The relatives of the victims of the Ampatuan massacre will oppose the appointment of Atty. Salvador Panelo as a member of the Duterte administration.
They said it could lead to a whitewash aside from him being conflicted if the case is discussed in Palace press briefings. Panelo earlier said the charges were fabricated and his clients were framed. In effect, the relatives said Panelo accused them of lying and frame-up.
The relatives of the victims of the infamous 2009 Ampatuan Massacre expressed fear that Panelo would sit in the Cabinet of presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte.
Panelo, who lawyers for members of the Ampatuans, prime suspects in the carnage, has been mentioned as the incoming Press Secretary of Duterte who will assume as the 16th President of the Philippines on July 1.
Fifty-eight people, 32 of them media workers, were brutally killed in the Ampatuan Massacre, named after the town in Maguindanao province where the incident happened, on Nov. 23, 2009.
The primary suspects in the mass murder were Ampatuan clan patriarch former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his sons Andal Ampatuan Jr., former mayor of Datu Unsay town and Zaldy Ampatuan, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Ampatuan Sr, on trial for masterminding the massacre, died from liver cancer on July 2015. Zaldy and Andal Jr. are in jail. .More than 100 security men of the Ampatuans have also been charged.
The Justice Now Movement, composed of relatives of the victims expressed apprehension they may not find justice with Panelo in the Cabinet of Duterte.
Emily Lopez, president of the group, said it would be unfair to the victims and their relatives if Duterte names Panelo as his Press Secretary.
“We will oppose Panelo in the Duterte Cabinet. He is the lawyer of the Ampatuans. If he is in the position, what will happen to our case? We may no longer find justice. He could even have those suspects in jail released,” said Lopez.
“Hindi na kami mabigyan ng justice. Malabo ng magkaroon ng justice kung maging spokesperson siya ng Presidente (We will no longer find justice if he becomes the spokesperson of the President),” said Monette Salaysay, a midwife at the Cotabato Regional Hospital whose husband, radio broadcaster Nap Salaysay, was among the journalists killed in what was tagged by the Committee on the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) as the world’s worst politically-related violence against members of the press.
The victims – including the wife, relatives and supporters of Buluan town Vice Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu — were in a convoy on their way to the filing of the certificate of candidacy (CoC) for Maguindanao governor of Mangudadatu when attacked by the security force of the Ampatuans.
“Ayaw namin na maupo sya. Hindi natin alam kung ano ang magiging influence nya sa kaso, (We don’t want Panelo in the Duterte Cabinet. Being the lawyer of the Ampatuans, we can speculate how he could influence the case),” according to Koronadal City school teacher Noemi Parcon, widow of Joel Parcon, publisher of weekly Frontera newspaper who also perished in the massacre.
The mother of another victim, Victor Nuñez of UNTV, Katherine Nuñez of Cagayan de Oro City, said lawyer Harry Roque, legal counsel of Justice Now Movement, will oppose the appointment of Panelo in the Duterte Cabinet.
The Duterte administration assumes office six years after the deadly massacre, with the relatives of the victims accusing the Aquino administration of foot-dragging on the case.
“Majority sa amin poor pero hindi tanga (We are poor but we are not fools). Fifty eight (58) persons were killed but we are taken for granted!” said Salaysay who suspects bribery had been stalling solution of the case with some of the primary suspects being granted bail.
After assuming as the legal counsel of the Ampatuans, Panelo immediately declared to the media that his clients are being framed for a crime they did not commit.
For saying that the crime levelled against the Ampatuans was unfounded, Panelo effectively declared that the relatives and witnesses, some of whom have been killed and harassed, are lying about their testimonies.