NPC to Calleja: ‘Turn Zaldy vs co-accused’

THE National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC) yesterday asked Atty. Howard Calleja to convince his client, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, to prove his innocence by testifying against family members who are also named principal suspects in the gruesome Maguindanao Massacre.

NPC President Jerry Yap said Calleja, a well-reputed lawyer whose other clients include the election watchdog, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), said that while the ARMM governor is still considered among the prime suspects, he could still qualify as a witness if he would “spill the beans” on everything he knows about the killings.

“Attorney Calleja is a respected lawyer. It came as a shock to us that while his image in the legal community is akin to righteousness, he agreed to defend Zaldy Ampatuan. We believe, however, that maybe through him and if he truly believes that his client is innocent, he should convince him to denounce such evil and help in the prosecution of the other Ampatuans involved,” Yap said.

The NPC president was referring to former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Andal Jr., co-accused in the massacre case, which is still being heard by a Quezon City court.

The call was made by the NPC leadership after NPC Director and Press Freedom Committee chairman, Joel Sy Egco, reported following a meeting with Calleja that the lawyer was confident of his client’s innocence and that among the prime suspects, the ARMM governor is the “least responsible.”

“He was not there when it happened. He was not part of it because he was meeting the president (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) when it happened. I took the case because I believe that anyone should not be considered guilty unless proven. That is everyone’s right. The right to due process and that’s how our justice system works,” Egco quoted Calleja as saying.

Calleja was criticized for accepting the ARMM governor as his client, especially since he has been known to be offering pro bono services to indigents and various advocacy groups such as the PPCRV.

“If Atty. Calleja is morally convinced that Zaldy Ampatuan is innocent, he should work to turn him into a witness. Otherwise, he should just drop the case and turn around rather than face the wrath of an angry people,” Yap further said.

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