YOU are one of the persons closest to the President. You have access to him every day, just like members of his family. As presidential legal counsel and spokesman, you also have the duty, as part of your official function, to help all letter writers asking for assistance and refer their problems with the proper government agency for action.
Such is the situation Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo was in before August, 2019, when news of the impending release from the New Bilibid Prison of his former client, former Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez, broke out. Sanchez was serving multiple life terms for the rape and murder of UP Los Banos student Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her companion, Allan Gomez, in 1993.
It was a choice between doing your job of referrals and telling the Sanchez family that you cannot help at this time because of delicadeza and conflict of interest issues that might be hurled against you.
Panelo, with his heart always bleeding for the needy, chose to help the Sanchez family in their quest for executive clemency for Antonio. He endorsed the plea to the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) for whatever action it merited. The Board denied the request.
Most senators were of the belief that Secretary Panelo erred in referring the letter to the BPP. The reason is that he is a Malacanang functionary, using the letterhead of the Office of the President. His name and official designation are not trifling. He is in fact a Palace factotum probably just a little lower than former Executive Assistant and now Sen. Christopher Go. Anything signed by Secretary Panelo would have considerable weight in offices or agencies of the executive department. An undersecretary in the Palace can very well do the referral.
Now the Presidential Spox is hurting because two online news organizations chose to editorialize and described his official action of referring as lobbying or influence peddling, or even lawyering for favorable action.
Panelo said, “Those articles are reeking with, not only with irresponsibility, but with malice and it is libelous in nature because it imputes an act to discredit me in public and to tarnish my honor.” He has demanded “rectification.”
The two media firms welcomed Panelo’s legal recourse and are just waiting for the libel cases to be filed. Panelo should file these cases as he had announced, so that the courts would have an opportunity to resolve them and who knows, they may just contribute something to enrich our jurisprudence on libel.
Meanwhile, other media organizations have urged Panelo not to be “balat-sibuyas.” Such risks of misreporting and twisting of facts and meanings of words go with the territory of his official function.