By Rommel F. Lopez

“’Balat-sibuyas’ (onion-skinned) is what we Filipinos call officials who are incapable of thinking beyond their imagined hurt and fail to see that the reports are not all about them.”

This was how the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) described in a statement presidential spokesman and Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo for threatening Rappler and with libel charges over the two news sites’ stories about Panelo’s letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole on the executive clemency application of his former client, convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez.

The national organization of journalists added that if not for those news stories, convicted criminals like Sanchez’s kind would have been released unnoticed by the public.

“Those reports informed the public that flawed laws are being abused by powerful people and that such laws beggars revisiting. Those reports also serve to warn officials like Panelo to be careful in dispensing both duties and favors, even to old friends,” it said.

The NUJP said Panelo “again proved that both libel and cyberlibel should be decriminalized when he threatened both Rappler and the with legal charges for simply reporting on an important and raging public issue.” 

Panelo, it added, was treating the country’s criminal libel and cyberlibel laws “as weapons wielded by the powerful to exact revenge and to punish than a legal remedy for justice.”

“If protecting his honor is what Panelo is really after, he should refrain from carrying out his threat against Rappler and Magnanimity is key. Honor is, after all, like a nice shirt seen by others on the wearer, not a sword wielded harshly by the bearer,” the NUJP said.

Panelo was one of the former Calauan mayor’s lawyers in his trial on the 1993 rape-slay of University of the Philippines Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of Allan Gomez.

In a press briefing in Malacañan Palace Tuesday, Panelo said his office was preparing libel charges against and Rappler for publicshing “malicious articles” meant to “tarnish” his honor.

“Those articles are reeking not only with irresponsibility but with malice and it is libelous in nature because it imputes an act to discredit me in public and to tarnish my honor,” he said.

Panelo particularly took exception to the words “recommending” and “endorsed” that were used in the stories.  He demanded to correct the story and said he had not received any response.

He also took exception to the Rappler story for “trying to make an innuendo” about the visit of members of the Sanchez family in his office at the Palace in February. has said it “respects Secretary 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.”

Rappler calls the libel threat a “diversionary tactic” and said that “Panelo should instead answer questions about his possible conflicts of interest.”