Lacson raises brows on Panelo meeting with Sanchez family

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    BY VINCE NONATO and JOCELLYN MONTEMAYOR

    SEN. Panfilo Lacson yesterday questioned the propriety of Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo’s meeting with the family of former Calauan, Laguna, Mayor Antonio Sanchez, whom he defended in his rape and murder trial.

    Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, on Tuesday confirmed meeting Sanchez’s family in Malacañang. He said it was just to inform the family that the letter would be referred. Yesterday, he said he met with the Sanchez family twice this year to discuss their appeal for clemency but maintained that he merely referred the request to the Board of Pardons and Parole.

    Lacson said a simple referral would not have been an issue because even senators do that, but senators do not meet with the requesting parties.

    “Kami mismo, nagre-referral, pero hindi kami nakikipag-meeting na (We ourselves do referrals but we do not do meetings),” Lacson said. “Para makipagkita ka, meron kang bina-value na relationship (For you to have a meeting, you are valuing a relationship).”

    On the other hand, Senate President Vicente Sotto III downplayed the issue and said the issue of propriety was “very subjective.”

    “I don’t think it will matter as far as the investigation of the Senate is concerned,” Sotto said in an interview with reporters.

    He said Panelo’s February 26 “referral” letter to the Bureau of Pardons and Parole regarding Sanchez’ application for executive clemency “can [be] brush[ed] aside as just a mere referral” to the proper authorities.

    But, he acknowledged that the letter can be taken by some as an “endorsement.”
    “Implied… [because] you are close to the President, you are sending a letter on the request of another person,” Sotto said.

    Panelo, in a TV interview yesterday, said he had a meeting with the wife of Sanchez, Elvira Sanchez, and a daughter, while the other meeting was with a daughter.

    The meetings, based on the office security logs, happened on February 8 and 26.

    Panelo said the meetings were not scheduled and he had no prior notice that they would visit his office. He said his office is open to everyone.

    He also said his office does not vet letters it receives, or information or requests that are contained in the letter. He said his office just refers the letters and requests to the appropriate agencies for possible action.

    He said there are no recommendations included in the referred letters or requests.

    Panelo said in the meetings, the Sanchezes asked for support for their appeal for his release through executive clemency.

    He reiterated he merely referred the family’s request to the parole board.

    He said he did not respond to the request of the Sanchezes for his recommendation, and did not ask President Duterte or former presidential assistant, now Sen. Christopher Go, to recommend the grant clemency to Sanchez.

    “What is improper is if I acceded to the request of recommendation coming from me, recommendation coming from Mr. Go and recommendation coming from Mr. President,” he said.

    Panelo reiterated that the request of the Sanchezes was for the grant of executive clemency and not in any way related to the good conduct time allowance (GCTA).

    Panelo asked for a public apology from two online news agencies which reported he endorsed and recommended the release of Sanchez, or he would push through with libel complaints.

    Sanchez and six of his bodyguards were sentenced by the Pasig Regional Trial Court in 1995 to seven life terms for the rape and killing of Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of student Allan Gomez.

    NO REFERRAL NEEDED

    Former Justice Undersecretary Reynante Orceo said a referral letter is not needed in granting inmate’s request for early release for good conduct because the GCTA is automatically computed by the BuCor and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

    Orceo, who served during the time of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, said BuCor and BJMP officials should just disregard any referrals or recommendation from any person for the GCTA as this is not a part of the process.

    He said what is important is that the process for giving GCTA is followed. – With Ashzel Hachero

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