Sal Panalo Panelo, 75, is a lawyer who most recently served as the chief legal counsel of President Rodrigo Duterte before resigning in October 2021 to run for senator in the 2022 elections. He was also the president’s spokesman from October 2018 until he was replaced by returning Palace mouthpiece Harry Roque who vacated his post to make an unsuccessful bid for the Senate.
As a lawyer specializing in constitutional, criminal and remedial law, Panelo defended prominent political personalities such as Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. over the infamous 2009 Maguindanao massacre. He also represented the family of the late ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. in relation to recovering ill-gotten wealth amassed during Martial Law. Before he was appointed to the Duterte administration, Panelo represented then-presidential aspirant Duterte during the 2016 campaign, including against charges of hidden wealth by Senator Antonio Trillanes, who was then running for vice president.
The presidential spokesperson infamously wrote a referral letter recommending that the clemency appeal of jailed ex-mayor Antonio Sanchez be granted. Sanches was given a 360-year jail sentence for rape and murder but was set to leave prison after just 24 years.
Panelo previously ran for senator in 1992 under the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, the party founded by late ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., and finished 125th.
As presidential spokesperson, Panelo routinely explained and played down controversial conduct and policy of the chief executive, including the president wolf-whistling at a female reporter and making light of rape. He has backed Duterte's statements against the United Nations and his refusal to cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s investigation of the administration’s bloody war against illegal drugs. He has also threatened to sue a number of news sites for their critical coverage of the Duterte administration.
Panelo is campaigning on a platform of “bringing the ‘tapang at malasakit’ brand of leadership to the Senate” by providing free education and accessible medical, legal, and social services for regular Filipinos. He is running under the administration-backed faction of PDP-Laban. His candidacy has been endorsed by President Duterte and his daughter, vice presidential candidate Sara Duterte, but he has not been included in the Senate slate of the younger Duterte's tandem with Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son and namesake of the late dictator.
The candidate's top priorities if elected to office, tracked against previous promises and accomplishments, if any
Removal of legal restrictions and conditions for free education, medical and health services, and legal services services for enjoyment of more Filipinos
1. Vowed to advocate for the rights and welfare of children with special needs by pushing for a bill that will “obligate the government to provide for the therapy and special education of these children, and to build care facilities”
2. Provide for increased accessibility and mobility
3. Higher punishment for discrimination against members of the LGBTQIA+ community and provide whistleblower protection for reporting such discrimination
In August 2019, following the arrest of a transgender woman Gretchen Diez for unjust vexation aftter she was denied entry into a women’s bathroom in a Quezon City mall, Palace spokesperson Panelo called for the public to respect members of the LGBT community.
In September 2019, after President Duterte limited his support to a more “general” anti-discrimination bill rather than the pending SOGIE Equality bill, Panelo agreed with Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s position on the SOGIE Equality bill. Panelo said Sen. Sotto was “correctly” described the bill as a “class legislation” that could discriminate against other persons
Panelo would also clarify remarks made by the president, telling the LGBT community to be “glad” about remarks that Duterte had “cured” himself of homosexuality with the help of beautiful women
Provide pandemic assistance via:
1. Monthly allowance for mothers
2. Fuel subsidy for public transportation drivers
3. Support for medium, small and micro enterprises and the tourism industry
1. Mandatory overseas Filipino workers pension (Senate candidate Astra Pimentel and AKO Party-List)
2. Constitutional reform, namely federalism, parliamentary system and liberalizing foreign direct investments (PDP-Laban)
3. Continued support for “Build, Build, Build” (PDP-Laban)
4. Strengthen the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PDP-Laban)
5. Mandatory military service (Mayor Sara Duterte)
1. Provide double pay for public school teachers
2. Pay regular salary and benefits for barangay officials and workers
The candidate's top five accomplishments and contributions for the last 15 years or so
As Palace spokesperson, Panelo drew flack a number of times for defending the Duterte administration’s controversial policies, including its flagship war on illegal drugs.
