Interview

Interview with Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Secretary Salvador S. Panelo by Ina Andolong/CNN Philippines

ANDOLONG:  Let’s talk about the referral letter that you sent to the Board of Pardons and Parole. Some lawmakers are saying it was improper for you to refer the request of the Sanchez family to seek a recommendation for a pardon.

SEC. PANELO:  First, you must remember that my office, the Office of the Presidential Legal Counsel, receives all kinds of letters. All kinds, as I mean all kinds. And it has been the policy of the office… because the directive of the President is to open Malacañang to all. Everyone is welcome, if they have concerns, they have complaints and if they request, they go to Malacañang. Unlike before were I understand, letters are not even responded to. But this time, all letters in my office are responded to. We have a template, a response were the tenor is the same. The only difference is the names and the dates. So in this particular case, there are hundreds of inmates who write us asking assistance. They want their sentence be commuted, they are asking for pardon, for clemency, for re-computation of their… and automatically, what I do when it reaches my table, I referred it immediately to one of the lawyers; because there are only three lawyers.

ANDOLONG:  Lawyers in your office?

SEC. PANELO:  Yes, three lawyers. And so in this particular case, the letter of—I thought even that it was the wife writing me, but apparently now it’s the daughter. When it reached my office, when I saw that it was a request, I immediately gave it to one of the lawyers. Now, what does that letter of the daughter of Mayor Sanchez says. February 8 is the date.

ANDOLONG:  We are putting up portion of that letter.

SEC. PANELO:  It says – what is she asking from my office – requesting assistance by providing us with recommendations from you – meaning from me; recommendations coming from Bong Go, now senator; recommendations coming from the President. Now, did I accede to the request, did I recommend? I did not. I referred the letter to the appropriate agency.

Number two, did I respond positively to the request to get recommendation from Mr. Go? I did not.  I did not approach Mr. Go about it, I did not ask him about it, I did not write him about it.

Number three, what is the other request – to ask a recommendation coming from the President. I did not ask the President, I did not write the President. Now, they are saying—

ANDOLONG:  Improper daw, sir.

SEC. PANELO:  That’s improper. But what is improper is if I acceded to the request of recommendation coming from me, recommendation coming from Mr. Go and recommendation coming from Mr. President.

ANDOLONG:  But what you did was you forwarded or referred, as you said, the letter of the Sanchez family to the Board of Pardons and Parole.

SEC. PANELO:  In fact, by the fact—

ANDOLONG:  We’ll put up a graphics also of that letter you sent to the Board.

SEC. PANELO:  You know Ina by the fact of referral that takes away the case from my office. In other words, we are not touching it. We are must giving it to you and you decide it in accordance with law. That is precisely what the letter says. That is why I said res ipsa loquitor – that’s’ a principle in law: The thing speaks for itself.

The very documents, this is a trail, a paper trail of the letters/communication between the daughter and me, and me and the Board of Pardons. When I received the letter, I wrote the Bureau of Pardons and Parole and as read in the Senate, it says that I ‘m referring the letter of his daughter and… for their own evaluation and to tell us what they do so that we can respond to it whatever in accordance with law and the policy of the President.

Now, the Bureau of Pardons and Parole responded on February 26—but before that, I responded to the letter of the daughter, I said, ‘we acknowledge receipt of your letter and we are forwarding the same to the Bureau of Pardons and Parole.’ Now, the Bureau of Pardons and Parole wrote me a response to my referral. He said ‘in this connection, please be informed that in its meeting of 27, February, the Board resolved to deny.’ What was my response? My response on April 11 is, ‘we acknowledge receipt of your letter dated March 19 regarding the subject above and appreciate your prompt response. Thank you.’

What did I do with this letter? I sent it to the daughter. And I said—

ANDOLONG:  At doon na natapos iyon?

SEC. PANELO:  Yes, further to your letter for executive clemency, please find the attached letter, iyon lang iyon. This is the paper trail.

ANDOLONG:  Okay. Sir, but could you have done it or responded to it better, because of course you are saying that all letters made to be acted on. But could you have perhaps not expressly told the family – considering your history with the former Mayor – that clearly hands off ako, hindi ko puwedeng pakialaman iyan. I will inhibit from any formal—

SEC. PANELO:  With the very fact precisely of referral is already telling them that I’m not touching your case, that’s very clear. Because—

ANDOLONG:  That is your way of saying that you are inhibiting, is that what you are saying?

SEC. PANELO:  Exactly! Because they are asking for three recommendations: from me, from Mr. Go, from the President. None of that sort happened.

