Not only Sanchez: Ampatuans also sought Panelo’s help

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 05 2019 03:37 PM | Updated as of Sep 05 2019 04:31 PM

MANILA- The family of convicted rapist-killer Antonio Sanchez was not the only one who tried to seek the legal help of their former lawyer, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

The Ampatuan family, who gained infamy as several of its members were accused as masterminds of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, also sought the assistance of President Rodrigo Duterte’s chief legal counsel.

Datu Saudi Ampatuan Jr.’s mother Bai Soraida Biruar-Ampatuan and his wife Jehan-Jehan Ampatuan-Lepail initially sought an audience with Duterte but failed to do so, a copy of an email from the Office of the President showed.

Saudi Jr., former mayor of Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao, was among those implicated in the massacre and remains at large. The case is expected to be up for verdict later this year. 

In the July 17 email, the Office of the President referred the Ampatuans to Panelo for “appropriate action.” It can be recalled that Panelo was hired as defense lawyer of the Ampatuans in 2014 but withdrew only after later.

“They’re asking the intercession of the President,” Panelo told reporters.

“They’re claiming that inosente sila (they are innocent). Sabi ko, bakit di sumuko (I asked, why not just surrender)?” Panelo said.

The security logbook in the Office of the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel also showed that Bai Soraida visited Panelo on Aug. 13 at 2:03 p.m.

“Sabi nila ‘gusto namin makausap si Presidente.’ Sabi ko, ‘the fact na nirefer ni Presidente sa akin 'yan, ganun din mangyayari diyan, kaya ang advise ko sa inyo pa-surrenderin niyo na lang 'yung asawa mo’,” Panelo said.

(They told me that they wanted to meet the President. I told them that the fact that their letter was referred to me by the President means that the same thing would also happen so I advised them to ask her husband to surrender instead.)

Earlier this week, Panelo also admitted to meeting the family of his former client, Antonio Sanchez, who was convicted for the 1993 rape-slay of college student Eileen Sarmenta and killing of her companion Allan Gomez. 

Panelo said he simply referred a Feb. 8 letter written by Sanchez’s daughter, Marie Antonelvie, regarding her father's plea for executive clemency before the Board of Pardons and Parole. The request was denied. 

“I never recommended anything,” he earlier said.

On Wednesday, President Duterte defended Panelo from critics and cleared him of any wrongdoing. He said he has “full faith” in Panelo.

Sanchez was also among prisoners earlier reported to possibly benefit from the good conduct time allowance law, which allows the early release of convicts on account of good behavior. 

His release was held back amid uproar as he had committed a heinous crime. 

Some 2,000 heinous crime convicts have been released from prison since 2013 under the GCTA law, BuCor data showed. Duterte has ordered that they be taken back behind bars.