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Palace bucks public outcry over Sanchez release plan

The Palace on Thursday said it would not oppose the release of convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez, if he is deemed qualified under the law, despite the public outcry that the former Laguna mayor not be freed because of gravity of his crime.

Palace bucks public outcry over Sanchez release plan
PRISON SHUFFLE. Former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez (2nd from left), convicted for raping and murdering a college student and her boyfriend in the 1990s, walks with an unidentified inmate at the Maximum Security Compound of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City on Thursday. Norman Cruz
On Wednesday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Sanchez, convicted for the 1993 rape and murder of Eileen Sarmenta and the killing of her friend Allan Gomez, is one of the thousands of prisoners who might walk away from prison because of a law reducing jail time for good behavior.

READ: Panelo denies role in Sanchez case

The announcement triggered outrage from the victims’ families and was widely criticized on social media.

But Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, who served as Sanchez’s lawyer, said the Palace would not object to his release.

“The Palace cannot oppose the law. The Palace can only implement a law or the Office of the President. If we have any concern on the wisdom of the law, then it should be addressed to lawmakers,” Panelo told reporters.

Panelo also said Republic Act 10592, which expands the good conduct time allowance of prisoners, was passed during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III in 2013.

The law provides additional time deducted from an inmate’s prison sentence as a reward for his or her good behavior.

Sanchez was found guilty and sentenced to seven terms of reclusion perpetua in 1995.

“If he qualifies under that law, then we cannot do anything. The best remedy there—you amend the law. Or repeal it, that’s for the lawmakers,” Panelo said.

Panelo, who is also President Rodrigo Duterte’s chief legal counsel, was one of Sanchez’s seven lawyers in the 1993 case. But he insisted that he did not intervene in the impending release of the former mayor.

“I am not emotionally attached to my clients as a matter of principle and practice,” he added.

Guevarra, meanwhile, said Sanchez may not be eligible for a reduction of his prison sentence after all because he was convicted of committing heinous crimes.

Guevarra said that while it would be the Bureau of Corrections that would evaluate the good conduct and time allowances of the convicted criminals at the New Bilibid Prison, Sanchez might not be able to benefit from Republic Act no. 10592.

“Let me take note on the issue of eligibility, under the 2013 law that expanded or increased GCTA. There is a provision there that cites what is not covered by the law. Those who would not benefit from the law are recidivists, those habitual delinquents, escapees, and persons charged with heinous crimes, meaning [these people] are not eligible for any expanded GCTA. So, even at that stage, there is already a process of elimination,” Guevarra said.

Asked if Sanchez was qualified for GCTA, Guevarra said he would leave it up to BuCor since it is the bureau, based on its guidelines, that would evaluate the GCTA accumulated by the convicts and determine those who are eligible.

While in prison, drug charges were filed against Sanchez for alleged possession of shabu and marijuana leaves in 2006. Four years later, he was reportedly caught with one kilogram of shabu hidden in a Virgin Mary statue; he allegedly sold the P1.5 million worth of illegal drugs to his fellow inmates. In the year 2015, an air conditioning unit and flat-screen TV were seized from his cell.

Guevarra said these crimes committed while in jail could disqualify an inmate from obtaining good conduct and time allowance.

“In the case of Sanchez [his GCTA] has not yet been evaluated. Do not get the impression that he has accumulated GCTA. It is still subject to review and reevaluation of the BuCor,” he added.

For convicts serving sentences for serious offenses, the bureau must first determine eligibility, Guevarra said. If the convicts are found eligible, then the bureau must study their cases carefully and make sure the computation of the GCTA is correct, he added.

Around 11,000 convicts are expected to have their prison sentences reduced as a result of the law re-computing their GCTA.

Immediately after the Supreme Court came out with its decision on the retroactive application of the RA no. 10592, that amended several provisions in the Revised Penal Code and authorized the credit of preventive imprisonment and revision of good conduct time allowance of persons deprived of liberty, the BuCor immediately processed and released some 200 convicts as a result of their recomputed GCTA.

“We are hurrying up the process,” Guevarra said, adding that the convict who is eligible and earned enough time credits should already be released.

The Justice secretary said he is aware that there are families who are objecting to the release of convicts and understand their sentiments.

“But that is the policy laid by our Congress, by our lawmakers to give a chance, a second chance to those who are in prison, those who were deprived of liberty who have shown that they have reformed themselves during confinement,” Guevarra said. “This is right because our law is not purely retributive or punitive. It is also rehabilitative so we adhere to the theory the people can reform themselves and they should be given a second chance.”

Guevarra reacted to reports that Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon would conduct an investigation into the possible release of Sanchez, and that he threatened to file a case against the DOJ if it proceeds with his release.

“The DOJ has never insisted on the release of Mayor Sanchez and he doesn’t have to threaten this department. The conduct of a legislative inquiry is most welcome, as the people are reacting to the effects of the law that the Congress itself enacted in 2013. This maybe a good time for Congress to review its own creation,” he said.  

