CHIEF Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, seems to have been doing a lot of entertaining of families of his former clients when he was still in private law practice.
Yesterday, he told reporters that he met a few weeks back with the relatives of a member of the Ampatuan family, who was supposedly hoping that President Duterte will intervene on their behalf in the Ampatuan member’s case.
Panelo, who was a counsel for former Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. in the case of the Maguindanao massacre in 2009, did not name who among the Ampatuans met him but described one of them as a lawyer and the other one was an assistant secretary who is married to an Ampatuan.
“They are asking the intercession of the President,” Panelo said explaining that the case involved a member of the Ampatuan clan who had been charged with his family but still remains at large.
Panelo’s revelation came at the heels of his admission that he met twice on separate occasions with relatives of former Calauan, Laguna major Antonio Sanchez, a former client who was convicted for a rape-slay case in 1993. The Sanchez kin supposedly sought Panelo’s help in asking for executive clemency for the convicted local executive.
Panel said he met with the Ampatuan family only after the Office of the President referred them to him.
A copy of the referral letter from the Office of the President-Appointments Office sent to Panelo’s office on July 17, 2019 showed that the request was made by lawyer Jehan-jehan Ampatuan-Lepail and Bai Soraida Biruar-Ampatuan.
Soraida is the mother of Datu Saudi Ampatuan Jr., while Jehan-jehan Lepail is Saudi’s wife. Saudi Jr. is one of the members of the Ampatuan clan who was implicated in the Maguindanao massacre.
The request was for a “meeting with the President any day in July 2019,” but due to the hectic schedule of the Duterte, the matter was referred to Panelo’s office.
Panelo said he was not clear about the time when he actually met with the Ampatuan representatives in his office but initially said it may have happened about two weeks ago. The security logbook at the New Executive Building in Malacañang, where Panelo’s office is located, showed that Soraida visited his office on August 13.
He said prior to the August 13 meeting, another Ampatuan representative had met with the President in a gathering in Davao. He said he had introduced the person to Duterte but as it turned out, they already know each other.
He said he also heard Duterte tell the Ampatuan representative to wait for the judgment of the court since the case is already pending.
Panelo said after the incident, the Ampatuans requested for an audience with Duterte in Malacañang but their request was referred to his office instead.
He said he told the Ampatuans then that the fact that their request was referred to him means it would only be returned to his office if they insist on meeting Duterte.
He said he also told them to advise the Ampatuan member who was still in hiding to just surrender himself even at the risk of being jailed.
Panelo said the Ampatuans claimed that the fellow had already been cleared by witnesses but had opted to continue to hide to avoid being arrested.
He said he also told the Ampatuans to let their lawyers file the appropriate petitions if he had indeed been cleared by witnesses.
Panelo came under fire following suspicions that he had a hand in the nomination of Sanchez in the good conduct time allowance program despite being convicted for a heinous crime.
He had denied this and said that Sanchez was not qualified for the GCTA.
He later admitted having met with the family of the former mayor in Malacanang when they were asking for the grant of clemency to Sanchez – a request that he just referred to the Board of Pardon Parole.
The President did not see any infraction in Panelo’s action.