Ping: Why was witness at rally?

CLARK FREEPORT­—Opposition United Nationalist Alliance senatorial guest candidate Panfilo Lacson Jr. on Monday questioned the presence of whistleblower Ernesto Mercado in a political rally of the Liberal Party, saying Mercado had no business being in the rally and the casinos.

Lacson immediately blamed the Department of Justice for sanctioning Mercado’s “escapades” when he was supposed to be confined in a safe house at all times.

“I have no qualms. I won’t mince words. WPP [Witness Protection Program] has a lot of explaining to do. I don’t see any business for [Mercado] to be in casinos much less in [place far from Metro Manila],” Lacson said.

Witness on the stump. Former Makati City vice mayor Ernesto Mercado tries to explain to journalists why he was at a political rally of the Liberal Party although he is under the government’s Witness Protection Program. LINO SANTOS
“I think WPP should really explain why they secure their witnesses in such a manager. The witness, under the WPP, is supposed to be confined in a safe house because the national government is using our taxes and he can only get out if it was related to his being a witness,” said the senator, who used to be director general of the Philippine National Police.

“How can you protect a witness in a casino? Or in a political rally? Something doesn’t add up.”

The Binay camp on Monday also pressed for a probe on the LP’s alleged funding of the cockfighting and casino gambling spree of Mercado, who was seen wearing a yellow shirt at Monday’s campaign rally of Roxas at the Makati Coliseum, two days after he lost and gambled away P300,000 in the casinos here.

Senator Nancy Binay tagged Mercado as being used by the LP in mounting a demolition job “Oplan Nognog” to derail the presidential bid of her father, UNA presidential bet Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Part of the plot to oust the vice president was his being subjected to a “trial by publicity” in the year-long hearings of the LP-dominated Senate blue ribbon committee, chaired by LP stalwart Teofisto Guingona III, who is running for reelection under the LP banner.

Binay’s running mate Senator Gregorio Honasan is giving the DoJ a week to come up with an explanation as to why Mercado was allowed to gamble in the casinos in Clark Freeport with “10 bodyguards” in tow when he was supposed to be secured in a safe house as mandated under the WPP.

Honasan said a Senate probe is in order if the DoJ failed to justify the “Mercado gambling escapades.”

Lacson described Mercado as a “high-risk, high security” government witness and was not supposed to be allowed to loiter around.

Asked whether or not Mercado should have been allowed to attend Roxas’ rally, Lacson had this to say: “Well, I don’t think so. When you are a government witness then you should be a government witness. If WPP is protecting a witness protection should really be in the spirit of protection.”

Binay insinuated that since Mercado lost a lot of money on Saturday, he must have gone through the trouble of risking his life to make a public appearance at Roxas’ rally to ask for “fund replenishment.”

“I remember him testifying that he fears for his life so why risk it by gambling in casinos, in cockfighting arena and in a political rally? Where did he get the money to gamble away huge sums? He himself said it was hard to be a government witness because he cannot attend to his businesses and sources of livelihood? So where does he get his resources for gambling? From the Liberal because he allowed himself to be used in making baseless accusations against my father?” Binay said.

Binay said Mercado’s “very close link” to the Liberals could not be denied since the LP even took in Mercado’s daughter to be LP’s official vice mayoral candidate for Makati City and is pitted against UNA’s Makati Rep. Monique Lagdameo, running mate of Binay’s sister Makati City Rep. Abigail Binay.

Binay also questioned Mercado’s getting a “special treatment” as he could just get out of the safe house on his “whim and caprices.”

“If Mercado would want to gamble in the faraway casinos, or gamble in cockfighting, he can do so at anytime he wanted, not caring that the 10 bodyguards assigned to secure him and the convoys of cars being used are being paid for by the Filipino taxpayers,” Binay said.

UNA spokesperson Mon Ilagan said heads must roll if the government officials running the WPP have violated the law in risking the life of a witness by allowing him to simply get in or out of the safe house.

Mercado, he said, should also be made to abide by the WPP requirements.

“If there’s a violation, and Mercado cannot abide by the rules, then he should be taken out of the program so as not to waste taxpayers’ money,” Ilagan said.

Topics: Ping Lacson , Witness on the stump , Ernesto Mercado , WPP , UNA , Vp Binay
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