It was also Panelo who, on April 22, 2019, presented to the media a supposed matrix of administration dissenters that the Palace spokesperson claimed were part of an elaborate campaign plotting the downfall of the Duterte government. That matrix, initially published as an exclusive on Manila Times, included names like weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, among others, and also accused media outlets, Rappler, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and Vera Files, of trying to destroy the administration. Panelo insisted that the Duterte administration did not need to prove the validity of the alleged ouster plot matrix, since there was no case filed in court needing submission of evidence.
A few days after the matrix was published, the newspaper’s managing editor resigned and admitted that the report of an “active plot” against the president was “poorly sourced.”
Panelo also made headlines when he accepted a “commute challenge” from transport collectives and progressive groups. This came after he denied that there was a public transportation crisis in the country, contrary to the statements of other commuter advocacy groups. He ended the commute challenge — during which he was late to work by almost an hour — by telling commuters to just leave their homes early if they wanted to get to work.
As President Duterte’s chief legal counsel, Panelo also hosted a talk show on People's Television Network entitled Counterpoint with Secretary Salvador Panelo, produced by the Presidential Broadcast Staff - Radio Television Malacañang – to "analyze, dissect issues raised by certain critics and others against certain policies of the government.” He routinely used this platform to accuse Duterte’s critics of being affiliated with the Communist Party of the Philippines, a harmful activity also known as red-tagging.
Even after he stepped down as presidential mouthpiece, Panelo continued to defend Duterte’s policies amid the coronavirus pandemic. In 2021, he backed Duterte’s directive banning Cabinet secretaries from attending the Senate blue ribbon committee hearings on anomalies in the national government’s pandemic spending. Panelo at the time reasoned that the state has the duty to protect and promote the right to health of the people as commanded by the Constitution.
2016 to October 2021
Resigned in 2021 to run for the 2022 national election
October 2018 to April 13, 2020
Panelo’s legal career started in 1977, as an in-house legal counsel. He began his lengthy private practice in 1987 and has represented several prominent individuals, including long-time friend and then-Mayor Duterte during his 2016 presidential campaign. He was also the counsel for Andal Ampatuan, Jr. in relation to the 2009 Maguindanao massacre and convicted rapist and former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez; Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. when he faced plunder charges after the pork barrel controversy erupted in 2013; and the Lakas-Magdalo alliance that pitted Jolo Revilla against Liberal Party’s Jay Lacson for the 2013 vice gubernatorial race.
Panelo also represented former Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos, who was accused in a Senate hearing of offering Jose de Venecia, as a member of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Cabinet, millions of dollars in bribes to help Chinese firm ZTE win a $329 million contract to build a nationwide broadband network for the Philippine government in 2007.
He claims to be a former member of the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism, Inc., a group of lawyers who offered their services free of charge to those who were accused during the Martial Law years.
However, in 1992, he ran for the Senate under KBL and represented members of the Marcos family in efforts to resist the Philippine government’s recovery of alleged ill-gotten wealth.
Both prior to and during his time at the Palace, he has repeatedly and incorrectly denied the existence of Marcos ill-gotten wealth.
Panelo's position is in line with President Duterte’s incorrect claim that the Marcos ill-gotten wealth remains unproven even as he signed a joint resolution extending the availability of recovered ill-gotten wealth as compensation for human rights abuses during Martial Law.
Civil cases have been filed for the recovery of ill-gotten wealth accumulated by the Marcos family and its associates. The Presidential Commission on Good Government, the quasi-judicial agency tasked with such recovery, has so far reclaimed P174.2 billion as of March 2021. Another P125.9 billion has yet to be recovered and remains under litigation.
Panelo would later issue another clarification, stating that the president was not questioning cases decided by the Supreme Court, but only the other amounts that are not yet proven in court as ill-gotten wealth.
Panel worked as a law professor, columnist and radio show host prior to serving in the Duterte administration in 2016.
