MANILA - Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Saturday said his office "never encroached upon the prerogative" of the parole board when he sent a referral letter for the clemency plea of his former client, convicted rapist-killer Antonio Sanchez.
Panelo issued the statement a day after Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the chief presidential legal counsel must explain why he referred Sanchez's clemency plea to Board of Pardons and Parole Executive Director Reynaldo Bayang in February 2019.
Sanchez's clemency bid was rejected.
"Our correspondence to ED Bayang clearly and uniformly states that we leave the evaluation of applications for executive clemency to his discretion," Panelo said in a statement.
"Our office has never encroached upon the prerogative of ED Bayang nor insinuated upon him what to do," he said.
The issuance of referral letters using the letterhead of a government office is a common practice in the bureaucracy, the spokesperson said.
"To opine that a government official should correspond casually with another official on a matter that concerns the latter's official function or mandate would not only be unprofessional, it would smack of impropriety as well," he said.
Drilon had said Panelo's letter bearing Malacañang's letterhead "gives the perception of pressure."
Panelo's statement is the latest in a tit-for-tat between him and allies of former President Benigno Aquino III, who the Duterte administration is blaming for the controversy surrounding the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) policy.
The GCTA, which grants a convict early release on account of good conduct, was signed into law under the Aquino administration.
The law was not supposed to be applicable to inmates convicted of heinous crimes, but earlier reports showed thousands of rapists, drug lords and murderers have been freed under the GCTA scheme.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday gave the released heinous crime convicts 15 days to turn themselves in or face warrantless arrest.
Malacañang earlier blamed former Justice Secretary and now Sen. Leila De Lima and former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas for the “messy” implementing rules and regulations of the GCTA law.
De Lima rebuffed the Palace's allegation, noting it was sacked Bureau of Corrections chief Nicanor Faeldon, a Duterte appointee, who approved release orders for Sanchez and other drug lords.