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Palace: Sanchez ‘not eligible’ for release, Duterte ‘furious’

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President Rodrigo Duterte was furious when he had learned that convicted murderer and rapist Antonio Sanchez might be released early from jail, the Palace said Friday, declaring the former Laguna town mayor ineligible under the law that shortens prison terms as a reward for good conduct.

Palace: Sanchez ‘not eligible’ for release, Duterte ‘furious’
Former Mayor Antonio Sanchez (left) walks with a fellow inmate at the Bilibid prison. Norman Cruz

In his anger, Duterte ordered a review of Republic Act 10592, which increases good conduct time allowance (GCTA) of prisoners, said Senator Christopher Go.

“He is angry at criminals. Heinous crimes,” Go, who last spoke the President Aug. 21, told Manila Standard in an online exchange Friday. He said Sanchez was not qualified for clemency.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said he is “not surprised” by the President’s reaction, noting the law categorically disqualifies those convicted of heinous crimes.

“Mr. Sanchez, under Republic Act 10592 is not eligible. The President, as the chief enforcer of the law, will have to follow the law,” he told Palace reporters.

READ: Palace bucks public outcry over Sanchez release plan

Panelo was one of Sanchez’s seven lawyers in the 1993 rape-murder case of Eileen Sarmenta and the killing of her companion Allan Gomez, both students of the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

Sanchez was found guilty in 1995 and was sentenced to seven terms of reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years for each term.

Panelo suggested that the Bureau of Corrections may have overlooked the provision on exclusions.

The Department of Justice earlier said Sanchez was one of 11,000 prisoners that might be released early because of the application of RA 10592, triggering public outrage and anguish from the families of the victims.

In the face of public outrage, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Bureau of Corrections Director General Nicanor Faeldon said in separate press conferences that Sanchez was not eligible after all under the 2013 law because he was convicted of a heinous crime.

Court records show that armed men took Sarmenta and Gomez just outside the UP Los Banos campus on June 28, 1993 and delivered Sarmenta as a “gift” to Sanchez, who was then mayor of Calauan.

Luis Corcolon, one of the convicted rapists and murderers, told the accomplices that the UP student’s beauty would “make their saliva drip.” 

Gomez was beaten outside the Sanchez’s rest house, while the mayor raped Sarmenta.

The next day, Sanchez handed Sarmenta over to the six men to be raped again before she was shot in the mouth.

In 2006, while serving his sentence, Sanchez was found in possession of a sachet of shabu and a bag of marijuana leaves in his cell.

In 2010, prison guards confiscated P1.5 million worth of shabu stashed in one of Sanchez’s Virgin Mary statues. In 2015, he was found illegally keeping appliances in his cell.

Drug possession alone, Guevarra said, was not just an infraction but a crime.

The Supreme Court on Friday said it did not order the release of Sanchez after it ruled in favor of the retroactive application of RA 10592 on June 25, 2019.

“The Supreme Court did not order the release of Mayor Sanchez in its recent decision,” said Court spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka.

“In those cases, the primary issue was the legality of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 10592 which provided for the prospective application of the said law,” Hosaka added.

The Court ruling paved the way for prison authorities to recompute the good conduct time allowances that may be granted to thousands of inmates, including Sanchez, in accordance with RA 10592 and its ruling that the new GCTA should be applied retroactively.

Guevarra had earlier hinted that Sanchez might be released on the basis of deductions to his lengthy sentence due to good conduct time allowances provided for under the law.

But BuCor’s Faeldon, who is mandated by law to determine and compute the GCTAs granted to inmates, said Sanchez was unlikely to be freed because of the drug charges against him while he was in prison.

Nonetheless, Guevarra said BuCor will evaluate Sanchez’s case next month.

The bureau has already released some 200 inmates based on recomputed GCTAs, BuCor spokesman Eusebio del Rosario Jr. said.

RA 10592 was initially meant to be applied prospectively, meaning its provisions would only cover cases from the time the law was enacted in 2013. Several inmates in the New Bilibid Prison challenged this before the Supreme Court.

In a decision written by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, the Court declared that the law should be applied retroactively.

Hosaka explained that the SC applied the doctrine in criminal law that penal laws should be applied retroactively when they are “favorable and advantageous” to the accused.

“Thus, the Supreme Court struck down the IRR and ruled that RA 10592 be applied retroactively, because it had the effect of lowering or reducing the sentences of qualified prisoners, hence, advantageous to them,” he said.

Hosaka also clarified that the policy to increase time allowances to qualified prisoners stemmed from RA 10592 itself and not from the Court, which merely interpreted the law.

More than 20 years after his conviction, Sanchez told ABS-CBN he was innocent and that he deserved to be freed.

He said he was not involved in the deaths of Sarmenta and Gomez, whose bodies were merely dumped in his town. He insisted he was framed by his political enemies.

In related developments:

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines on Friday expressed support for a closer scrutiny of prisoners entitled to shortened sentences through credits for good conduct while behind bars, under RA 10592.

 Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Friday posted an expletive-filled broadside against the possibility of Sanchez’s early release from prison. “Well then, kill him. He won’t be the first to be shot to pieces behind bars. No loss, no regrets, no nothing,” Locsin said in one tweet. “People today talk a lot about killing but nobody kills when killing needs to be done. F****** fairies. All talk.” He also said the Supreme Court was wrong in letting Sanchez walk free.

Senator Ronald dela Rosa said he wanted to execute Sanchez himself, but since there was no death penalty, people should give him a second chance “because he has reformed.” His comment drew strong criticism from advocates of children’s rights and the families of the former mayor’s victims.

Go said Sanchez is better off in jail amid warnings that his life might be shortened outside Bilibid. “Mr. Sanchez, don’t dream that you [will] still be free. Just continue to pay all your sins inside,” Go said. With Rio N. Araja, PNA.

READ: Panelo denies role in Sanchez case


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