Panelo downplays referral of Sanchez clemency plea

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    BY VINCE NONATO and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR

    CHIEF Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo “referred” an application for pardon of Antonio Sanchez, his former client, while former First Lady Imelda Marcos vouched for the notorious inmate in a letter to President Duterte.

    Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, confirmed he referred the plea of Sanchez’ family to the Board of Pardons and Parole but said it was among thousands of requests being received by his office. It said his office acts on the requests by referring these to concerned agencies for action.

    He also said the referral was not in any way a recommendation to free Sanchez.

    “We find it unfortunate that this representations’ referral letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole Executive Director Reynaldo G. Bayang, dated February 16, 2019 is unwittingly and erroneously and even maliciously being reported as a recommendation letter for the executive clemency for former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez …This report is far from the truth and we find it defamatory in nature. There is no part of this representations’ official communication asking for intervention,” Panelo said.

    Sanchez’ unsuccessful attempt to be released was divulged during the second hearing of the Senate justice and Blue Ribbon committees regarding his case.

    The former mayor of Calauan town in Laguna, mayor was convicted for the rape and murder of a University of the Philippines Los Baños student in 1993 and murder of her school mate.

    Reports last month on his impending release for good behavior provoked public outrage.

    Bayang, asked by committee chair Sen. Richard Gordon, said Panelo wrote a letter dated Feb. 26, 2019 “in reference” to a Feb. 8, 2019 letter by Sanchez’ daughter Marie Antonelvie.

    “In line with the President’s commitment for good governance, transparency and immediate action on matters that affect the welfare of the people, we are referring this matter to your good office for evaluation, and whatever appropriate action you may want to undertake under the premises,” said the letter which Bayang read out for the record.

    Panelo requested that Bayang’s office “update us for record purposes and for whatever action this office may want to undertake consistent with law and the policy of the President for good government.”

    Gordon noted that Panelo merely referred Sanchez’ application just because it was brought to his office’s attention.

    “Wala hong malisya sa tinatanong ko dito, ‘no? Kaibigan ko si Sal Panelo… Totoo naman ‘yan eh… hindi naman dinidiin (There is no malice in my question, no? Sal Panelo is my friend. That’s true, I’m not implicating him),” Gordon said.

    Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon later noted that the letter carried Panelo’s official letterhead and described it as an “endorsement.”

    “Given his position, that endorsement carries weight,” Drilon told reporters in an interview.

    At the House, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said Panelo should also be summoned to the House and Senate inquiries to shed light on his role in the botched attempt to release Sanchez.

    “His referral letter might be taken as an intervention especially coming from a presidential legal counsel to act favorably on the application for early release of his former client, the convicted rapist and murderer former Calauan mayor Sanchez’,” he said.

    “The act was unconscionable even if it was only a referral letter because his letter is no ordinary missive. As presidential legal counsel and spokesperson, it definitely carries weight and he has the ear of the president to boot. Sec. Panelo should really explain his part on this issue,” Gaited added.

    During the Senate hearing, Sanchez’ family admitted having secured recommendation letters from Marcos, as well as retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Arturo Brion and unnamed mayors and vice mayors from Laguna province.

    Bayang confirmed receiving letters from Marcos, as well as Biñan City Vice Mayor Angelo Alonte, and former Laguna governor Emilio Ramon Ejercito III.

    Marcos’s May 29, 2017 letter directly asked President Duterte to give “utmost consideration” to Sanchez because of his “advanced age and failing health.”

    At the time, Sanchez had been imprisoned for 24 years. Marcos said if the good conduct time allowances were applied in Sanchez’ case, he would have been credited with 32 years of service.

    Marcos was then the representative of Ilocos Norte’s second district, and her letter carried the letterhead of the House of Representatives.

    When Bayang said the BPP still denied Sanchez’ executive clemency application despite their connections, Gordon quipped: “So, walang tumalab. Walang kamandag sa inyo ‘yung sulat (So, none worked. The letters had no effect on you).”

    Yet, the senator said: “Dapat ang sinabi niyo, ‘’Wag niyo kaming sulatan’ (You should have told them, ‘Don’t write to us’).”

    WON’T PAY DAMAGES

    Even as the Sanchez family admitted to lobbying politicians and Palace officials, they said they would continue disobeying the Supreme Court’s January 1999 order for him to pay nearly P12 million in damages to the loved ones of victims Mary Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez.

    “Bakit kami magbabayad, eh walang kasalanan ang asawa ko (Why will we pay, when my husband did not do anything wrong)?” Elvira Sanchez said.

    She reiterated Sanchez’ alibi that he was with his family when the crime was committed on June 28, 1993. This was despite the courts refusal to believe the alibi.

    Elvira confirmed that she and two of their children meeting with Bureau of Corrections director general Nicanor Faeldon on August 21, after receiving a text message the day before informing her of Sanchez’ impending release.

    Yet, she recalled that Faeldon denied knowing about it and told her about his “first-in, first-out” directive, in which those imprisoned earlier would be prioritized for the application of the time allowances.

    But she claimed Faeldon told her that Sanchez could be released in two months if he was really eligible for the incentive.

    Asked by Drilon to show the supposed anonymous message, Elvira claimed she threw out her SIM card and destroyed her phone because of death threats.

    “Hindi ko po tinanggal ang message. Ang tinanggal ko po ay SIM card ko at binato ko na po ang cellphone ko dahil sa sobrang galit ko na po (I did not delete the message. What I took out was my SIM card and I tossed my cellphone out of extreme anger),” she said.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III then told her to give them her number, so they could trace the unknown sender.

    MEETING

    Panelo said he met last February with the relatives of his former client, the same month he received a request from the family for executive clemency for Sanchez.

    He said the request, sent through email, included a letter from Marie Antonelvie Sanchez
    He also said he is filing libel cases against online news agencies Inquirer.net and Rappler for publishing stories that said he recommended executive clemency for Sanchez.

    Panelo said in both his meeting with the Sanchez’ daughter and his answer to her email dated February 8, he told her that he had referred their request to the Board of Pardon and Parole – sent on Feb. 26, 2019 — and advised them to just wait for their response.

    He said the meeting with Sanchez daughter happened after she emailed him and asked him, President Duterte, and former special assistant to the president and now Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, to support the former mayor’s plea for pardon.

    Panelo said Bayang responded to his referral letter on March 19, which he then forwarded to the younger Sanchez on April 11.

    He said Bayang indicated the Board denied the motion for reconsideration filed by Sanchez and reiterated it “denied his petition for executive clemency, citing the gravity of the offenses he has committed as the reason.”

    Panelo said the meeting and exchange of letters was part of the official communication and standard operating procedure under his office, the Office of the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel.

    He said he informed the President about his meeting with Sanchez’ daughter and Duterte just listened to his report. — With Wendell Vigilia