ANDOLONG:  Do you think that is how the family accepted it or nung sinend mo iyong letter… because you met with them apparently.

SEC. PANELO:  Yes because they—I remember they came to the office, because you know, as the President says you are all welcome to Malacañang, if you have any concern, any complain, any request—

ANDOLONG:  How did the meeting happen?

SEC. PANELO:  Well, the staff told me that they are there. So, they told me about it. And then after that—

ANDOLONG:  Bigla na lang dumating doon, sir sa opisina ninyo?

SEC. PANELO:  Yeah, because—lahat naman ang daming pumupunta sa opisina eh. Marami, everyday marami akong bisita, kung sinu-sino. Kasi hindi naman kailangang mag-appointment. Ngayon nga gusto ko nang mag-appointment para alam ko kung sino ang darating.

ANDOLONG:  Before we started the show, you mentioned that you actually met with them twice. On what occasions?

SEC. PANELO:  Yes, because iyong una basta ang natatandaan ko iyong si asawa; pagkatapos iyong pangalawa galing ako sa press briefing, paglabas ko sa press briefing, sa kuwarto natin, nandoon sila.

ANDOLONG:  Una iyong meeting, sir, with the wife. Ano iyon—

SEC. PANELO:  Kasama yata iyong anak.

ANDOLONG:  Is it still in the relation to their request for pardon?

SEC. PANELO:  Iyon na nga, iyong—

ANDOLONG:  Same.

SEC. PANELO:  Iyong clemency. Oh by the way, ito nga pa lang request nila has nothing to do with the present controversy, Republic Act 10592.

ANDOLONG:  Yes, it’s different, pardon ito eh.

SEC. PANELO:  Kasi doon ako nili-link. Sabi ko, wala na, iba nga pala itong kaso

ANDOLONG:  Sir, but your office still located in Malacañang, you are saying, ano iyon, nag-walk in sila doon. There is still some sort of tight security, security protocol that we follow for walk in—

SEC. PANELO:  And very tight security sa Gate 4. Sa Gate 2—

ANDOLONG:  Where the Press office is.

SEC. PANELO:  Where the press office is, hindi masyado doon. Saka nila-log naman nila iyon eh.

ANDOLONG:  Okay, you met with them twice.

SEC. PANELO:  Yes.

ANDOLONG:  What happened, what did you tell them?

SEC. PANELO:  Hindi, kung ano iyong sinabi ko sa inyo sa press briefing na ipapadala ko iyong letter nila at saka ganoon talaga ang batas at kung ano na lang iyong batas sundin natin, wala na tayong magagawa doon.

ANDOLONG:  And you are confident that you—alam nila na hindi ka makikialam, is that what you are saying?

SEC. PANELO:  Oo eh the fact alone na sinabi ko na… di sana gumawa na ako ng letter recommendation. That I would have written them in the tenor na talagang recommended. You must remember—you look at the dictionary, there is a whale of a difference between ‘referral’ and ‘recommendation.’

 ANDOLONG:  Hindi puwedeng, sir, iyong lawyers mo na lang iyong humarap sa kanila din? Why did you feel the need to personally—

SEC. PANELO:  Ganundin iyon, di opisina ko pa rin. Alam mo, you cannot discriminate, kailangan itrato mo sa lahat ng tao pare-pareho, doesn’t matter kung sino sila.

ANDOLONG:  Even if their might be a risk of you know perceived conflict of interest.

SEC. PANELO:  Alam mo, unang-una, my conscience is clear. Number two, 27 years ago, my goodness, may apo na ako ngayon. I don’t even remember iyong mga nangyari. I have to remember kung anong mga nangyari. Sa madali’t sabi ang treatment ko sa kanila, pumunta kayo sa opisina may kailangan kayo, ano ang kailangan ninyo, oh eh nung sinabi nila ito ang kailangan nila, oh eh di since ayaw kong makialam ni-refer ko na lang.

Basta what to me is inappropriate is if I advised the President as Chief Presidential Legal Counsel to grant clemency and to ask Senator Bong Go to tell the President also to grant clemency, iyon ang inappropriate. But the fact is: I just referred the matter to the appropriate agency and that’s for them to do whatever they want.

ANDOLONG:  Okay, briefly, sir.  One issue kasi is the reason why there are some sort of doubt or questions about your explanation is that you were asked before if you ever met the Sanchez family, clearly ha, the family, I read the transcript sir of our presscon—

SEC. PANELO:  Pero ang dating sa akin noon, ang mga tanong—

ANDOLONG:  And sinabi mo hindi.

