You seemed to be making an important distinction in your opening post. Panda is an algorithm change, not a manual penalty. Reconsideration Requests for sites that were only hit by Panda get a "no manual actions were taken" response. In addition, there was never a hint that Panda was about backlinks - it's about "quality", somehow or other.
However, the artificial backlinks campaign Google is running IS a manual action and can be reversed by a Reconsideration Request if they accept it.
In addition there's Penguin, which is about removing the power of "too much SEO" and apparently adding a demotion or "penalty" to the pages involved. Some feel that backlinks also play a part in Penguin - however, Penguin is also an algorithm and not a manual penalty.
So we have these three different issues:
Panda - algorithm (not manual) - Reconsideration Request is not effective
Penguin - algorithm (not manual) - Reconsideration Request is not effective
Unnatural Backlinks - MANUAL ACTION - Reconsideration Request CAN BE effective
Panda and Penguin both show their effects only on specific dates - see Monthly Reference - Google Updates and SERP Changes [webmasterworld.com] - whereas manual actions can happen at any time.
Hope that helps in sorting things out and deciding where to apply your time and effort.