Guevarra earlier allayed concerns that Panelo might have a hand in the impending release of Sanchez, saying he had no reason to believe the presidential spokesman had intervened in the case.

BuCor Public Information Office Chief Sonny del Rosario said they have already released 221 prisoners since Aug. 12 under Republic Act 10592 and about 100 more could walk free anytime soon.

Another 100 plus inmates according to Del Rosario have undergone recomputation of their sentence and could walk free anytime soon but Sanchez is not one of them. 

He added that a pending case against an inmate could prevent his release from prison.

Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said that Sanchez’s release could hit a snag if it is proven that he smuggled illegal drugs and other contraband into his cell at the NBP.

This offense would disqualify him for early release under the law, he said.

“That would constitute a violation of the conditional good behavior. Then if the record will bear it out, it would seem that it would be a ground for the ineligibility of that inmate,” Perete said.

Perete said even if Sanchez managed to get released due to RA 10592, he could still be detained in a regular jail if a charge related to the alleged discovery of the illegal drugs in his cell.

He also said the BuCor would thoroughly evaluate Sanchez’ records.

BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon also said the former mayor would not get out soon.

“He may not be qualified to go home today or in the next few months,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. “It might take several years.”

Maria Clara Sarmenta, the mother of rape-slay victim student Eileen, said the justice system seemed skewed toward powerful criminals rather than the victim.

Sarmenta told GMA News she and her family cannot help thinking that Sanchez could be released because of his political clout and wealth.

In the Senate, Drilon and Senate President Vicente Sotto III said any move to release Sanchez should be stopped, and that the law should be reviewed.

“I am shocked and saddened by this news. I had personally worked hard during my time as secretary of Justice to provide justice to the victims and their families. We spent blood, sweat, and tears on that case,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English.

“We appeal to the Secretary of Justice Menardo Guevarra to hold the release of Sanchez and to review and study carefully if, number one, Sanchez is really entitled to the benefits of RA 10592; and, number two, if he has really exhibited good conduct while he is in prison,” Drilon also said.

Drilon said he wondered how the Bureau of Pardon and Parole arrived in its computation of Sanchez’s good conduct time allowance.

BuCor spokesperson Sonny del Rosario earlier said that the convicted mayor has already served 48 years following the computation of his good conduct time allowance.

“How can we consider that good behavior,” Drilon said. “Is Mayor Sanchez really qualified under RA 10592? This is a question of fact, so it is best for the Department of Justice to put on hold its decision until these issues are resolved,” Drilon said.

“I became close with the Sarmenta family in our efforts to put behind bars Mayor Sanchez and his men. I felt sorry for the Sarmenta and Gomez families. This has reopened old wounds,” he added.

Sotto also filed a resolution for the justice committee to review the implementation of RA 10592 or good conduct time allowance to ensure that those prisoners who truly deserve the law’s benefits shall be granted of the same.

“The purpose of the law may be good and favorable especially to those poor criminals who were found guilty because they cannot afford private lawyers who can competently represent themselves,” said Sotto in his resolution.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said the granting of parole must also consider the “heinous nature of the crimes committed” and the “anguish, anxiety, and fear suffered by their victims.”

The senator pointed out that aside from Sanchez, a number of those recommended for release are those convicted for kidnap for ransom cases in the 1990s.

He said that kidnap victims and their families have “expressed fear of retaliation and rightly so.”

“The trauma that the victims continue to suffer cannot just be wiped out after more than two decades of enjoying peace and security when their abductors were arrested, detained and convicted with finality,” Lacson said.

He added that there must be offenses that should not allow convicts to avail of parole or pardon.

Such offenses, he said, include crimes committed with “extreme gruesomeness” like terrorism, rape with homicide, and the like.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said releasing Sanchez on good behavior would be a mockery of justice and a crime on its own.

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said reducing prison sentences is not a mathematical formula that can be separated from other factors, including the nature of their crimes.

The Philippine National Police on Thursday said the impending release of some 11,000 inmates from prison does not pose any security threat, particularly to the communities which they will soon be part of.

“After having served their time..., we believe that they will not be a threat to security. But if they will commit any crime again, we will definitely enforce the law and arrest them. Whoever commits a crime shall be held liable under the law, whether they are from the corrections or ordinary citizens,” PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said.

Banac said through the community, the government will be able to monitor the former inmates, particularly when they get involved in illegal activities again.

In related developments:

* ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap on Thursday asked the Department of Justice to ensure that the prisoners who will be released ahead of the completion of their sentence because of good conduct while in prison have been rehabilitated and will not return to a life of crime.

* Rep. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Party slammed Senator Ronald dela Rosa’s statement that convicted rapist and murderer Sanchez “deserves a second chance,” calling this “despicable” and gross disrespect to the families of the victims. With Maricel V. Cruz and PNA

Topics: Antonio Sanchez , Menardo Guevarra , Eileen Sarmenta , Allan Gomez , Salvador Panelo
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