Witness Protection Poorly Programmed

Last week, a key witness to the Maguindanao massacre, Suwaib Upham (a.k.a. “Jesse”) was shot. This is a very worrying development. Human Rights Watch has demanded the government take action to protect other witnesses. Unfortunately, this type of crime is not unique to the Maguindanao prosecution. When I was in the Philippines in 2008 with the Asia Foundation, I had heard horror stories about the sorry state of the Philippine witness protection program. One set of witnesses was essentially “stored” at an extra office in the National Bureau of Investigations (the Philippine FBI) headquarters building. One judge said he had to hire his own bodyguards because the government could (would?) not protect him from death threats. Unfortunately, witness protection programs tend to fall by the wayside in the rule of law programs of both national and international donor. If you’re interested in these issues, I’d recommend a relatively recent book Support for Victims of Crime in Asia as an overview of different country practices.

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