MANILA -- Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo did nothing wrong when he wrote the Bureau of Pardons and Parole (BPP) a referral letter asking the agency to act on the request for executive clemency for convicted rapist-murderer, former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday.
In a televised press conference in MalacaAang, Duterte said Panelo did not commit any infraction, stressing that it was not his spokesperson's fault for referring the request Sanchez's daughter, Marie Antonelvie, to the appropriate agency.
Yung ginawa ni Panelo (What Panelo did), it is not his fault na lawyer siya (he was their lawyer). You cannot question that. And he happens to be there because I appointed him, Duterte said.
Nung dumating sa kanya, ini-refer niya sa the proper entity. Yun nga yung board (When the letter reached him, he referred it to the proper entity. That's the board). Panelo did not commit any infraction. He happened to be a lawyer at that time, he added.
Duterte pointed out that Panelo, who is also Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, could only have committed wrongdoing if he decided to personally attend to Sanchez family's request.
Tama yung ginawa ni Panelo (What Panelo did is right). Just a referral. Ang masama nun kung hinandle niya (What could have been wrong is if he handled it himself), Duterte said.
The President said he could vouch for Panelo's character.
Why is there a conflict of interest when he is not called upon to decide? Kung sabihing naghingi ng tulong kasi abogado siya noon, anong masama niyan(But if you say they asked his help because he used to be their lawyer, what's wrong with that)? Duterte said.
I have full faith in Panelo. Hindi ganyan yung tao. Nagkamali kayo (He's not that type of person. You're wrong), he added.
In a statement, Panelo defended anew his referral letter to the BPP asking the agency to respond to Sanchez's daughter's request describing it as purely mechanical or routinary.
The referral of the letter of Ms. Marie Antonelvie J. Sanchez, who happened to be the daughter of Mr. Sanchez, to the BPP is just one of the thousands of referrals the OCPLC has made to various government instrumentalities, Panelo said.
The letter, just like thousands of letters before it, was simply referred to the appropriate office, he added.
Panelo reiterated that it is standard operating procedure of the Office of the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel (OCPLC) to respond to all letters received by it and refer, and not recommend or endorse, them to the appropriate agency.
Accordingly, the OCPLC only refers matters to appropriate agencies which have the resources to verify the relevant facts contained in the letters and the mandate to act on them, he added.
Panelo also pointed out that his office considers inaction on a request received as not only as nonfeasance, but also a corrupt practice.
Hence so we respond to all, regardless of who we received the letter from. Singling out one connotes partiality in public service, a practice frowned upon by the President and ultimately, punishable by the law, Panelo said.
We are merely fulfilling the commitment of the President to lend an ear to all those who require assistance. And this is what the OCPLC performed when it referred the letter of the daughter of Mr. Sanchez to the BPP. Failing otherwise would mean that we have resorted to discrimination and inaction, which may then subject us from punitive sanction, he added.
'Everything above board'
Meanwhile, Panelo said the referral of the letter-request of Sanchez's daughter to the BPP took away his office's concern on the request.
It meant that I and the OCPLC did not want to have anything to do with the case of Mr. Sanchez or particularly the request of his daughter for a recommendation on the application for a pardon, Panelo said.
Panelo also insisted that meeting the Sanchez family in his office last Feb. 7 was above board because it showed he was not hiding anything.
As Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, I could have directly gone to the President and recommended that Mr. Sanchez be granted executive clemency. I could have even met with the family of Mr. Sanchez somewhere outside the office so the public will be unknowledgeable. These would have been condemnatory, Panelo said.
My entertaining them in my office and referring their concern to the appropriate body denote that everything is aboveboard and there was nothing clandestine, he added.
Panelo said a simple referral is totally different from a recommendation or an endorsement.
The former does not connote undue interference or intervention while the latter does, Panelo said.
What is inappropriate is if I advised the President as Chief Presidential Legal Counsel to grant an executive clemency to Sanchez, which I did not, he added.
On Tuesday, Panelo said he will be filing libel cases against Inquirer.net and Rappler for using the words recommend and endorse when he simply referred the Sanchez family's letter to the BPP.
Panelo said the two online media outlets also failed to comply with his demand for a public apology and rectification.
Source: Philippines News Agency