Lawyer stands by decision to defend Ampatuan Jr.

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 21 2009 12:22 AM | Updated as of Dec 21 2009 09:19 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The lawyer of Andal Ampatuan Jr. said he is standing by his decision to defend the principal suspect in the gruesome massacre in Maguindanao province last November 23 which claimed the lives of at least 57 persons.

Lawyer Philip Sigfrid Fortun told Cecille Lardizabal of ABS-CBN News, in an exclusive interview, that he did not take the case of Ampatuan Jr. and other members of the powerful Maguindanao clan for the money as some are accusing him.

"I just want you to know that I am not mukhang pera," said Fortun in the interview.

Fortun was reported to have been harassed by a group of protestors who shouted “mukhang pera (greedy for money)” while inside the justice department building when the first hearing on the preliminary investigation of the multiple murder case was held Friday.

When Ampatuan Jr. was hit by a camera by one of the photojournalists covering the preliminary investigation, Fortun was also hit by paper by protestors. Pictures of the massacre victims were reportedly also shoved towards Fortun, reportedly telling him that the pictures are those of the people his clients killed.

Fortun said, however, that he and the Ampatuans have never discussed any monetary rate for his services as their lawyer.

According to Fortun, he does not need to worry if his client may not give him his professional fee. After all, he added, he has a lot of corporate clients which are his bread and butter.

Fortun said he never chooses any client who seeks his service. He said he would agree to give anyone his legal services. His only exception, he said, is if he feels he is going to be used.

“Human rights is for all”

Fortun asserted, however, that in the eyes of the law, everyone has the freedom and the right to defend oneself – whether one is the victim or is the accused.

"If they believe in human rights, that the rights of the journalists and the lawyers who were killed were violated, then I think what is human rights for those people who have died should also be applicable to the other people who are accused naman," said Fortun.

He said he never knew Ampatuan Jr. personally nor the Ampatuans before the case.

"His relative called my office, I was in Davao. Forgot the name eh, lady relative. I never knew them before this case. Never. I don't even hear about them,” said Fortun.

Top caliber

Already known as a top caliber defense litigant, Fortun was thrown into the limelight when he defended then-President Joseph Estrada during the impeachment trial.

His clients also include Sen. Panfilo Lacson whom he defended from accusations of involvement in the Kuratong Baleleng case.

Fortun also defended former congresswoman Imee Marcos who was acquitted in a tax fraud case.

He is also a defense lawyer in the rebellion case of former Marines Col. Ariel Querubin who is now running for a senatorial post in the 2010 elections.

No bodyguards

Fortun admitted, during the interview, that his family fears for his safety when he took the controversial case of Ampatuan Jr. He also said he has been getting “mad” mails.

Personally, however, he apparently does not fear the threats against him.

"What's the difference between today and tomorrow, di ba? If it's your time then its your time,” said Ampatuan Jr.’s lawyer.

Fortun said he has no bodyguards and the only protection measure he makes is to change cars wherever he goes.

Fortun also said that his conscience is clear in taking the case.

"I wouldn't care about what people think about me. Even if they, for example, think that I'm a bad person. At the end of the day, whose conscience is it that I have to clear?" he said.

While Ampatuan Jr.’s lawyer declined to discuss details of the case, Fortun said that there has been no single evidence that would link the Ampatuans to the Maguindanao massacre.

"Person non grata"

Meanwhile members of the National Press Club (NPC) advised Fortun to think again on taking the tasks of being the defense lawyer of the Maguindanao massacre principal suspect. Thirty journalists were among those killed in the grisly massacre in Maguindanao.

The NPC is also reportedly considering declaring Fortun as “persona non grata” and ban him from all media forums. From an exclusive report of Cecille Lardizabal, ABS-CBN News