Press Release
May 30, 2012

Senate approves Witness Confidentiality Act

The Senate today approved on final reading a bill which seeks to protect the confidentiality of witnesses and victims in criminal cases by withholding their contact numbers and addresses during trial.

Senate Bill No. 1537 or the Witness Confidentiality Act was approved with 20 affirmative votes, zero negative vote and zero abstention.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, author of the bill, said witnesses and victims are oftentimes "discouraged from testifying freely and truthfully" because they fear reprisals from offenders who could get their contact numbers and addresses during a trial or hearing. As a result, she said, offenders are not brought to trial.

"Victims and witnesses shall not be required to provide their residence or place of business name, address or telephone number in response to defense or prosecution questioning, unless the court determines that there is a clear need for such disclosure because the information is necessary and relevant to the facts of the case of the credibility of the witness," Section II of the bill said.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile lauded the passage of the measure, noting that protection of witnesses and victims is essential in the fight against criminality.

"We hope that with the passage of SBN 1537, more witnesses and victims in criminal cases will be encouraged to testify against offenders. We also expect an increase in the rate of conviction with the passage of the bill," Enrile said.

Also approved on final reading were Senate Bill No. 3113, or the Act authorizing the city or municipal civil registrar or the consul-general to correct clerical or typographical errors in the day and month in the date of birth or sex of a person without the need of a judicial order, and Senate Bill No. 3146, or the Act reviving the observance of Arbor Day by authorizing the local government units the responsibilities for celebrating the day for tree-planting as an annual event. SBN 3113 got 20 affirmative votes, zero negative vote and zero abstention while SBN 3146 garnered 20 affirmative votes, zero negative vote and zero abstention. Sen. Chiz Escudero, chair of the committees on Environment and Natural Resources and Justice and Human Rights, said SBN 3113 seeks to amend Section 1 of Republic Act 9048, which authorizes the civil registrar to make corrections in the entries of the record of birth of any individual in order to avoid going through a court proceeding.

"The inaccuracies of entries in the civil register remain a major source of inconvenience. Individuals who are not actually to blame for these errors have to go to court proceedings which involves time and money," Escudero said in his sponsorship speech. If enacted into law, Escudero said, individuals encountering the same problems will have an easier time when they enroll in school, process their travel papers or their retirement benefits. On the other hand, Escudero said the passage of Senate Bill No. 3146 will enjoin all local government units to undertake simultaneous tree-planting activities to compensate for the "loss of natural resources and to rejuvenate the environment." The measure, he said, aims to ensure that tree-planting activities will be sustained and maintained for a balanced ecology.

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