In Sanchez’s bid for freedom, Panelo defines ‘referral’ as act of dissociation
MANILA, Philippines—Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo continued to defend his referral to the Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) of a letter seeking clemency for rapist-murderer Antonio Sanchez, once Panelo’s client, saying it would show he was trying to distance himself from the effort to cut short the convict’s jail time.
Panelo said his referral of the letter seeking kindness for Sanchez was his way of telling the Sanchez family that he was not touching the case for clemency. The online Merriam Webster Dictionary defined referral as “the act, action, or an instance of referring.”
“With the very fact precisely of referral is already telling them that I’m not touching your case, that’s very clear,” Panelo said in an interview on CNN Philippines.
“They are asking for three recommendations: from me, from Mr. [Senator Bong] Go, from the President. None of that sort happened,” he added.
Panelo was harshly criticized after BPP chief Reynaldo Bayang revealed at a Senate hearing that President Rodrigo Duterte’s chief legal counsel and spokesperson referred to him on February 26 a letter of Sanchez’s daughter, Marie Antonelvie, asking for a favorable recommendation for the release of Sanchez, once the powerful mayor of Calauan town in Laguna province.
Panelo said what he did was not an act of intervention in Sanchez’s bid to be freed from jail where he had spent the last 24 years and where he was sentenced to spend at least seven life terms for at least three heinous cases—the rape and murder of UP Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta, who was given as a “gift” to Sanchez when he was still mayor and who Sanchez passed on to his henchmen after raping her.
Sanchez also ordered the killing of Sarmenta’s friend Allan Gomez. He was also convicted of the murder of two of his political rivals in Calauan.
Panelo said that by referring the letter seeking clemency for his former client to the BPP, he was merely heeding Duterte’s order for Palace officials to respond to all concerns that reach Malacañang.
He said he was not discriminating between a former client and whoever would seek Malacañang help.
“You cannot discriminate,” he said. “You should treat everyone equally, it doesn’t matter who they are,” Panelo said in a mix of English and Filipino.
The chief presidential legal counsel, however, also admitted meeting twice with Sanchez’s family inside his office in Malacañang in February 2019 when the family was seeking a reversal of the BPP decision to reject Sanchez’s application for executive clemency because his crimes were simply too heinous.
In December 2018, the BPP junked Sanchez’s plea for executive clemency. It stood by this decision on Feb. 27 or a day after Panelo wrote to the bureau “referring” the letter from the Sanchez family./TSB