Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo on Tuesday denied intervening on behalf of convicted rapist and killer Antonio Sanchez, saying he merely referred the letter from the ex-mayor’s daughter to the Board of Pardons and Parole.

Panelo, also the chief presidential legal counsel, claimed that reports by and Rappler were “malicious” and “defamatory” and said he would sue both online news outfits for libel.

The Palace spokesman’s involvement is the latest in the fallout from revelations that Sanchez, who was meted seven life terms for the rape and murder of UP student Eileen Sarmenta and the killing of Allan Gomez in 1993, was about to be freed based on Republic Act (RA) 10592 that reduces sentences on account of “good conduct time allowances.”

Panelo was a counsel for Sanchez in the Sarmenta-Gomez case. He also admitted to meeting with Sanchez’s family in Malacañang in February.

“We find it unfortunate that this representations’ referral letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole Executive Director Reynaldo G. Bayang, dated February 16, 2019 is unwittingly and erroneously and even maliciously being reported as a recommendation letter for the executive clemency for former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez as written by,” he told reporters.

“This report is far from the truth and we find it defamatory in nature. There is no part of this representations’ official communication asking for intervention as texted by Pia [Ranada] of Rappler. I said no intervention; the referral letter speaks for itself,” he added.

“On the contrary, this representation left it to the discretion of the Board of Pardons and Parole to evaluate the case of Mr. Sanchez,” Panelo said.

Panelo pointed out that “It has been the standard operating procedure of the Office of the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel to respond to all, and I mean ‘all letters’ received by it, and refer them to the appropriate department or agency which has the authority to act on the writers concern.”

“As I previously said, I have no contact with Mayor Sanchez. And I even thought that the letter came from the wife of Mr. Sanchez. It can be seen in my instructions to my subordinate; when apparently it came from the daughter,” he said.

Panelo said that when the President asked his opinion on the matter, “I immediately told him that as far as Republic Act 10592 is concerned, those who are recidivists, habitual delinquents and escapees as well as those convicted with heinous crimes are not covered by Republic Act 10592 by express provision, and hence the conclusion is ex-Mayor Sanchez was not covered by it.”

Sanchez had twice been caught with illegal drugs; in one instance shabu or methamphetamine was hidden under the image of the Virgin Mary.

Referral carried weight – Drilon

Senate Minority Leader Franlin Drilon said that while the contents of Panelo’s letter appeared “standard,” “the fact it is in his letterhead and given his position, that endorsement carries weight.”

“On the surface it appeared that the letter is a plain endorsement, but given the fact that it is in the letterhead of the Presidential Legal Adviser and the fact that he is the presidential spokesman, that letter, certainly, has some weight,” he added. on Tuesday said it respected Panelo’s right to sue for libel, while Rappler said the spokesman’s threat was a “pure diversionary tactic” and that he should answer questions regarding his possible conflict of interest in the Sanchez case instead of “shooting the messenger.” (