal cases, must be placed under the witness protection program (WPP) of the Department of Justice as provided by law.

‘It is the WPP of DOJ that has the legal mandate to secure witnesses, not any other agency and more so not a private entity like churches,” he stressed.

Another key witness in Kian’s killing identified as “Choleng” has already been placed under provisional coverage of the WPP. 

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She has submitted an affidavit that was used in filing murder and torture charges before the DOJ against four Caloocan policemen involved in the killing – Chief Inspector Amor Cerillo, Police Officer 3 Arnel Oares and Police Officers 1 Jeremiah Pereda and Jerwin Cruz of Caloocan City police station 7.

The DOJ panel of prosecutors has summoned the policemen and set preliminary investigation hearings on Sept. 14 and 21.

David, for his part, said the witness and siblings would remain under the diocese’s custody after their father changed his mind and decided to let them stay.

The prelate bared that the witness who was previously taken into custody by Sen. Risa Hontiveros has been brought to the protective custody of the Church after testifying in the Senate inquiry on Kian’s death.

According to David, the witness and the siblings – two adults and four minors all in all – sought the Church’s protection.

David had agreed, just as long as the siblings’ legal guardians gave their consent.

The siblings’ father had been in police custody because of a drug charge and was unable to give his approval.

But last Saturday, after the Public Attorney’s Office paid for his bail, the father came over to the cathedral with PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) police officers and VACC members to demand custody of his children.

David said he was willing to relinquish custody of the children to the father as long as he signs a release form.

But after privately talking to his children, David said the father had a change of heart and instead wanted to be with his children under the Church’s custody.

David said the CIDG and VACC questioned the father’s change of mind, which resulted in a brief standoff.

 “There was slight tension because the CIDG was convincing the father to at least come with them even without his children,” David said.                                             – With  Rey Galupo

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