OPINION: Panelo as spokesman a bad signal for seekers of truth, justice

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at May 20 2016 01:56 AM

Lawyer Salvador Panelo, spokesman for presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte, addresses reporters in Pasig City. File Photo/Mike Alquinto, NPPA

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s next President, has appointed defense lawyer Salvador Panelo as his spokesman.

Presidential transition teams usually vet nominees. Maybe Duterte, who got Panelo to represent him during the public lynching stage-managed by Sen. Antonio Trillanes, feels he knows the lawyer well enough to forego of the vetting process.

Mr. Duterte chose wrong. Journalists and media groups are telling him so. As have the families of the media victims in the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre.

“Hindi ako komportable. Hindi tama (I am not comfortable. This is not right),” said Mary Grace Morales on behalf of other families of our fallen colleagues.

“Parang alam na namin saan patungo ang kaso (We know where the case is headed),” Morales, whose husband Rosell, circulation manager of the community paper, News Focus, died in the massacre, said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) quoted Morales as saying, “Kung sya (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 progress in this case),” she added.

Panelo was a defense lawyer for the Ampatuan massacre principals. He withdrew as counsel for Andal Ampatuan Jr. in December last year.

The NUJP expressed serious misgivings on his appointment as spokesman, noting “possible implications on the trial of those accused of what is acknowledged as the single deadliest attack on the press in history and one of the worst incidents of electoral violence in the country.”

I am a member of the NUJP. While the statement was right on most points, a tougher call is in order.

Mayor Duterte must rethink his appointment.

Do you see this quote, sir?

Photo courtesy of NUJP

More than 50 people died, most of them hapless journalists. It was a MASSACRE of civilians. Unarmed civilians, many of them women, one of them a lawyer who worked with the poor. A massacre, sir. The single, most vicious attack on journalists ever, worldwide.

One can be a defense lawyer and protect suspects' rights. It is another thing to peddle the lies of killers, the worst of murderers.

'FABRICATED'

That speaks of his affinity to truth -- an ocean separates him and truth. This is the man who will be your spokesman?

There are, what... 6,000 positions? Put him somewhere where his presence does not taint the search for justice. 

Other media groups have also raised opposition to Panelo’s appointment. National Press Club president Paul Gutierrez said it would be difficult for journalists to work with Panelo.

“Members of the press would find it hard to interact, and work with, a press secretary whose main clients are the suspects in the wholesale murder of the members of the press that has outraged the entire world," Gutierrez said.

“We understand certain debts owed during the election season need to be paid, but for a candidate who won overwhelmingly on a promise that change is coming, this is not the refreshing wind of change our clients sorely need now,” said Romel Regalado Bagares, executive director of the Center for International Law.

"The choice is uninspired, to say the least. But it is clear it does not really understand the gravity of what happened on November 29, 2009 on a hill in Sitio Masalay, Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Sadly, it is a choice that does attack not impunity decisively but rather, perpetuates it,” the lawyer and journalist said.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.