How Sal Panelo stays healthy even with a stressful job

Published January 22, 2021, 3:26 PM

by Argyll Cyrus Geducos

•    Eat nutritious food, drink lots of water, exercise, get eight hours of sleep.
•    Practice clean living – do not smoke, drink or gamble.
•    Do things you love to do – plant bonsai, sing, play the piano, enjoy your grandchildren 

Clean living and the art of bonsai is the formula for a healthy lifestyle of a lawyer whose job title is a description of a very stressful working environment – Chief Presidential Legal Counsel to the President of the Philippines.

It is a job that puts him in the middle of one controversy after another, where he has to face severe criticisms especially from netizens, and keep an air of being unaffected by it. Despite that, he continues to do his work –-unaffected by what others are saying.

“I don’t feel stressed, criticism is part of the territory of being a government official,” he said.

How does a senior citizen like him – a feisty and flamboyant lawyer and government official with a distinct fashion style – keep himself fit amid a worldwide health crisis?

Panelo, in his 70s, knows how to take care of his health. (His age is unclear, it’s not on Google, and he has creative ways of avoiding the question.)

Four rules

First, he is mindful of his nutrition, choosing fruits, vegetables, and seafood. 

Second, he makes time for a daily workout routine. 

Third, he makes sure he has eight hours of sleep. 

And, he drinks a gallon of water a day.

That’s not all.  Panelo is proud to say he practices “clean living.”

“I don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t gamble. Clean living,” he told the Manila Bulletin.

His  daily routine involves an exercise routine, a visit to his bonsai plans, office work, and taping for his daily shows aired over PTV-4 and Facebook.

But aside from that, what he does every day seems to be unlikely for a man who is known to handle some of the country’s most controversial cases.

On weekends, this father of four does his fair share of household chores. “We have no house helper,” he said.

Then he tends to his 700-square-meter bonsai garden, a haven which keeps him from getting stressed out.

He started growing bonsai 20 years ago, after attending free bonsai lessons at the University of the Philippines.

He calls bonsai “living art.”  His enjoyment of the challenge of the discipline of growing bonsai can be seen in more than 300 bonsai plants that he has today.

But like everybody, the COVID-19 pandemic changed this very social person’s routine.

“I used to attend social events in connection with work and weddings, birthdays, and other social celebrations,” he said.

Before the pandemic, he would often be photographed or caught on video singing or playing the piano. In an interview in 2016, he said that singing would have been his fallback if he didn’t make it in his chosen career.

The doctors are in

Panelo’s healthy lifestyle gets monitored by two doctors – his wife Araceli and son Angelo.

“My two doctor residents–my wife and son–give me regular medical check-ups,” he said.

Time management and doing things he loves to do are what saved him from the harmful effects of stress in his job, he said.

His most favorite things-to-do are: “Tending to my bonsai garden, playing the piano, songwriting, singing, and playing with my grandchildren,” he said. 

According to Panelo, he plays the piano every morning for his son Carlo Carlo who passed away three years ago. Carlo had Down Syndrome.

“I play the piano every morning for our dearest departed special child Carlo who passed away three years ago. I continued my playing to him every morning, as I used to when he was still alive. I put a big picture frame of him on top of the C-5 grand piano,” he said.

His advice on how to keep healthy during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic: “Embrace the new normal.”