SEC. PANELO:  Look at the press briefing, iyong mga ano, Sanchez mismo ang ano, kung meron akong communication with Sanchez eh, hindi naman iyong pamilya.

ANDOLONG:  Yeah, but the questions were referring to the family. Ano iyon nakalimutan mo that yes—

SEC. PANELO:  Hindi. Ang ano ko palagi iyong Sanchez, kung nakikipag-communicate ako kay Sanchez. Eh totoo naman hindi ako nagko-communicate. Saka isa pa—

ANDOLONG:  So, there was no effort for you to conveniently maybe drop the meeting, to mention the meeting?

SEC. PANELO:  Alam mo ang ano ko kasi, if I met with them elsewhere  eh puwedeng  may niluluto kayo whatever. The fact alone na opisina, na hindi ko nga alam na nandoon sila, kinausap ko lang, para sa akin walang problema doon. Moreover documented lahat iyon, lahat ng pumapasok sa Malacañang, nakalista ang pangalan.

 ANDOLONG:  The more reason, sir, though that you should not have hidden or kept that information from reporters—

SEC. PANELO: No. But the question precisely was in reference to Sanchez himself eh.

ANDOLONG:  No, sir, the transcript mentioned the Sanchez family.

SEC. PANELO:  Correct, but ang dating sa akin si Sanchez; ang naano ko lang iyong Sanchez mismo eh.

ANDOLONG: We’re still talking about the case of rape-slay convict Antonio Sanchez. First, we’ll play a sound bite from his wife, Elvira Sanchez.

“Attorney Reynaldo Bayang asked me to ask some recommendation letters from our friends. That is all what we did.”

As we’ve been talking about later sir, isa kayo doon sa hiningian ng recommendation for the request for pardon. Now again—

SEC. PANELO: I did positively respond to that request. I did not make a recommendation.

 

ANDOLONG: So this request for pardon is different doon sa possible release under the good conduct time allowance law. Do you think it may appear that there was a deliberate attempt or effort to free Antonio Sanchez? What do you think about that? Para bang ganoon ang lumalabas?

SEC. PANELO: Well, ang tingin ko, iyong lahat ng family ng mga inmates, they want their relatives to be out, siyempre. So they will do everything legally to do something about the release of their family.

Now with respect to Sanchez, they feel that he is entitled to clemency that’s why precisely they were asking recommendation from me, from Mr. Go and from the President. But hindi ko nga ginawa iyon eh.

Now with respect naman doon sa 10592, they never asked me about that. Wala, walang connect iyon.

ANDOLONG: You think, walang koneksyon iyong dalawa – iyong pardon, GCTA.

SEC. PANELO: Walang koneksyon iyon. Kasi sabi nga ni Secretary Gueverra, “there’s no need for any intervention from anybody.” If you’re qualified, they will process. But remember that when the President asked me on my opinion, I said, “He is disqualified because the law, 10592, is very clear, categorical that escapists, recidivists and habitual delinquents and those charged and convicted of heinous crime are not covered by this Act, by this Law.

ANDOLONG: Okay. In yesterday’s Senate probe also, the Sanchez family said that they are not willing to pay … or they are not willing to pay the 12 million in damages to the Sarmenta and Gomez family. Let’s hear a portion, a part of the probe yesterday.

DRILON: May intention ba kayong bayaran ito?

SANCHEZ: Ang lagi po naming sinasabi—

DRILON: Sorry?

SANCHEZ: Your Honor, lagi po naming sinasabi, laging paulit-ulit po naming sinasabi: Bakit po kami magbabayad, wala naman pong kasalanan ang aking asawa?

Sir paano iyan? The Sanchez family refusing to pay what they’re supposed to by law?

SEC. PANELO: Alam mo, I don’t know if I remember my law correctly, I think kapag hindi nakapagbayad ay madadagdagan iyon ano mo, number of years sa ano mo, sa kulungan. Kumbaga, kapag hindi nakabayad on a particular amount of money, may equivalent number of days na idadagdag. Iyon ang alam ko during my law days – hindi ko alam kung nabago na iyon.

 ANDOLONG: What can be … anong puwedeng mangyari, sir, doon sa Sanchez … apart from nadadagdagan iyong years?

SEC. PANELO: Well, they can always ask the court for a writ of execution with respect to the properties of the accused.

ANDOLONG: Okay. Another sound bite we’re going to play. Judge Harriet Demetriou believes, saying that baka raw may kinalaman kayo dito. Let’s play the sound bite first.

