Panelo’s penchant for profligacy

If the five-minute music video that Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo uploaded on his YouTube channel on Aug. 13 was meant to launch his campaign for a seat in the Senate in the May 2022 elections, then he should just forget about it if he is to cut his losses.

Although the account’s comment box was turned off, viewers expressed their reactions to the music video by clicking the thumbs up and down signs. As of 2:30 p.m., Aug. 22, the post had 127,666 views with 2,700 likes (thumbs up) and 8,200 dislikes (thumbs down). That’s three out of every four reacting negatively to Panelo’s video recording of a song he had composed.

The four-minute, 51-second music video features Panelo’s original composition, “You’re the Love of My Life.”

In a media interview, Panelo, who is known for his eccentric fashion style, said he composed the love song “in an hour” eight years ago and sang it during the wedding reception of his lawyer-son, Salvador Paulo Jr., to Ria Tan.

It showed that Panelo can carry a tune and, if indeed he composed the song in such a short time, he can give professional song writers a run for their money. With his eclectic style in fashion, he can have better chances of making it big in the entertainment world than in politics.

A few days after the music video was uploaded, netizens raised questions on social media regarding its timing and propriety. It comes at a time when many Filipinos are stuck at home as Metro Manila and some other places are in the midst of the strictest community quarantine following a new surge in the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths.

The seemingly high-budgeted music video was shot on location at the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a luxurious resort featuring old Spanish colonial-era houses, in Bagac, Bataan. Panelo had at least four costume changes, from a printed floral shirt and ripped faded denim jeans to a four-button suit, and then from a white coat with matching bow tie to a leather jacket. The production had day and nighttime scenes, indicating that it took several hours to shoot. The video credits showed a full production crew with Roe Pajemna as director.

It was an extravagance at a time when most Filipinos are struggling to survive this coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, prompting some netizens to ask who funded the music video production.

While Panelo said that Viva Records had offered to produce the music video, he didn’t say categorically who funded the actual production. If it was a private company or persons, President Rodrigo Duterte’s chief legal counsel would have to explain why he should not be cited for violating Republic Act (RA) 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees) and RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), which prohibit and penalize soliciting or accepting any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan or anything of monetary value from any person in the course of official duties in order to avoid conflict of interest.

Section 7 (d) of RA 6713 states: “Public officials and employees shall not solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan or anything of monetary value from any person in the course of their official duties or in connection with any operation being regulated by, or any transaction, which may be affected by the functions of their office.”

Section 3 of RA 3019 says the following constitute corrupt practices of any public officer and deems it unlawful: “(a) Directly or indirectly requesting or receiving any gift, present, share, percentage or benefit, for himself or for any other person, in connection with any contract or transaction between the government and any other party, wherein the public officer in his official capacity has to intervene under the law. (b) Directly or indirectly requesting or receiving any gift, present or other pecuniary or material benefit, for himself or for another, from any person for whom the public officer, in any manner or capacity, has secured or obtained, or will secure or obtain, any government permit or license, in consideration for the help given or to be given.”

But Panelo seems to be oblivious of these provisions or he does not take these seriously because he and his clients managed to skirt around the legal prohibition.

In May 2016, while he was serving as lawyer for then-presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte, Panelo said there was “nothing wrong” in receiving gifts from influential personalities, especially if there is an occasion.

He said that after Duterte admitted accepting several properties from Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, the head of the Davao-based Kingdom of Jesus Christ the Name Above Every Name religious group.

So there. That’s Panelo, who is rumored to be aspiring to become a lawmaker. Eight months ago, he also broke the government-imposed health protocol when he sang at a restaurant in Makati City at a time when karaoke sessions were prohibited as part of the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease. He got away with it because Interior Secretary Eduardo Año considered it an “isolated” incident and that protocols were observed at the site.

When we were younger, we were taught that the law excuses no one. Apparently not!

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.

This column also appeared in The Manila Times.