NUJP: Ex-Ampatuan lawyer as Duterte’s spokesperson could affect case
MANILA, Philippines – Lawyer Salvador Panelo, whom president-elect Rodrigo Duterte named as his spokesman, is being haunted by his involvement in high profile cases like the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), in a statement, expressed its "serious misgivings about his potential appointment as presidential spokesman and its possible implications on the trial of those accused.”
Panelo has defended the masterminds of the 2009 Ampatuan massacre, which left 58 people, mostly journalists, dead. (READ: Duterte's spokesman Salvador Panelo and his high-profile cases)
The single deadliest attack against the media was allegedly hatched to stop Esmael Mangudadatu's bid for the governorship then. He challenged Ampatuan Jr of the powerful Ampatuan clan of Maguindanao.
Duterte can quickly resolve the Ampatuan massacre case to highlight his flagship platform on crime suppression, NUJP chair Ryan Rosauro told Rappler.
"If you're talking about crime, the Ampatuan massacre is the worst case of election-related violence," he stressed.
Rosauro also called on the next justice secretary to "push the search for justice."
"The justice secretary will be key in providing prosecutorial guidance to the case," he said.
Ampatuan defense counsel
In 2014, Panelo was hired as defense lawyer of Ampatuan Jr. Only a year after in 2015, however, he withdrew as legal counsel as requested by his client due to “personal reasons”.
No convictions have been made 6 years after the gruesome crime happened. The families of the media victims of the massacre fear this would also happen under an administration that has Panelo as spokesperson.
“Hindi ako komportable. Hindi tama (I am not comfortable. This is not right),” said Mary Grace Morales, whose husband Rosell, circulation manager of the community paper, News Focus, died in the massacre.
“Parang alam na namin saan patungo ang kaso (We know where the case is headed),” Morales added.
“Kung siya (Panelo) na talaga, hindi na ako aasa na may mangyayari pa sa kaso na ito (If he is really appointed, I will no longer hope for anything coming out of this case),” Morales said.
Drop political considerations
Even as NUJP recognizes the right of any accused to a defense, the group said it shared the sentiments of the relatives of the massacre victims.
Rosauro urged the incoming administration "not to let political considerations get in the way of ensuring justice for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre.”
Panelo was Duterte's lawyer who defended him against charges by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV that the president-elect had huge bank deposits that he did not declare in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth.
An ally of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Panelo posted controversial photos of him and other Duterte volunteers at the birthday celebration of the still detained former president in April this year.
Meanwhile, veteran journalist Inday Espina-Varona, echoing the sentiments of other media groups and practitioners, urged Duterte to drop Panelo.
"(A) tougher call is in order. Mayor Duterte must rethink his appointment of Panelo," Varona stressed in a blog post.
"Panelo described the charges as fabricated...That speaks of his affinity to truth – an ocean separates him and truth. This is the man who will be your spokesman?" said Varona.
A Philippine Star article quoted him as saying that the Ampatuans were just “framed to seize political power." – Rappler.com
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