THE brotherhood of pen pushers is vigorously opposing the appointment of lawyer Salvador Panelo as presidential spokesman. The National Press Club headed by Paul Gutierrez has already issued a statement urging President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider this appointment. I join Paul and the NPC leadership in this call against Panelo.
The main peeve of the NPC at Panelo is that he’s the lawyer of the Ampatuans, the main suspects in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre where 34 media men were among the victims.
“Definitely, members of the press would find it hard to interact and work with a presidential spokesman whose main clients are the suspects in the wholesale murder of the members of the press that has outraged the entire world,” Paul said.
Perhaps, Panelo may argue that the Ampatuans are entitled to legal counsel and that he’s merely answering the call of his profession when hired by the massacre suspects. Oh well, I remember that well-respected former Sen. Rene Saguisag had also served as counsel for Hubert Webb, Mayor Antonio Sanchez and former President Erap Estrada. But Saguisag is a very different personality from Panelo.
Saguisag has never been known to charge astronomical fees for his legal services. He was No. 3 in the 1962 Bar exams (where my town mate from Lupao, Nueva Ecija, Virgilio Jara, was No. 5) but he often gives his services pro bono. No wonder, he never became rich like other lawyers who aren’t as brilliant as he is.
Panelo’s defense of the Ampatuans has understandably drawn the ire not only of the press but also of relatives of victims of the Maguindanao massacre. After Panelo’s claims of “frame-up” and of testimonies/pieces of evidence “fraught with lies,” there’s no way he could gain their sympathy.
Panelo may be articulate, a good speaker, but he hasn’t shown any aptitude at dealing with the press. He’s short fused and as far as I have seen, he ignores some questions he doesn’t like or even ridicules reporters for asking what he considers repetitive or irrelevant questions. Unless Panelo learns how to deal with reporters, especially the “Malacañang brat pack,” he’ll be incapable of presenting the better side of the incoming administration.
Rather than wait for the time when Panelo will be in the media’s “hit list” (or is it more appropriately called “shit list?”), it’s best for Duterte to reconsider his appointment of this controversial lawyer as his spokesman. If his services are direly needed, give him a post, perhaps as presidential legal counsel, where he’ll have fewer opportunities to inflict himself on the press.
Another flaky appointee
The appointment of Las Piñas Rep. Mark Villar as public works secretary is also drawing some flaks. The main beef against him is the perceived conflict of interest for he’s CEO of a giant real-estate company that could benefit from the construction of public roads around their housing projects.
Another issue, raised by noted election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, is that Villar will be violating the law against refusing to serve a post after winning it in an election. There have been many instances where a senator or congressman vacated his seat in favor of a Cabinet post, among them Senators Raul Manglapus and Blas Ople as foreign affairs secretary, Rep. Edel Amante as executive secretary, Rep. Robert Barbers as DILG secretary, and Rep. Simeon Datumanong as public works secretary. In all cases, they first took their oath of office as senators or congressmen before accepting a Cabinet position. Let’s see if Villar will no longer take his oath and assume immediately his Cabinet position.
I remember the case of then-Rep. Rodrigo Duterte, who wanted to resign because he was getting impatient at the slow pace of legislative work. He took back his resignation when he was told by the House legal counsel that he could be charged with abandonment of office should he do so. The late Antonio Diaz also didn’t proceed with his planned resignation for the same reason. Then, there’s the case of the late Cesar Climaco, of Zamboanga City, who refused to serve in the Batasan, saying this was a useless post under martial law.
Nobody has been charged yet with abandonment of public office. Unless there’s a law specifically prohibiting elective officials from accepting an appointive position, I don’t think there’ll be any such charges. Of course, if there’s a shift to a parliamentary form of government, then the appointment of a Member of Parliament to a Cabinet post will be par for the course.