Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo yesterday threatened to sue The Philippine Daily Inquirer and Rappler for libel, accusing the two news websites of “malicious” reporting when they published articles about a letter he sent to the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) on behalf of his former client, convicted rapist-killer Antonio Sanchez.
“Those articles are reeking 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,” Panelo told reporters yesterday in Malacañang Palace in Manila.
In a Senate hearing yesterday about the controversial Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law, it emerged that Panelo’s office forwarded a clemency request from Sanchez’s daughter, Marie Antonelvie Sanchez, along with a letter of his own to the BPP in February.
Rappler‘s report said that Panelo “endorsed” Antonelvie’s request, while Inquirer’s report used the word “referred” in its article. However, a Google search showed that the Inquirer article’s previous title was “BPP: Panelo helped Sanchez’s bid for clemency.”
In a statement released yesterday, Rappler slammed Panelo for threatening to sue them, a plan which they said was a “pure diversionary tactic.” It added that “instead of shooting the messenger, Panelo should instead answer questions about his possible conflicts of interest.”
It also stood by its original article and said that Panelo, using “the power of the Office of the President… endorsed to the Bureau of Pardons and Parole a letter from the Sanchez family requesting for executive clemency.” Rappler also reported that Panelo met Sanchez’s family in his office in February.
Here is Rappler’s statement on Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and Spokesperson Salvador Panelo’s threat to file libel complaints over stories about Antonio Sanchez’s possible early release.https://t.co/pDc4McqT56 pic.twitter.com/DxAmTGLJTD
— Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) September 3, 2019
Previously, Panelo said he no longer communicates with the convict, but he admitted yesterday that he met Sanchez’s family when they visited his office and discussed their request for the former Calauan mayor’s clemency.
However, Panelo insisted he told the family he could not help them with their request.
“I told them exactly that the Bureau of Corrections will be the one to determine whether or not your application [for clemency] will be approved or not. We can’t do anything,” he recalled saying.
Meanwhile, the Inquirer reaction to Panelo’s threat was a little less combative. “Inquirer.net respects Secretary Panelo’s right to sue for libel if he feels aggrieved by the report. We shall refer the matter to our lawyers when he files the suit,” the publication said in a statement.
Panelo was one of Sanchez’s defense lawyers when the former Calauan mayor was tried for the 1993 killing of University of the Philippines Los Baños students Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez.
Panelo has denied having anything to do with Sanchez since the early ’90s, and said he actually withdrew from the case before the 1995 conviction was handed down.
Late last month, Harriet Demetriou, the judge who sentenced Sanchez to seven life terms in prison, urged Panelo to resign from his post, saying she believed it was likely he was involved with the mooted plan to release the former Calauan mayor from prison. Panelo rejected her accusation.