TABACO CITY: Former Justice Harriet Demetriou urged Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo to resign from his post for his involvement in and maneuvering of the aborted release of rapist-murderer Calauan town ex-mayor Antonio Sanchez.
“It is impossible that Panelo didn’t maneuver the decision to favor his former client given his position in the Duterte administration,” Demetriou, the former judge who convicted Sanchez to seven life terms in 1995, told The Manila Times.
Panelo, concurrent chief presidential legal counsel, was one of the defense lawyers of Sanchez in the 1993 trial of the rape-slay case.
Sanchez was convicted in 1995 for the rape-slay of University of the Philippines Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her friend Allan Gomez. He was sentenced to seven life terms of up to 40 years each and was not qualified under the law that reduces sentences because of good conduct.
“Hindi siya makakapagsabi na wala siyang alam sa pagpapalaya kay Sanchez, that is impossible. Presidential legal counsel siya (He couldn’t say that he didn’t have a hand over Sanchez release. That is impossible because he is the presidential legal counsel),” she said.
“Panelo was loyal to Sanchez, I think even until now. So that makes him doubtful as to his loyalty to the Constitution, loyalty to the office as Presidential legal counsel and loyalty to Sanchez as his former defense counsel,” Demetriou said.
The former Pasig Regional Trial Court judge told The Manila Times that Panelo should have first advised President Rodrigo Duterte that Sanchez was a convicted rapist and murderer, and therefore was not eligible for an early release. Sanchez committed a heinous crime and under the law was exempted from Republic Act (RA) 10592.
“The first thing he should have advised the President,” she said, ‘Mr. President, Sanchez is disqualified under the law and cannot be given good conduct time allowance because he is found guilty of heinous crimes, seven counts of rape and homicide.’ He should have known because he was one of the defense counsels of Sanchez.”
As to Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director Nicanor Faeldon and Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Demetriou asked Congress to conduct a thorough investigation against these officials for their involvement in the aborted release of Sanchez.
“Panelo, Faeldon and Bato should be investigated thoroughly for their involvement and intentionally twisted the interpretation of RA10592 despite the fact that Sanchez is disqualified under the law to be given good conduct time allowance because he is found guilty of heinous crimes,” Demetriou told The Manila Times.
“Panelo, Faeldon and Bato subject yourselves to congressional hearing let the truth come out. We have to fight for the judicial system of the Supreme Court. Faeldon is making a mockery of violating RA 10592,” she said.
There was outrage after Faeldon announced Sanchez may be among the 11,000 inmates to be freed due to a new law granting good conduct time allowance.
“I will fight for justice this is for Filipino people. What is the protection of the Filipino people if they will twist the interpretation of the law,” Demetriou said.
Panelo, however, was unfazed and found it “unfortunate” that Demetriou “has expressed an opinion against me 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. I will instead continue to faithfully perform my duties in accordance with the law, the functions attached to my office as well as the directives given me by the President,” he said.
Panelo said that he has made it a point to provide the President legal advice based only on what was provided and allowed under the law.
“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,” Panelo said.
“In my capacity as the President’s Spokesperson, I also ensure that my response 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,” Panelo said.
“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,” he said.
As to those who are qualified, Panelo said, there was no need for intervention from anybody in the government because qualified inmates would be automatically processed in line with RA 10592.
“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,” he said.
“I hope that, being a practitioner of the law, Judge Demetriou will 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,” he said. REINA C. TOLENTINO