Journalists blast Panelo appointment as Duterte spokesman

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 19 2016 03:48 PM | Updated as of May 20 2016 01:48 AM

But incoming presidential spokesperson vows to bring justice to massacre victims

(UPDATED) Journalists and relatives of the Maguindanao massacre victims have expressed fear that they may not see justice during the term of presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte due to the appointment of Salvador Panelo. 

Panelo, who once served as a lawyer to the Ampatuans, the primary suspects in the Maguindanao massacre case, has been named as Duterte's spokesperson.

In a statement released by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Grace Morales, speaking on behalf of the media victims of the massacre, said Panelo's appointment means there will be no progress in the case.

''Parang alam na namin saan patungo ang kaso (We know where the case is headed)," said Morales, wife of Rosell, the slain circulation manager of community paper News Focus.

''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 progress in this case)."

NUJP said Panelo's appointment as presidential spokesperson could derail efforts to obtain justice for the massacre victims.

But Panelo, for his part, insisted that the Duterte administration will strive to bring justice for the victims through the rule of law.

Panelo, speaking to reporters in Davao City Wednesday evening, also stressed that he already withdrew as counsel of the Ampatuans months ago, or in December last year.

The NUJP, however, said Panelo's withdrawal does not render invalid the concerns of the victims' family about the implications of his appointment as presidential spokesperson on the trial.

''We urge the incoming government not to let political considerations get in the way of ensuring justice for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre,'' NUJP chairperson Ryan Rosauro said.

Rosauro said "NUJP will remain committed to defending freedom of the press and that the group will remain "vigilant about the progress of the trial of those accused of the single deadliest assault on media in history." 

Meanwhile, former Buluan, Maguindanao Mayor Jong Mangudadatu said he sees no problem with Duterte's decision to appoint Panelo.

Jong is the brother of re-elected Maguindanao governor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu, whose wife was killed in the gruesome November 23, 2009 massacre which claimed the lives of 58 individuals, 32 of whom were journalists.

Jong met with Duterte at Marco Polo Hotel. Although the two did not talk about the Ampatuans, he said he hopes that swift justice for the massacre victims will be served under the new administration. - With reports from Greanne Mendoza, ABS-CBN News; Dexter Ganibe, dzMM