PRESIDENTIAL Spokesperson and Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo revealed Thursday, September 5, that he met with the Ampatuan family two weeks ago after the Office of the President (OP) referred to his office their request for legal assistance from Malacañang.
Panelo made the revelation just days after he admitted that the family of rape-murder convict Antonio Sanchez had reached out to him to talk about the latter's application for executive clemency.
At the Palace press briefing Thursday, Panelo said two Ampatuan ladies went to his office at the New Executive Building in Malacañan Palace following the OP's referral.
The Palace official did not mention any names but said that one of the Ampatuans who went to Malacañang was a "lawyer" and an "assistant secretary" who is married to an Ampatuan.
"Humihingi sila ng advice kung ano ang gagawin (They asked for advice on what to do)," Panelo told Palace reporters.
Based on the July 17, 2019 letter released by Panelo on Thursday, the OP referred to his office the request of lawyer Jehan-Jehan Lepail-Ampatuan and Bai Soraida Biruar-Ampatuan.
The referral was made since Duterte could not meet with the Ampatuans because of his "hectic schedule."
A portion of the letter reads: "Unfortunately, the President will not be able to meet the proponents due to his hectic schedule and in view of the engagements that require his utmost attention. In this regard, may we respectfully refer this matter to your office for appropriate action."
Lepail-Ampatuan is the wife of Saudi Ampatuan Jr., who is among the alleged suspects in the Maguindanao incident but remains at large.
Biruar-Ampatuan is the mother of Ampatuan Jr.
Panelo said his advice to the Ampatuan family was to convince Ampatuan Jr. to surrender.
"Sabi niya gusto namin ma-kuwan si Presidente. Sabi ko the fact na ni-refer ni Presidente sa akin 'yan, ibig sabihin ganun din ang mangyayari diyan (They said they wanted to talk to the President. I said the fact that the President referred you to me means that he wants me to attend to it)," he said.
"Kaya ang advice ko sa inyo pa-surrender mo na lang yung asawa mo, mag-trial nalang kayo. Tapos sabi naman nila, eh paano kung makukulong, eh ganyan talaga ang risk mo diyan (That's why my advice is convince your husband to surrender and let him undergo trial. They said he would be sent to jail, and I told them that's the risk there)," he added.
Panelo served as the defense lawyer of Andal Ampatuan Jr., the primary accused in the November 2009 Maguindanao encounter that killed 44 Special Action Force policemen among others, but quit a year after for personal reasons.
Panelo was criticized earlier for referring Sanchez's bid for executive clemency to the Bureau of Pardons and Parole. He said the referral to another office was just standard operating procedure. (SunStar Philippines)