NUJP: Panelo appointment spells doom for Ampatuan Massacre case

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/19 May) — The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has expressed “serious misgivings” over reports presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte was planning to appoint a former counsel of a principal suspect in the Ampatuan Massacre as Palace spokesperson.

In a statement Thursday, the NUJP said that while Panelo withdrew as counsel for Andal Ampatuan Jr. in early December last year, his possible appointment leaves serious doubts on the outcome of the trial.

NUJP said the families of the victims have expressed disappointment too over Duterte’s plan [to appoint Panelo].

“Hindi ako komportable. Hindi tama (I am not comfortable. This is not right). “Parang alam na namin saan patungo ang kaso (We know where the case is headed),” the statement quoted Mary Grace Morales as saying.

Morales’ husband, Rosell, circulation manager of the community paper, News Focus, died in the massacre.

“Kung sya (Panelo) na talaga, hindi na ako aasa na may mangyayari pa sa kaso na ito (If he is really appointed, I will no longer hope for progress in this case),” she added.

“Although the NUJP recognizes the right of any accused to a defense, the group shares the sentiments of the relatives of the Ampatuan massacre victims,” the statement said.

“We urge the incoming government not to let political considerations get in the way of ensuring justice for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre.

“We assure everyone that the NUJP will remain committed to defending freedom of the press and of expression and will closely monitor the incoming administration’s adherence to these rights. This includes remaining vigilant about the progress of the trial of those accused of the single deadliest assault on media in history,” it added.

Meanwhile, Atty. Romel Regalado Bagares, executive director of the Center for International Law, said of Panelo’s possible appointment as presidential spokesperson:

“His distressed jeans matched with a suit jacket made for a wonderful appearance in court — and perhaps, will make one for someone appointed as the President’s spokesman, but that is not really the issue here.

“We understand certain debts owed during the elections season need to be paid, but for a candidate who won overwhelmingly on a promise that change is coming, this is not the refreshing wind of change our clients sorely need now.”

Bagares said: “The choice us uninspired, to say the least. But it is clear it does not really understand the gravity of what happened on Nov. 23, 2009 on a hill in Sitio Masalay, Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Sadly, it is a choice that does not attack impunity decisively but rather, perpetuates it.”

“It is not too late for the presumptive President to change his mind and show to nearly 16 million Filipinos who voted for him that he listens to their cry for genuine change in the way we do government and governance in this country,” he added.

Andal Jr. and other members of his family, including the late Andal Ampatuan Sr., are facing murder charges as the alleged masterminds of what is considered the worst single attack on media workers the world over.

The massacre, which happened on 23 November 2009, claimed the lives of 58 people, 32 of whom were media workers who went with the convoy bound for Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao to file the candidacy for governor of then Buluan town vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu. (MindaNews)