MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - Lawyer Salvador Panelo Jr. will serve as President-elect Rodrigo Duterte's chief legal counsel.
Ernesto Abella told reporters on Wednesday that he will now take the role of presidential spokesperson which was initially given to Panelo.
Incoming Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar said Panelo's designation as chief legal counsel of Duterte had apparently been the plan "since day one". He said that in one of Duterte’s interviews in Davao City, the incoming president said Panelo’s appointment was only temporary.
Panelo's designation as Duterte's spokesperson was met with criticism because of his role as former legal counsel of the Ampatuans, the main suspects in the gruesome Maguindanao massacre.
Meanwhile, Andanar said his office will also absorb the functions of the current Presidential Communications Development & Strategic Planning Office, headed by Manuel Quezon III.
Andanar also revealed his plan to rename his office to “Presidential Communications Office”.
The outgoing administration’s creation of two communications offices, the PCOO and the PCDSPO, was widely seen as President Benigno Aquino III’s way of accommodating the two factions in his group.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and former PCDSPO Secretary Ricky Carandang were associated with the "Balay" faction of Mar Roxas while PCOO chief Sonny Coloma was with the "Samar" faction.
“Parang ang lalabas dito, bumabalik sa dating organization. Para hindi magulo kasi wala namang gulo na nangyayari sa amin tulad ng nakaraan,” Andanar.
Andanar and Abella made the announcements following Duterte's 5-hour meeting with his Cabinet at the Philippine International Convention Center.
Abella said the Cabinet meeting, the first to be attended by Duterte in Manila, was just a simple one and no policies were discussed thoroughly.
"The whole meeting was basically about hearing from the various secretaries so that the incoming administration would be able to be more systematic and more coordinated, and the departments would not act as silos," Abella said.
Prior to becoming a presidential spokesperon, Abella was kidnapped by bandits for 24 hours in 1996.
“They did not tie me up. I was not blindfolded. Apparently, they were confident that I would not in any way be able to reveal their real identity. They treated me well, but at a certain stage, it looked like they were going to eliminate me,” Abella told reporters in Davao City.
He said Duterte was instrumental in his rescue after the Davao mayor called several Moro National Liberation Front commanders to “ensure that he will be preserved."
Fast forward to the campaign period for the 2016 presidential polls, Abello took part in Duterte’s presidential bid by campaigning for the Davao mayor through social media.
Abella, who identifies himself as a social entrepreneur by profession, said some of his Facebook posts about the PDP-Laban standard bearer went viral, but downplayed possibilities that his social media posts were his ticket to becoming part of the President-elect’s inner circle.
Abella worked mostly in the private sector where he sat as a former board member of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, Philippine Missions Association, and Koinonia Thelogical Seminary.
Abella used to be a creative director for an ad agency, a columnist for a local daily, and an instructor at the Ateneo de Davao College.
He also served as the former chief executive officer of F&P Agri-Inputs and AZ Agri-products.
Before taking on the role as Duterte’s spokesman, he took a sabbatical leave from his role as the founder of the One Accord Credit Cooperative and Southpoint School in Davao.
His family also has to adjust to his current role in the incoming administration as they had to leave their home in Tagaytay to transfer to a residence that is closer to Malacanang.
Abella said the changes are all part of the job title. He just hopes that he will do well in being the President-elect’s “talking head.” - with reports from Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News