● Centro Escolar University, School of Law
● University of the East, College of Law
● Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, College of Law
● “Broadcaster’s Bureau,” DWBR (2001 – 2002)
● “Pasada Sais Trenta,” (2005)
● “By Request” (2007-2008)
● “Counterpoint” (2009-2010; 2020)
● RJ TV, OpinYon
● Karapatang Batas ATBP, Pilipino Mirror
Actions and/or proceedings pending against or resolved in courts or tribunals involving the candidate, based on publicly available information
Resolved Actions and/or Proceedings
|Subject Matter||Relevant Dates||Accrued Liability||Status|
|A.C. No. 9461
Administrative complaint filed by Felicidad L. Barcena for alleged violation of Bar Matter No. 1922 and ignorance of the law, relating to a complaint and letter signed and filed by Panelo in 2011 as legal counsel in which Panelo failed to correctly indicate the date and number of his Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Compliance Certificate as required under BM No. 1922
Panelo countered that the administrative complaint was only filed to vex and intimidate him into withdrawing as counsel of his client who was suing Barcena for breach of contract, that the errors made in typing his MCLE compliance information were inadvertently made and he had since completed all the compliance MCLE requirements
Administrative complaint filed on Apr. 28, 2012
The integrated Bar of the Philippines-Commission on Bar Discipline issued a report and recommendation dated June 14, 2014, recommending only a reprimand for the infraction
The report and recommendation was adopted by the IBP Board of Governors on June 7, 2015
Panelo filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied on Nov. 29, 2016
The IBP elevated the findings, legal conclusions and proposed penalty to the Supreme Court for final resolution
||In a Resolution dated Dec. 2, 2020 (Notice published on May 19, 2021), the Second Division of the SC dismissed the complaint and reminded Panelo to always strictly and promptly comply with the MCLE requirement|
Also known as SALN, this document is a declaration of one's personal finances. Philippine Law requires the SALN to be submitted by all public officials and employees to the Ombudsman. Public officials and employees may opt to voluntarily disclose their SALN to the public.
Panelo earlier defended President Duterte’s decision not to release his SALN to the public, saying it wasn’t his “style” and that he had already done his due diligence by filing it before the Office of the Ombudsman. It was Duterte himself, though, who appointed Ombudsman Samuel Martires, who issued the rule that a copy of the SALN will only be provided to if the requester is the declarant or the duly authorized representative of the declarant and if the request is upon lawful order of the court in relation to a pending case.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism pointed out that President Duterte was the first chief executive in 30 years who failed to publicize his SALN beyond simply filing it with the Ombudsman. Panelo has maintained that Duterte did not violate any laws.
* As of December 31, 2020
Information based on a July 2021 news report summarizing the declared net worths of 32 Cabinet and Cabinet-level officials stated on copies of SALNs available from the Malacañang Records Office and released to Rappler.
Key details about the candidate's campaign
Candidate's major donors and campaign funding sources
The candidate's top advocacies in the last 15 years or so
As a senatorial candidate for the 2022 elections, he has adopted PDP-Laban’s calls to strengthen the NTF-ELCAC
Basic information on the candidate's family, background and work experience
Pantaleon Panelo, father, geodetic engineer who had a law degree
Soledad Panelo, mother, teacher and insurance agent
- 11 siblings
Napoleon S. Panelo (deceased, 2020)
Magdalena Panelo-Victorino (deceased)
- Ramona Francesca Panelo-Ferreras, interior designer
Salvador Paolo Panelo Jr., lawyer
Salvador Carlo Panelo (deceased, 2017)
Salvador Angelo Panelo IV
• Bachelor of Laws, University of the Philippines College of Law, 1974
• Bachelor of Arts in English and Political Science, University of Nueva Caceres
• Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, 2016-October 2021
• Presidential Spokesperson, October 2018-April 13, 2020
Law professor, since 2003:
• Centro Escolar University, School of Law
• University of the East, College of Law
• Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, College of Law
In-house Legal Officer, United Laboratories, 1977-1987
• “Magmahalan Tayo,” Eagle Broadcasting Corp. (1987 – 1999)
• “Broadcaster’s Bureau,” DWBR (2001 – 2002)
• “Pasada Sais Trenta,” (2005)
• “By Request” (2007-2008)
• “Counterpoint” (2009-2010; 2020)
• RJ TV, OpinYon
• Karapatang Batas ATBP, Pilipino Mirror
|LGBTQIA||Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and all non-straight, non-cisgender identities|