President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and senatorial candidate Salvador Panelo (File photo)

MANILA – It would be a “tragedy” not to vote for senatorial aspirant and former chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo, President Rodrigo Duterte said.

During the third episode of The President’s Chatroom aired Monday night over PTV-4, Duterte again brought up Panelo’s unique taste in fashion, saying it usually diverted people’s attention to his being a “very good lawyer and as a very good public servant.”

“It would be a tragedy kung ayaw nilang bumoto sa iyo at gusto nilang bumoto diyan ngayon sa mga kalinya na senador (if they don’t vote for you and prefer voting for other senators in the lineup),” he said.

Instead of just identifying Panelo as being fashion-forward, Duterte said voters should know that he is also “intelligent, a good communicator, and one who has the passion in his heart to serve and to do what is necessary to protect the Filipino people.”

He expressed admiration for Panelo’s “independent mind”, noting that the former presidential spokesperson would sometimes go into a lengthy debate on matters they would disagree on.

“We do not understand each other on many aspects of governance. But for those na nagkaisa kami, ‘yun ‘yung para talaga sa Pilipino (where we agree, they’re really for the Filipino) and it’s a well-studied law eventually kung lalabas (when it comes out),” he said, vouching for his qualities that make Panelo a good fit as a senator.

Duterte said voting for Panelo could also mean “maybe a colorful life” in the Senate.

Panelo is known for wearing neon shawls and wild-patterned suits at official events.

Panelo’s platform

For his part, Panelo reiterated his personal desire to push for measures providing free education, therapy, and facilities for children with special needs or disabilities.

Panelo’s late son Carlo had Down syndrome.

“Kung ako’y maging senador, magsusulong po ako ng batas kung saan, unang-una, libre lahat ng batang may kapansanan ng special education (If elected senator, I will push for a law where children with special needs or disabilities are provided free education),” he said.

Describing Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act as “unfair”, Panelo said he would want to expand the law to eliminate the need for entrance exams in state universities and colleges.

“Dapat ho may isusulong akong batas na aamyendahan ‘yung Tertiary Act na wala ng entrance exam. Hayaan mo na, basta ka ipinanganak kang Pilipino, mahirap ka, pumasok ka diyan, libre ka (Someone should push for an amendment to the Tertiary Act that eliminates entrance exams. As long as you are born a Filipino, you are poor, you enroll there for free),” he said.

He said there is a need to amend RA 1223 or the Universal Health Care Act to provide free medical services to Filipinos sans requirements.

“‘Yung mga ahensiya ng gobyerno na nagpapatupad ng Universal Health Care, kung ano-ano ang mga requirements, ang hirap ng processing, pabalik-balik sila. Eh wala na nga hong pera, wala na ngang pamasahe pababalik-balikin mo pa ‘yan. So ayaw na. Palagay ko, Ginoong Pangulo (Government agencies implementing the Universal Health Care are asking for so many requirements and it makes processing difficult. They don’t have money, they don’t have fare, and keep having to return so they just give up. I think, Mr. President), there should be an amendment to that law,” he said.

Panelo is also pushing for greater benefits for solo parents, salary increases for teachers, a pension fund for overseas Filipino workers, discounts for public utility vehicle drivers, and stiffer penalties against LGBT discrimination among others.

He vowed to continue the “tapang at malasakit (courage and compassion)” brand of governance started by Duterte.

“Kumbaga sa brand, kung may tinatawag na Louis Vuitton, Gucci, ‘yung kind of service mo, Ginoong Pangulo, ay may tatak na ‘yan, may tapang at may malasakit, (If it were a brand, if there is Louis Vuitton, Gucci, that’s your service. Mr. President, it has a brand, it has courage and compassion),” he said.

Panelo also served as presidential spokesperson from 2018 to 2020, after Harry Roque resigned from the post. He also served as Duterte’s legal adviser during the 2016 presidential campaign.

He is running as senator under the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) faction headed by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi. (PNA)