De Lima: Choosing classmate over fiscals a 'painful decision'
- Edu Punay () - March 16, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines -  Justice Secretary Leila de Lima admitted yesterday being law school classmates with the private lawyer who had a rift with a panel of state prosecutors she removed from the Maguindanao massacre case.

She confirmed that she and Nena Santos, who represents Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu and families of 27 of the victims, were classmates in the San Beda College of Law.

She said this had nothing to do with her decision to replace members of the panel, led by Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon.

“I don’t deny that she (Santos) is a former classmate, but that’s irrelevant. I would still be able to make the same choice,” she told a press conference.

De Lima admitted that choosing between the DOJ panel and Santos was a “painful decision” as she asked journalists not to aggravate the situation. “Don’t try to sow (a) wedge between me and the prosecutors, let’s not exacerbate the situation.”

De Lima clarified that the rule of the DOJ, which provides that prosecutors take the lead of the prosecution and should have supervision of private lawyers, would be observed despite changes in composition of the DOJ panel.

Santos, for her part, admitted the rift with Fadullon’s team. She also admitted being classmates with De Lima.

“I am Class ‘84, Sec. De Lima is Class ‘85, Fadullon is Class ‘87 while Undersecretary (Francisco) Baraan is Class ‘79 – all from San Beda. But it (replacement) has nothing to do with being a schoolmate. It has something to do with the management of the case,” she told The STAR.

She said they have been complying with the rule that DOJ panel should be at the frontline of the prosecution.

“But that is the reason why we are there to watch them, especially when they are dependent on us when it comes to evidence and witnesses. We can’t keep quiet if we see anything wrong,” she claimed.

The panel, now chaired by Assistant Regional State Prosecutor Pete Medalle and with Assistant State Prosecutors Amor Robles, Romeo Martin Seranilla and Grace Ruiz as new members, met yesterday afternoon to plan strategies for the next hearings.

Earlier, Fadullon cried foul over De Lima’s allegation that their panel lacked the expected zeal and enthusiasm in prosecuting the celebrated case as a reason for her recent decision to replace them at a crucial stage of the trial.

The STAR reported that De Lima and Santos were classmates in law school, but the information did not come from Fadullon, an alumnus of San Beda College of Law himself.

He only confirmed that his team has had a rift with Santos in the prosecution of the case. Among the disagreements was the manner of presentation of witnesses — when they will be presented and who will present them, Fadullon said.

“We agreed during pre-trial to present allow 15 of 57 relatives of victims to testify in trial for the civil aspect of the case — to demonstrate the sufferings they had to go through — and have the others just submit judicial affidavits. But in our last hearings, they (private lawyers) no longer agree with the plan,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to be overridden by the private prosecutor who goes directly to our heads here in DOJ,” said Fadullon, who filed his resignation from the panel last March 10 or a day after De Lima signed a department order replacing him and five of the 11 members of the panel.

Fadullon clarified that they no longer have a rift with Harry Roque Jr., a lawyer for the other victims’ kin, who had a squabble with the DOJ panel last year. “In fairness to him, he has been cooperative and we no longer had problem with him since our disagreement last year,” he said.

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