The online news site Inquirer.net apologized Friday to Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo for reporting that he had recommended executive clemency for his former client, convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez.
But Panelo rejected the apology.
“The apology as worded is unacceptable. The apology prefaced it with an alleged clarification from me of what I meant in referring the letter of the daughter of Sanchez,” he told Manila Standard in a Viber message.
Panelo previously threatened to file libel suits against Inquirer.net and Rappler if they did not issue public apologies and rectified their reports.
“Inquirer.net apologizes for reporting on its social media platform that Secretary Salvador Panelo wrote a letter to BPP executive director Reynaldo Bayang recommending executive clemency for former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez,” the news site’s statement read.
The report was posted on Inquirer.net’s Twitter and Facebook accounts on Sept. 3 during a Senate inquiry on the Good Conduct Time Allowance Law.
“Inquirer.net posted Secretary Panelo’s clarification upon receipt of his statement on the matter. The updated reports stated that he merely referred the request of Sanchez’s family to Bayang,” it added.
But Panelo said: “I was not clarifying, rather, I was telling the Inquirer net that it maliciously gave a wrong meaning and adverse imputation of the performance of an act which I never did, therefore, besmirching my character and reputation in the process.”
The presidential spokesman said he will continue with his plans to sue the Inquirer for libel, adding the apology was “not sufficient.”
The matter stemmed from the request of Sanchez’s kin to Panelo’s office as chief presidential legal counsel for help with his application for executive clemency.
Sanchez has been convicted of seven counts of reclusion perpetua for the 1993 rape-slay case of Eileen Sarmenta and murder of Allan Gomez, students from the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
Panelo said he merely referred the request to the Board of Pardons and Parole since it is the appropriate agency to act on the matter.
“A simple referral is totally different from a recommendation or an endorsement,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rappler denied that its report was libelous and called Panelo’s threat a “pure diversionary tactic.”
Panelo’s threat to sue Rappler and Inquirer.net showed that criminal libel and cyber libel laws were “used as weapons” to exact revenge and to punish those who go against the powerful, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday cleared Panelo of any wrongdoing in the Sanchez case.
“I can vouch for his character. He did what is right. I have full faith in Panelo,” he said. MJ Blancaflor, Macon Araneta and Rey Requejo
But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Panelo should explain his letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole before the Senate.
“At least he should explain what they talk[ed] about,” Drilon said.
Panelo served as defense lawyer of Sanchez in the Sarmenta-Gomez rape-murder trial.
Sanchez’s plea was eventually denied.
Panelo insisted no conflict of interest when he endorsed the letter. But Drilon pointed out the fact that Panelo was Sanchez’s defense lawyer, “this peculiar circumstance of Secretary Panelo should have prevented him out of delicadeza, from making the referral.”
“But the fact that he signed it gives the perception of pressure. Because it was Malacañang letterhead and Panelo was the lawyer of [former] Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez,” Drilon said.
“You cannot avoid the thought that something was happening. In government, perception is very important. Perceptions of impropriety are seen with the admitted meetings of Secretary Panelo with the Sanchez family.”
At the same time, Drilon said the government should file an action in court to enforce the judgment against Sanchez, who had been ordered by the court to pay the families of his victims P12.6 million in damages.