Lacson bill offers big rewards for whistleblowers in corruption cases

A bill filed by Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson seeks to offer substantial rewards and better protection to witnesses in exchange for coming out and testifying against government officials or employees involved in corruption.

Lacson said that by getting the cooperation of “credible witnesses with reliable information,” his bill may address the difficulty of fighting corruption, especially those involving acts behind closed doors.

“This proposed legislation seeks to encourage whistleblowers to come out in the open and put an end to the corrupt practices of some government officials or employees. At the same time, it aims to strengthen the present machinery in ensuring the full protection and security of these brave witnesses against any form of retaliation or ostracism, and establish a rewards-and-benefits system in order to ensure the livelihood and welfare of these whistleblowers,” he said in Senate Bill 258

[Download: Senate Bill 258, Whistleblower Act of 2016]

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But Lacson, who served as a law enforcer for 30 years, including as Philippine National Police chief from 1999 to 2001, also pointed out the bill also includes a rigid procedure to prevent abuses or false witnesses.

His bill covers cases involving violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the code of ethics for government officials and employees, the Anti-Plunder Law, and other crimes committed by public officers.

The proposed act will reward whistleblowers or informants from the public or private sector who make disclosures that are voluntary, in writing and under oath, and relate to conduct constituting graft and corruption.

Such disclosures should not yet be subject of a complaint filed with the Office of the Ombudsman or investigated by any other investigating agency, unless the Ombudsman deems such disclosure is needed for an effective prosecution, or for the acquisition of material evidence not yet in its possession. The disclosures should also be corroborated; and lead to a successful gathering of evidence and/or investigation that can in turn result in the filing of a criminal complaint before a court.

While a whistleblower need not testify in court to enjoy the benefits under Lacson’s bill, he or she shall be entitled to additional benefits and protection under the Witness Protection Program if his or her court testimony is needed.

Also, the bill gives the Office of the Ombudsman added powers to implement its provisions. An initial P100 million is to be appropriated from the National Treasury to implement the act.

Financial rewards

Whistleblowers shall be entitled to a monetary reward in accordance with the salary grade of the respondent, including the President (Salary Grade 33).

The bill’s proposed financial rewards also include:
– Salary Grade 33: P5 million
– Salary Grade 32: P4 million
– Salary Grade 31: P3 million
– Salary Grade 30: P2.5 million
– Salary Grade 29: P2 million
– Salary Grade 28: P1.5 million
– Salary Grade 27: P1 million
– Salary Grade 26: P900,000
– Salary Grade 24-25: P800,000
– Salary Grade 22-23: P700,000
– Salary Grade 20-21: P600,000
– Salary Grade 18-19: P500,000
– Salary Grade 16-17: P400,000
– Salary Grade 14-15: P300,000
– Salary Grade 12-13: P200,000
– Salary Grade 10-11: P100,000
– Salary Grade 5-9: P75,000
– Salary Grade 1-4: P50,000

Whistleblowers can get half the reward after being qualified admitted to the program by the Office of the Ombudsman, and the remaining half before the filing of a case in a proper court.

In cases such as plunder, forfeiture of ill-gotten wealth, bribery, malversation and damage or injury to government, the whistleblower shall be entitled to an additional reward of up to 10 percent of the amount recovered by final judgment.

Should the case drag on, the whistleblower may get an advanced payment equivalent to 25 percent of the additional reward of the total award due, consistent with the nature of the case and the amount involved and deemed recoverable.

Protection and conditions

A whistleblower or informant is entitled to absolute confidentiality as to:
– his or her identity
– subject matter of his or her disclosure
– the person to whom such disclosure was made

While a whistleblower can receive state protection, he or she should first execute a Memorandum of Agreement where he or she agrees to avoid committing a crime and take precautions to “avoid detection by others of the facts concerning the protection” provided him or her.

He or she must also cooperate with respect to all reasonable requests of officers and employees of the government who are providing him or her protection; and regularly inform the appropriate program official of his or her current activities and address.

Violating the agreement will result in termination of the protection. Before ending the protection, the Ombudsman shall send a notice to the whistleblower concerned, stating the reason for the termination. The informant will be given reasonable time to take security precautions.

A whistleblower shall be immune from any administrative, civil, criminal or other liability for making his or her disclosure, especially from the subject of his or her disclosure.

