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‘Twas mere referral, not release order’

Kristina Maralit

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Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo yesterday clarified his referral of a letter of plea from a family member of convicted rapist-murderer former Calauan, Laguna mayor Antonio Sanchez does not equate to a recommendation for the grant of executive clemency as it was implied during a Senate hearing on the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) fiasco.

Bureau of Pardons and Parole executive director Reynaldo Bayang presented the letter forwarded by Panelo, who served as Sanchez’s legal counsel in the rape-slay of Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her companion Allan Gomez, before the joint Senate hearing on Sanchez’s aborted release.

But Panelo called the presentation “malicious.”

The Senate Committee on Justice and the Blue Ribbon Committee, both chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, are conducting the probe following the discovery of the release of numerous convicts, including those who had been found guilty of heinous crimes.

“We find it unfortunate that this representation, referral letter, is unwittingly, erroneously, maliciously reported as a recommendation letter for executive clemency,” Panelo said.

He threatened to file libel cases against media outfits which broke the story about his supposed endorsement of executive clemency for Sanchez.

In the letter dated 26 February 2019, Panelo only referred a letter from Sanchez’s daughter Marie Antonelvie Sanchez to Bayang. The letter did not mention any grant of executive clemency to be given to the rape-slay and murder convict.

“In line with the President’s commitment for good governance, transparency and immediate action on matters that affect the welfare of the people, we are referring this matter to your good office for your evaluation and whatever appropriate action you may want to undertake under the premises,” Panelo stated in the letter.

“We request that your good office update us for record purposes and for whatever action this office may want to undertake consistent with law and the policy of the President for good government,” he also stated.

Panelo asserted that his office was just heeding the directive of the Office of the President to act on every letter request it receives.

According to him, the Office of the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel was tasked to respond to all letters and refer them to the appropriate departments for the necessary action.
“The letter of referral is just one of the thousands of referrals this office has made to other government agencies,” he said.

The spokesman also reiterated that he has not had any “personal communication” with Sanchez or his family since quitting as their counsel 27 years ago.

He, however, did not deny that he met Sanchez’s family in Malacañang to discuss the former mayor’s appeal for clemency. But he maintained it was only an “official communication.”

“I said I will refer their letter (to the BuCor) and they should just wait for the reply,” stated the spokesman.

Apart from Panelo, Bayang said the Sanchez family also sought support from other politicians to lobby for the release of its patriarch.

Bayang said former First Lady and Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos and various local government executives in Laguna also wrote letters endorsing Sanchez’s application for executive clemency.

Elvira Sanchez, wife of the former Calauan mayor, said they were advised by Bayang himself to seek recommendation letters.

Sanchez’s wife said the letters appealing for executive clemency were sent to President Rodrigo Duterte dated 5 July 2018 through Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go.

Bayang confirmed that his office received letters from the Vice Mayors League of Laguna, Biñan City Vice Mayor Angelo Alonte, former Laguna governor ER Ejercito, Marcos and Panelo.
Go said that he could not recall the request made by the Sanchez family.

“I have not read any letter from the Sanchez family. I receive voluminous letters now and before,” Go told the Daily Tribune.

“Upon checking with the Office of the President, the letter from Mrs. Elvira Sanchez was received by the Public Concerns Office on 10 July 2018. Thereafter, it was referred to the Office of the Deputy Secretary for Legal Affairs last 16 August 2018,” he added.

However, Go stressed that Sanchez is better off in jail.

“If I have received the said letter, I will refer him to St. Peter. He is better off in jail. He is safer there,” said Go.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon reiterated that the Department of Justice (DoJ) could rearrest the 1,914 heinous crime convicts, including three convicts for the rape-slay of the Chiong sisters in 1997.

“The DoJ has valid and legal reasons to seek rearrest of the 1,914 prisoners serving life sentences but were wrongly released by the BuCor,” Drilon said.

“The law should be interpreted to give justice to the victims. An interpretation that unqualifiedly and unjustly favors the oppressor, rather than the victims, may cause people’s trust in our justice system to erode,” he stressed.

“It was clearly established that the procedures were not followed on that basis and in accordance with the case of People vs. Tan, they can be rearrested. Let them question it in the Supreme Court,” Drilon said.

“Ultimately, it is the Supreme Court that will decide on this,” he added.

With Hana Bordey and Elmer Manuel