Panelo is now Duterte’s chief legal counsel

Mara Cepeda

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Panelo is now Duterte’s chief legal counsel

Ben Nabong

Ernie Abella will replace Salvador Panelo as presidential spokesperson

MANILA, Philippines – President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has appointed Ampatuan lawyer Salvador Panelo as his chief presidential legal counsel.

Panelo had been named presidential spokesperson in mid-May, but Duterte later clarified he would only be a “temporary” spokesman.

Ernie Abella is now set to become the next presidential spokesperson.

Abella announced Panelo’s new role after the president-elect met with his Cabinet appointees at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) late Wednesday evening, June 15.

Incoming Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar told reporters that this was the plan “since day one.” 

Duterte had earlier said that Panelo would be the presidential spokesman who would be in charge of the Press Office, which handles media coverage of the president.

This decision, however, was met with criticism from media organizations who frown upon Panelo’s lawyering for the Ampatuan family members involved in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, the single deadliest incident involving journalists. –

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.