by Christine F. Herrera
ADMINISTRATION standard-bearer Gilberto Teodoro Jr. yesterday offered to give free legal services to the families of the 12 journalists killed in Maguindanao and worked to expel the Ampatuans, the main suspects in the massacre, from the ruling party.
“The massacre brought international shame to the country, which is known to nurture Asia’s freest press,” said Teodoro, who topped the 1989 Philippine Bar exams and secured a master’s degree from Harvard.
“The eyes of the world are upon us because we just made history by having the biggest number of journalists killed in peace time since the invention of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press in 1439.”
Teodoro, chairman of the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD party, had no qualms about lawyering against his party mates: Gov. Zaldy Uy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.
The powerful Ampatuan clan holds high positions in the ruling party.
The former Maguindanao governor is Lakas-Kampi-CMD’s provincial chairman, while the ARMM governor is party chairman for the region.
“I have called on the party to take the decisive step to expel them for their failure to uphold party ideals and principles in their area of jurisdiction, especially relating to the peaceful, legal and democratic pursuit and exercise of political power,” said Teodoro, who exercized his powers barely a week after President Arroyo bowed out and turned the party leadership over to him.
The Ampatuans are being linked to the murders of members of the rival Mangudadatu family, who were among 57 civilians, including journalists, seized and killed Monday by armed men believed to be followers of the Ampatuan clan.
Teodoro, along with his wife Tarlac Representative Monica Louise Prieto-Teodoro, went to Maguindanao province yesterday noon to condole with the families of the victims of the worst election-related massacre in the nation’s history. They also discussed the cases as he offered his legal services for free.
“My entire family is offering our deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims in their hour of bereavement. Should they desire legal aid, I am more than willing to act pro bono as their lawyer,” he said.
Teodoro’s wife expressed repugnance at the way the women victims were tortured and sexually abused before they were killed.
“What they did put to naught everything we worked for to give dignity and respect to the country. This senseless slaughter of women also goes against the teaching of the Koran, which espouses that the women and weak be protected at all times,” she said.
Teodoro’s spokesman, Zambales Rep. Maria Milagros Magsaysay, said the massacre was not only an assault on the press and democracy but also an affront to the legal profession as two election lawyers attached to the family of Buluan town Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu were also killed.
“Have we gone so low that we slaughter lawyers like pigs in the open field rather than hear their legal arguments in court?” Magsaysay asked.
She was referring to lawyers Concepcion Brizuela, 56, and Cynthia Oquendo, 36, who were among the more than 50 people abducted and killed in Monday’s flare-up of violence in Maguindanao.
Teodoro said Monday’s brazen attacks showed that when it came to respecting press freedom, “Filipinos are still hanging from the trees and writing in caves despite this age of the Internet and digital information.”
He urged the government to arrest Andal Ampatuan Jr. and those believed to be behind the massacre and disarm all armed groups in the area to prevent an escalation of violence.
Former Senator Franklin Drilon said Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, whose wife and other relatives were killed in the massacre, was about to join the Liberal Party before Monday’s bloodbath.
“It is unfortunate that this incident happened when Vice Mayor Mangudadatu was about to join the Liberal Party,” Drilon said in a statement.
“We were formalizing his entry into the party as our gubernatorial candidate in Maguindanao, and he was ready to take his oath over the weekend.” With Fel V. Maragay