Panelo says call for him to quit over Sanchez case ''silly, absurd''
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo hit former Pasig City Regional Trial Court Judge Harriet Demetriou who called for his resignation for allegedly having a hand on the supposed release from jail of convicted rapist and murderer former mayor Antonio Sanchez of Calauan, Laguna.
In a statement on Wednesday, Panelo said it was "unfortunate" Demetriou has expressed an opinion against him "on the basis of pure speculation."
"Judge Demetriou's call for me to resign is silly, if not absurd. I serve at the pleasure of the President, and as his alter ego, I will not be distraught nor derailed by any unfounded remark raised against me," he said.
Panelo was one of Sanchez's lawyers in the rape and murder cases of University of the Philippines-Los Banos students Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez in 1993.
Demetriou sentenced the former mayor of seven terms of reclusion perpetua or each term equivalent up to 40 years for those crimes.
But last week, reports came out that Sanchez could be one of the 11,000 inmates to be freed due to Republic Act 10592 or the law on Good Conduct Time Allowance. Many people, including the relatives of Sanchez's victims, criticized this.
But according to Senator Christopher "Bong" Go, former presidential close aide, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Corrections not to allow Sanchez's release from jail.
"My office has nothing to do with the possible release of qualified inmates. That is the turf and the responsibility of the Department of Justice and the concerned offices under it. I do not intrude nor poke my finger into any matter that is not within the mandate of my office," Panelo said.
As a presidential legal counsel as well, he said whatever legal advice he gives to Duterte is based solely on what the law provides and allows.
"It is for this reason that when the President asked for my opinion on whether Mr. Antonio Sanchez was covered by the benefit granted to inmates under Republic Act No. 10592, I categorically stated that by express provision of the law, Mr. Sanchez and those similarly situated, meaning inmates charged and convicted of heinous crimes, as well as those recidivists, habitual delinquents, and escapees, are excluded from the coverage of the law. On behalf of the Office of the President, I thereafter issued an official statement on the matter expressing such view," he explained.
Prior to his statement regarding Sanchez being disqualified to benefit from RA 10592, Panelo, in one press briefing, said if Sanchez would be qualified, then he could be freed and this did not need the approval of the President.
"In my capacity as the President's spokesperson, I also ensure that my responses to various issues find validation in legal precepts as I know that the President, being a stickler for the rule of law, will share the same view. Hence, responding to a question raised by a reporter from the Malacañang Press Corps during a press briefing, I said that we cannot oppose the law if the same allows inmates to be released earlier from their prison cells based on good behavior while in service. Such pronouncement still stands as we will implement the law and we will implement it properly, that is to the exclusion of recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes," he explained.
"Dura lex, sed lex. There is no way by which those expressly disqualified by law could be considered for release by reason of good behavior. As to those who are qualified, there is no need for any intervention from anybody in the government because those qualified inmates will be automatically processed in accordance with Republic Act No. 10592," he added.
Panelo said Demetriou, being a practitioner of the law, would soon realize that expressing judgmental or condemnatory remarks based on a simple hunch has no place in a profession which values the rule of law. Celerina Monte/DMS