Witness protection

SENTINEL - Ramon T. Tulfo - The Philippine Star

What was the basis for the appointment of Raphael Perpetuo Lotilla as Department of Energy secretary, when until recently he worked for the Aboitiz Power Corp?

Are there no other nominees who are not connected with any power company?

What if, in the future, Lotilla would be placed in a position to decide on a complaint against his former employer?

It seems the search committee of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos didn’t thoroughly vet the nominees for the energy secretary.

All the other appointees to other Cabinet positions have been chosen well, especially those dealing with finance and the economy.

*      *      *

If the government continues to treat whistleblowers like the criminals that they expose, we will never have whistleblowers in the future.

Whistleblowers like Allison Chiong and Rhodora Alvarez, for example, are disgruntled over the government’s clumsy handling of their safety: they were virtual prisoners and could not go out, if at all, for a breath of fresh air.

The very long court hearings against the people they are testifying against have taken a toll on them.

Chiong and Alvarez are under the Witness Protection Program (WPP) of the Department of Justice.

Chiong exposed the human trafficking at the Manila International Airport that involved many of his fellow immigration officers.

Alvarez, on the other hand, exposed the purchase of refurbished UH-1H helicopters “harvested” from the junkyard by officials of the Department of National Defense (DND) during the time of president Noynoy Aquino.

Immigration Officer Alex Chiong first spilled the beans to me about the illegal activities of his colleagues, and then went to Sen. Risa Hontiveros when my exposé in my column in The Manila Times was not acted upon by higher-ups in the Duterte administration.

It took the Office of the Ombudsman several years before cases were filed with the Sandiganbayan against the immigration personnel implicated by Chiong.

The Office of the Ombudsman only took notice after Senator Hontiveros conducted a protracted Senate investigation.

The cases are awaiting trial by the Sandiganbayan.

Chiong has asked to be out of the WPP because he feels that the government has forgotten about him.

Revenue Examiner Dory Alvarez has thrown safety to the wind by going out of the umbrella of the Witness Protection Program because, up until now, nothing has happened to her uncovering the corruption at the DND.

Below are Alvarez’s gripes – in her own words – against the government’s unconcern for whistleblowers which may as well have been made by Çhiong and the others:

• “The government is not protecting me as I go on with my fight (against those involved in the highly irregular project).

• “No financial support from the government.

• “No lawyer provided by the government. I am now being handled by PAO (Public Attorney’s Office) because I am not receiving salary from the BIR [Bureau of Internal Revenue] for 3 years.

• “Once I start to receive my salary, PAO will no longer handle the case. What will happen to me then?

• “I’ve been sacrificing the safety of my family (who are not under the WPP) just to fight corruption. Where’s our government? Is this how whistleblowers should be treated?

• “The government has forsaken me.

• “I blew the whistle on corruption to protect the whole Armed Forces but is this how they treat whistleblowers?”

*      *      *

In 2011, I exposed the kidnapping by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) of Norio Ohara, a Japanese national, who was hiding in the country.

Ohara came to the country surreptitiously without passing through immigration at the Manila airport by bribing her way through.

An heir to billions left by her deceased father, she escaped a murder attempt hatched by her stepmother and the dreaded Yakuza gang. Or so that’s her claim.

My exposé led to the dismissal from the service of several NBI officials, including the director at the time, who allegedly masterminded the kidnapping.

(The NBI director’s dismissal was tough on me because he was a friend of mine. When he was still a police general, he had some military intelligence agents arrested for casing my house on orders from Mike Arroyo. But we’re getting away from the story).

Because of my exposé, the NBI agents who kidnapped Ohara were forced to release her.

I asked then justice secretary Leila de Lima to place Ohara in the government’s Witness Protection Program.

Ohara’s story was splashed in all the newspapers in Japan; I became a hero there.

Up to now, Ohara is still inside a WPP safehouse, being held as a virtual prisoner. Before, we – me and my staff at Isumbong mo kay Tulfo – could take her out to dinner or lunch as she is our ward, but now she’s not allowed to come out.

Do you know what happened to Ohara’s kidnapping case? Nothing! The kidnapping cases against those involved have been dismissed by the courts.

*      *      *

Tough luck. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Lt. Col. Ruben Verbo Jr., 44, newly designated chief of police of Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental, died when a runaway truck plowed into a group of motorcycle riders. Verbo was one of the motorcycle riders.

Other ranking police officers of Negros Oriental, including provincial director Col. Germano Mallari, were injured.

But I’d like to correct what I said in the first paragraph of this item when I said Verbo was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Every man’s death is perfect timing, according to all spiritual gurus whose books on death I’ve read.

Even the manner of one’s death is predestined.

We all live on borrowed time, so let’s make the most of our stay on earth.

One never knows when your time is up. Look at Colonel Verbo.

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