MANILA (UPDATE) - News website Inquirer.net on Friday apologized to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo after posting a news break on its social media account that the official had recommended that rape-slay convict Antonio Sanchez be granted clemency.
This came after Panelo, also President Rodrigo Duterte's chief legal counsel, threatened to file a libel suit against the website along with Rappler unless they publicly apologized.
Inquirer.net is the news website of influential broadsheet the Philippine Daily Inquirer, whose reporting the President had earlier criticized.
"Inquirer.net apologizes for reporting on its social media platform that Secretary Salvador Panelo wrote a letter to BPP (Board of Pardons and Parole) executive director Reynaldo Bayang recommending executive clemency for ex-Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez. Inquirer.net posted Secretary Panelo’s clarification upon receipt of his statement on the matter," it said in a statement.
Inquirer.net's breaking news tweet had used the word "recommending" in reference to Panelo's action on the letter.
It said its updated reports already indicated that Panelo "merely referred the request of Sanchez’s family to Bayang."
Another news website, Rappler, reported that Panelo "endorsed" the letter. The official later said both reports were malicious.
Rappler on Wednesday slammed Panelo's threat of suit, calling it a "pure diversionary tactic."
On Friday, it said it was standing by its story.
"Rappler, also the subject of Presidential Spokesman Panelo's apology demand, maintains that its story is neither libelous nor defamatory and is not apologizing," said Rappler in a tweet that shared its story on Inquirer.net's apology.
In a hearing last Tuesday, Bayang had said Panelo referred through a letter the Sanchez family's plea for clemency for the former mayor, convicted for the 1993 rape-slay of Eileen Sarmenta and her companion Allan Gomez.
Panelo, who was among Sanchez's defense lawyers during trial on the case, said he merely forwarded the letter but did not intervene. The clemency plea was eventually rejected.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, questioned the propriety of the referral as "the fact that he signed it gives the perception of pressure."
Sanchez's clemency bid was bared amid controversy surrounding his supposed eligibility for early release under the good conduct time allowance law. His release papers were initially signed then rescinded amid public uproar.