“Presidential Legal Counsel siya, the first thing he should have advised the President, ‘Mr. President, he is not qualified under the law. He cannot be given the good conduct time allowance because he has been found guilty of heinous crimes – seven counts of rape with homicide – dapat alam niya. He was one of the defense counsels ni Sanchez eh. So he actually fooled the people. He actually fooled the President. Mag-resign ka na lang Panelo.”

Okay, what do you say to that, sir?

SEC. PANELO: I think she was not reading the papers. Exactly that was my advice to the President. I said the law is categorical on that. That’s why I issued the statement that he is out of the coverage – Mr. Sanchez.

 ANDOLONG: Sir, but do you have any plan, perhaps, to talk to the President about the situation that you’re in kasi nga, you know, there’s a big debate on the Antonio Sanchez issue? Can you tell him that, “Sir, talagang hindi na ako sasagot dito because ang daming tanong lagi,” naiipit ka?

SEC. PANELO:  Well, the President knows already my position on the matter – I said, he is disqualified. Moreover, you know, isa pa iyong pag-respond namin. You know, one of more prominent lawyers in this country called me up last night, former Chairman of the Comelec, Ben Abalos. He was telling me, “Why are you not using the courtesy law?” Actually, he is referring to Anti-Graft Law. But I did. In fact, I told him, “I already said that.” Because under the Anti-Graft Law Section 3 of Letter F (par. F), it says, “Neglecting or refusing, after due demand or request, without sufficient justification, to act within a reasonable time on any matter pending before him for the purpose of obtaining, directly or indirectly, from any person interested in the matter some pecuniary or material benefit or advantage, or for the purpose of favoring his own interest or giving undue advantage in favor of or discriminating against any other interested party.”

In other words, the law even compels you to respond to any request or demand.

 ANDOLONG: And if you don’t?

SEC. PANELO: You will be prosecuted for anti-graft – that’s one.

Another thing, the policy of the President is to respond whether grant or denial; kasi ayaw niya nga ng corruption.

ANDOLONG: Begging off is not an option? Begging of from—

SEC. PANELO: Bakit ka magbi-beg off eh iyon nga ang trabaho mo. You have to do something either you refuse to act on this particular matter because of the following reason, like for this one, requesting for recommendation, which I did not do kaya nga tinapon ko sa iba eh.

ANDOLONG: Okay. So what you are saying is, are you saying that, rather that there’s no conflict of interest despite your history with the former Mayor?

SEC. PANELO: There’s no conflict of interest. Unang-una, I was only one of the lawyers – pito iyon eh, pitong akusado.

ANDOLONG: Let’s move on, talk about Bureau of Corrections Chief Nicanor Faeldon. You mentioned that the President has been—is monitoring iyong ongoing congressional hearings on this issue. Is the President convinced? Ano ba, what are his thoughts about the defense of Mr. Faeldon?

 SEC. PANELO: He hasn’t expressed his thoughts about. When I talked to him the other day, we just said that there is an ongoing investigation. And I will wait for the findings and recommendation.

ANDOLONG: Senator Bong Go earlier said that he will recommend this to the President. Sabi niya, “Heads should roll at the BuCor, including top officials or the top officials.” Nakarating na po ba itong recommendation kay Presidente? What’s the update on that?

 SEC. PANELO: Hindi ko alam, hindi ko alam.

ANDOLONG: Ano ang fate ni Mr. Faeldon?

 SEC. PANELO: Kasi noong nag-usap kami, wala namang nabanggit si Presidente tungkol doon. Basta sabi niya, “May ongoing investigation,” and I will wait for the findings and recommendation.

 ANDOLONG: Okay. This is a question often asked: Bakit ganoon sir, di ba ang sinasabi, a whiff of corruption? But from the Bureau of Customs, there were talks on that—

SEC. PANELO: But you know, alam mo iyong whiff of corruption, palaging pinapaimbestigahan pa rin ni Presidente iyon, abogado si Presidente eh. Pero kapag nakakita siya ng probable cause … what is probable cause? It simply means, you might have committed the act.

ANDOLONG: He doesn’t see that yet in this case?

SEC. PANELO: Hindi ko pa alam kasi wala naman siyang sinasabi pa sa akin.

ANDOLONG: Okay. Now, also in an earlier statement, you said that the President cannot simply dismiss BuCor employees involved in the signing of the release order because they are covered by security of tenure.

 SEC. PANELO: Yes.

