Abella assigned as spokesperson; Panelo as chief legal counsel

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 June) – Former pastor Ernesto “Ernie” Abella will now take on the post as the presidential spokesperson, the position which President-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte temporarily gave to lawyer Salvador Panelo.

In a Facebook live interview posted on Rappler late Wednesday night, Abella told reporters that Panelo will now serve as Duterte’s chief legal counsel.

Martin Andanar, the incoming secretary of Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), said Panelo’s appointment as the temporary spokesperson could be the president-elect’s “plan since day 1.”

“There is no press secretary, only PCO secretary. Spokesperson will be Ernie Abella, the secretary is me,” he said.

Abella, who has had a five-year background in advertising and is also a businessman, a writer, and an educator, said he would be a conduit between Duterte and the media.

“Basically, it is to mediate, in the words of the president last night (Monday) to act as a conduit between himself and the people through the media. Mainly, what I would like to do is just to be able to start this conversation going. There’s been a lot of smoke, and there’s been a lot of noise. But we’d like to get through that. We all share in the same dream, we want a peaceful, prosperous, and inclusive nation, and so it is with this intention that we have started this conversation going,” he said.

Abella said it was Andanar who informed and welcomed him “aboard.”

“What I would like to do is to have the office of the spokesman try to articulate as carefully and clearly as possible the true intentions of the president,” he said.

On Duterte’s relationship with the media, Abella said that assigning him to take the role as his conduit “is I believe a warming up of relations. I’m simply elaborating his statement. The position is a conduit between him and the people of the press. I’m not adding more nor adding less.”

Abella was chief operating officer of F&P Agri-Inputs from 2011 to 2013, CEO of AZ Agri-Products from 2004 to 2011, founder of Hope of Asia, Inc. from 1990 to 2002, instructor of Ateneo de Davao University from 1978 to 1979, columnist of San Pedro Express in Davao from 1977 to 1979, and creative director of Adformatix in Makati from 1975 to 1977.

He took up masters in entrepreneurship in Social Development at the Asian Institute of Management from 2004 to 2005; completed masters of divinity (Biblical Studies) at the Divinity School of Silliman University from 1980 to 1984.

He attended high school from 1960 to 1964 at the Ateneo de Davao University and took up Bachelor of Arts (pre-medicine) from the same university from 1964 to 1968.

Ex-kidnap victim

Abella told a press conference on Tuesday at the Royal Mandaya Hotel here that Duterte was instrumental for his release in 1996 from the hands of his abductors who claimed to be members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“The kidnappers told my companions not to go to the police but somebody suggested to go to the mayor. He was decisive, as far as I know,” he recalled.

Abella said the presence of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was very strong during that particular time, and so Duterte asked for the MNLF’s help so he could be released.

His abductors, who held him blindfolded for 24 hours and even threatened to kill him, later turned out to be ethnic bandits, not MILF, Abella recalled. “They claimed to be political but they were just bandits,” he added.

Abella, who was a pastor then, said they were looking for a piece of property behind the lot where prime subdivision Monteritz stands today along MacArthur Highway in the city.

No ransom was released to the bandits, he said.

Abella was a founder of The Fellowship of Jesus, Inc. in 1984 and closed it down in 2002 when he realized that “traditional church system was not sufficient to transform people.”

He has continued his spiritual path while at the same time pursuing being a social entrepreneur, writer, speaker, and founder/president of Southpoint School in Ma-a here.

Carol Legacion, a colleague from the Ike Pono Davao, recalled that Abella once said he had shared the same vision with Ike Pono founder and Hawaiian Bruce Conching, a world-renowned life coach and “kahuna” (which translates as “keeper of secrets” or “healer”), that change in the Philippines will start in Davao City.

“Na kwento nya na sa 1980, meron silang ‘walk of Jericho’. Naglilibot lang sila sa Davao at nag-ooffer ng prayer kasi noon grabe ang patayan sa Davao. Nung tumakbo si Duterte yun na yun. Baka ito na yung change that will start from Davao,” she said of Abella.