Becoming a State Witness

July 14, 2011

With the recent reports coming out that Zaldy Ampatuan is volunteering to become a state witness, it is amusing to read in newspapers and hear on TV the opinions of so-called experts regarding this matter. Under Section 10 of Republic Act 6981 or the “Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act”, a person may become a state witness if the following circumstances are present:

(a) the offense in which his testimony will be used is a grave felony as defined under the Revised Penal Code or its equivalent under special laws;

(b) there is absolute necessity for his testimony;

(c) there is no other direct evidence available for the proper prosecution of the offense committed:

(d) his testimony can be substantially corroborated on its material points;

(e) he does not appear to be most guilty; and

(f) he has not at any time been convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude.

On the other hand, under Section 9, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court, provides:

“When two or more persons are jointly charged with the commission of any offense, upon motion of the prosecution before resting its case, the court may direct one or more of the accused to be discharged with their consent so that they may be witnesses for the state when after requiring the prosecution to present evidence and the sworn statement of each proposed state witness at a hearing in support of the discharge, the court is satisfied that:

(a) There is absolute necessity for the testimony of the accused whose discharge is requested;

(b) There is no other direct evidence available for the proper prosecution of the offense committed, except the testimony of said accused;

(c) The testimony of said accused can be substantially corroborated in its material points;

(d) Said accused does not appear to be the most guilty;

(e) Said accused has not at any time been convicted of any offense involving moral turpitude.”

Save for letter (a) of Section 10 of RA 6981, the requisites under both laws are essentially the same. What is probably the most misunderstood requirement is “he does not appear to be most guilty”.  TV reporters and even lawyers have been equating his provision that the accused should be the least guilty in order to become a state witness. In fact, what the law only requires is that the accused whose exclusion is requested does not appear to be the most guilty, not necessarily that he is the least guilty. (See Pp. vs. De la Cruz and Martinez, G.R. No. 173308, June 25, 2008)

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