Panelo: I have nothing to do with early release of inmates

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 28 2019 07:00 PM | Updated as of Aug 28 2019 08:44 PM

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo and retired justice Harriet Demetriou. File

MANILA (UPDATE) - Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo insisted Wednesday he has nothing to do with the early release of inmates after a retired judge criticized him for supposedly feigning ignorance over a controversial case he handled in the past.

Retired judge Harriet Demetriou on Wednesday criticized Panelo for "twisting the law" when he commented on reports about the possible release of his former client, convicted rapist and killer Antonio Sanchez.

"He cannot claim ignorance. Bakit? Defense counsel siya. Abogado siya ni Sanchez...Bakit sinasabi niya ngayon na dinidepensahan niya pa?" Demetriou said.

(He was the defense counsel, the lawyer of Sanchez. Why is he even defending Sanchez now?)

Reacting to Demetriou's statement, Panelo said it is "unfortunate" that the retired judge "expressed an opinion on the basis of speculation."

"My office has nothing to do with the release of qualified inmates. That is the turf and the responsibility of the Department of Justice and the concerned offices under it," he said.

"I do not intrude nor poke my finger into any matter that's not within the mandate of my office," he said.

Panelo also said he had informed President Rodrigo Duterte that Sanchez is not eligible for early release since the law excludes inmates convicted of heinous crimes.

"I categorically stated that by express provision of the law, Sanchez and those similarly situated, meaning inmate charged and convicted of heinous crimes as well as those recidivists, habitual delinquents, and escapists, are excluded from the coverage of the law," he said.

Demetriou also called on Panelo to resign from his post, which the Palace official called as "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," Panelo said.

"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 also claimed he "stated that by express provision of the law, Sanchez and those similarly situated, meaning inmates charged and convicted of heinous crimes are excluded from the coverage of the law" when the President asked him for his opinion.

President Rodrigo Duterte had rejected releasing Sanchez.

Earlier this month, reports surfaced that Sanchez may be released as part of a 2013 law expanding the application of good conduct time allowances for convicts.

Sanchez, a former mayor of Calauan, Laguna, was sentenced in 1995 to 7 counts of reclusion perpetua (or 40 years imprisonment for each term) over the 1993 rape-slay of Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of Allan Gomez.

Now Duterte's chief legal counsel, Panelo's name was dragged into the issue since he was one of the defense lawyers of Sanchez in the 1993 case.

Panelo, however, had clarified that he had long withdrawn from the case.