ANDOLONG: But that never stopped the President before. In the case, for example, of Bureau of Customs officials, those are also covered by security of tenure but he ordered them immediately on floating status. Why isn’t he considering the same for—

SEC. PANELO: Floating status, hindi dismissal.  Ang sinasabi ni Presidente—

ANDOLONG: Okay, no, but why isn’t he considering the same for BuCor officials?

 SEC. PANELO: Siguro kinu-consider niya iyon. Ang sinasabi niya, you cannot just dismiss them outright kasi you have to file charges pa. Iyong floating status puwede siguro iyon, baka kinu-consider iyon. He hasn’t told me about it.

ANDOLONG: Okay. But can you tell us a bit more, sir, about relationship of President Duterte – if you know – and itong si Nick Faeldon? Because, again, you know, a lot of controversies during his time at the Bureau of Customs and now this, in BuCor. He clearly, you know, the President has stuck with Mr. Faeldon amid all these.

SEC. PANELO: Actually, I don’t know what kind of relationship they have. What I know is iyong mga sinasabi ni Presidente when he defended Chief Faeldon, when he was at the Customs, he said that kaya siya naniniwala sa katapatan ni Faeldon kasi siya ang nag-expose ng Mighty cigarette. And you know, that involves billions of pesos, eh puwede naman siyang tumanggap ng bribe noon at tumahimik na lang siya. The fact ma hindi, nakita niya na honest iyong tao.

ANDOLONG: So some lonesome senators were implying earlier that money change hands. So you’re saying, si Presidente, he trusts na hindi ganoon si Faeldon or at that time?

SEC. PANELO: I’m referring to the particular incidents sa Mighty cigarette. Iyon lang ang naging basis ko.

ANDOLONG: Okay. Now, Senator Manny Pacquiao is saying that Faeldon should take a leave. His statement, he says, “I know that Undersecretary Faeldon is a good man and has served his country well. But I really hope that he can spare the President and this administration from embarrassment by taking a leave of absence.”  Itong leave of absence, sir, what do you think about that – calls for Faeldon?

SEC. PANELO: That’s for the … I think, that’s for the Chief Faeldon to decide. By the way, I forgot to mention here that, you know, the President asked me to issue a statement in reference to Mrs. Chiong. Because apparently he was affected by it because the Chiong murder case in Cebu apparently either na-release na sila because of that 10592, parang sinisisi si Presidente. Sabi ni Presidente, “kailangan malaman ng publiko na that law was enacted in 2013. That was passed by a previous Congress and signed by the previous President, “Not me, wala akong kinalaman diyan, parang ako ang sinisisi nila.” Moreover, sabi nga ni Presidente, totoo naman, na iyong implementing rules and regulations that included heinous crime which is supposed to be not covered na inilagay doon, ang gumawa noon ay si Leila De Lima, Secretary of Justice.

ANDOLONG: So you’re blaming the previous administration for this—

SEC. PANELO: No, the President is not blaming. Sinasabi niya lang na huwag ninyo akong sisihin dito, wala akong kinalaman diyan. Kaya naging messy ang isyung iyan eh, whether covered o hindi, kasi iyong implementing rules sinama.  But you know, implementing rules cannot go over and beyond that principal source or the law itself – kung ano iyong batas, iyon ang masusunod.

Kaya nga that’s why sinasabi ni Secretary Guevarra, and I agree fully with him, na there’s a need to amend that implementing rules and regulation para hindi nagkakalituhan.

ANDOLONG: Last question, sir, briefly. Earlier you said, dapat ibalik sa preso iyong mga heinous crime convicts na nakalaya because of the GCTA law. How will that be? Is that still your position because some are saying, hindi na pupuwede iyon?

SEC. PANELO: Hindi, there is a case nga eh ‘di ba sinayt (cited) one case in the Supreme Court where the warden released on the assumption na qualified pero hindi pala, and then pinabalik.

 ANDOLONG: What will be the … ano ito, an arrest warrant should be issued; anong mangyayari? How will it happen?

SEC. PANELO: Siguro you will have to file a case in court. Kasi you have to … you need a warrant of arrest.

 ANDOLONG: What case? Anong magiging kaso doon – wrongful implementation/execution of the law?

SEC. PANELO:  I will leave it to the DOJ. Hindi ko na turf iyon. DOJ na iyon, Secretary of Justice Meynard Guevarra knows what he will do.

ANDOLONG: Okay. Thank you, sir, Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Legal Counsel Sal Panelo.

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Source: PCOO-NIB (News and Information Bureau-Data Processing Center)

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