MANILA – Online news outlets Inquirer.net and Rappler may soon be facing libel charges for publishing reports claiming that Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo “recommended” or “endorsed” the granting of executive clemency for convicted rapist-murderer, former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez.
Panelo, who is also Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, said he will be filing libel complaints against the two news outlets for their “malicious” reports which are meant to discredit him.
Inquirer.net used the word “recommended” while Rappler used the word “endorsed” when Panelo insisted he only referred the letter to the appropriate agency or department.
“I’m filing a libel case against Inquirer.net and Rappler for publishing these malicious articles immediately,” Panelo said in a media interview on Tuesday but did not give an exact date when to file the charges.
Because of the words used in the report, Panelo said, “people are saying now that I really did something about the so-called release.”
He reiterated that he merely wrote a referral letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) to act on the request of Sanchez’s daughter, Marie Antonelvie, to grant her father pardon but “never recommended anything.”
“The application was referred to the Bureau of Pardons and Parole [sic] for their evaluation. We have nothing to do with it. But then they’re writing an article saying I recommended, I did not,” Panelo said.
He said he asked both Inquirer.net and Rappler to correct their reports but they have not tried to do so.
“I demanded rectification from NetInquirer (Inquirer.net) but I have not received any report from them. I sent a text earlier just before the press briefing. I also texted Pia (Ranada of Rappler) and I told her no intervention, I explained to her but she has not responded. She just said ‘got it.,’” Panelo said.
Panelo, who was a former broadcaster himself, said journalists “should be writing accurately.”
“The letter says I’m just referring the letter and when they said it was denied, I said ‘Thank you for your prompt response, nothing more,’” Panelo said.
He said he did not feel the need to inhibit from writing a referral letter despite being Sanchez’s former lawyer since he was only performing official duties by responding to all letters by referring it to the proper agency or department.
“It doesn’t matter to me because you cannot discriminate otherwise you will also be accused of discriminating them because you were a former lawyer of 27 years. The president said is you have to respond to all,” Panelo said.
“In the first place, the letter was not even in reference to Republic Act No. 10592, it refers to their applying for clemency,” he added.
R.A. 10592 or the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law provides new guidelines on how to compute good conduct time, including a 20-day deduction for each month of good behavior during the first two years of imprisonment.
No influential person
Panelo also rejected the claim of Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Ferdinand Gaite, who said the Palace official’s letter of referral could be interpreted as “intervention to act favorably on the application of early release” of Sanchez.
“In the first place, it was not a referral letter to act favorably. The letter speaks for itself, it was an ordinary referral of them to do something about the request. That’s for them (BPP) to decide, we have nothing to do with it,” Panelo said.
He said there is no influential person to President Rodrigo Duterte and that a letter bearing his signature and his office’s official seal should not put pressure on any department to act favorably.
“My name does not carry weight because the president’s policy to all of us, walang (there are no) sacred cow dito (here). Kaya lahat kami alam namin yun. Walang makaka-impluwensiya kahit kanino (We all know that. Nobody can influence anyone),” Panelo said.
Panelo said all letters of referral are sent to heads of agencies and departments who are “responsible, competent, and intelligent enough” to follow the President’s policy.
In a statement, Inquirer.net said it respected 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,” Inquirer.net said.
In a separate statement, Rappler described Panelo’s libel threat as “pure diversionary tactic”, noting that the Palace official should have just answered questions about his possible conflicts of interest instead of “shooting the messenger.” (PNA / )