He or she is also immune from disciplinary, retaliatory or prejudicial action in the workplace for making his or her disclosure.

An employer who “encourages, causes or does retaliatory action or reprisal” against an informant or anyone suspected to be one shall be held liable, while an employee who refuses to follow orders that may cause them to violate this proposed law shall be protected from reprisals and retaliatory action in the workplace.

The bill also provides that all proceedings involving application and/or enjoyment of the benefits under the Office of the Ombudsman shall be kept confidential in nature.

“No information or documents given or submitted in support thereof shall be released except upon written order of the Office of the Ombudsman, and provided such disclosure shall not endanger the life of a qualified whistleblower,” the bill said.

It added the fact of the entitlement of the qualified whistleblower to protection and benefits “shall not be admissible in evidence to diminish or affect his credibility.”

Abstract

An abstract of the proposed law shall be displayed in all government agencies, offices, bureaus and local government units, including government-owned or controlled corporations, and the local government units.

Government agencies are required to adopt internal procedures for dealing with whistleblowers, with the internal procedures widely disseminated to all employees.

Failure to post an abstract may net a fine of P100,000 for the first offense, with the amount doubled for every succeeding offense; and imprisonment of up to six months. If the offender is a public officer or employee, he or she faces suspension of the right to hold public office.

Penalties

Anyone who deliberately and voluntarily gives false or misleading information on graft and corruption faces up to 12 years’ imprisonment. If the offender is a public officer or employee, he or she also faces perpetual absolute disqualification from public office.

Meanwhile, a person under obligation to report a disclosure to the Office of the Ombudsman but fails to do so within two months, or who fails to act or cause an investigation, faces up to one month’s imprisonment and/or a fine of up to P50,000.

Retaliatory acts

Retaliatory attempts and acts against a whistleblower including those that hinder, delay, prevent or dissuade a whistleblower from testifying, reporting a crime, seeking the arrest of another person in connection with the offense face a fine of up to P100,000 or imprisonment of six months to six years. Government officials or employees who engage in such acts also face perpetual disqualification from holding public office.

Anyone who violates the protection of confidentiality of a protected disclosure may face six months to six years in jail. If the violator is a government official or employee, he or she faces an accessory penalty of temporary absolute disqualification from public office, and will have to indemnify the informant.

In the workplace, anyone who commits a retaliatory act against an employee who is a whistleblower or suspected to be one, will face up to six months’ imprisonment. If the offender is a public officer or employee, he or she faces suspension of the right to hold office and shall be civilly liable to indemnify the whistleblower.

“Toward this end, the aggrieved whistleblower shall be entitled to the provisional remedy of injunction against any retaliatory action in the workplace, prejudicial conduct or discriminatory treatment by reason of the whistleblower’s disclosure,” the bill said.

Also, the aggrieved person may take action before the Civil Service Commission or the Department of Labor and Employment for unfair or discriminatory practices, back wages, or other labor disputes.

Meanwhile, a person, firm, corporation, office or employer who shall deny a qualified applicant for employment due to knowledge or suspicion that the applicant is a whistleblower may face up to six months’ imprisonment. If the offender is a public official or employee, he or she faces suspension of the right to hold public office, and may have to indemnify the informant.

Ombudsman powers

The Office of the Ombudsman shall supervise, monitor and coordinate all efforts in implementing this act, and investigate disclosures made under this act and prosecute when needed.

It will evaluate the qualification of whistleblowers or informants and work with private and public sectors to hold a public information campaign on the act. It will also develop and implement programs to further encourage whistleblowers.

Legislative whistleblower program

The Senate and/or the House of Representatives may establish a joint or separate program for the benefit and protection of a whistleblower, to encourage witnesses of acts constituting graft and corruption to testify before investigations in aid of legislation.

A whistleblower may be admitted to the program upon the recommendation of the committee where his/her testimony is needed and upon approval of the Senate President or the House Speaker.

“(A)dmission in the legislative whistleblower program shall not be a bar for admission to the program for whistleblowers of the Office of the Ombudsman with the same rights and privileges including the right to the monetary reward provided for therein,” the bill said.

However, a whistleblower can receive monetary reward from either Congress or the Ombudsman, and not from both.

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