"The true extent of blackness in Sanchez's heart today is beyond any human judgment."
The attempted early release of convicted murderer and rapist Antonio Sanchez, a former Laguna mayor, has run into all sorts of flak that reveal a lot about what kind of people we are and are still trying to be.
Sanchez, with his bouffant hairdo and snarling outbursts post-trial, is a poster boy for the death penalty. This fact only aggravated public incredulity at the recommendation of his early release for good behavior. After all, he was convicted to seven life sentences, so what about the other six? If the sentences weren’t specified to be served simultaneously, what is he doing out on the streets again?
The extent of public outrage is also a product of ingrained public disappointment with the shortcomings of our legal procedures. We all have far more than our rightful share of horror stories about Filipino justice delayed and denied. Thus, when a certifiable animal whom we all thought was safely locked up for good is suddenly given a good-conduct pass, our indignation boils over.
It’s important to parse out the important issues and lessons here for any good to come out of this issue. Not surprisingly, the CPP-NPA has already threatened to mete out its “revolutionary justice” on the mayor. For his own good, he may thus wish to stay behind bars for a while—say, until he drops dead voluntarily.
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The first lesson here is that the law must be applied impartially but with care. If we actually read the law that was invoked to grant Sanchez early release for good conduct (R.A. 10592, passed by the 15th Congress), Section One at the very top states that “…recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes are excluded from the coverage of this Act.”
This seems straightforward, but lawyers can still quibble. Section One, it turns out, only talks about deducting time spent in preventive detention from the total term of imprisonment that should be served. Clearly, Sanchez’ release on grounds of good conduct isn’t covered by this section. If the exception carved out for heinous criminals were intended for general application, it should have merited a separate section at the end.
Others have pointed out instances of Sanchez’ misbehavior behind bars, such as the discovery in 2010 of shabu hidden inside—of all things—a statue of the Blessed Mother. Unfortunately, Section Three of the same law, which covers allowances for good conduct, is silent about whether—and if so, how—to deduct bad-conduct penalties against good-conduct credits.
Presumably such penalties are covered in other statutes. If so, we will hopefully be getting an opinion soon from government lawyers, together with a recalculation of Sanchez’ allowances. Some people are even questioning the math in counting up his credits. Given the care we may reasonably presume the authorities took with such a high-profile case, those questions are likely to be just wishful thinking.
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The second issue is how quickly the yellow camp pounced on this issue to unleash yet another barrage against the President and his men. What could be more ghoulish than trying to convert the tragedy of the murder of those two UP students into an opportunity for partisan gain?
First they latched onto the Presidential spokesman, Atty Sal Panelo, who had lawyered for Sanchez during the trial. With no shred of evidence whatsoever, the yellows whispered that this lawyering meant Panelo was somehow behind his erstwhile client’s early release.
Again it is widespread disappointment and cynicism over our justice system that feeds this mistaken demonization of a lawyer together with his client. Trial defense lawyers might arguably be faulted for seeking publicity and the fat legal fees. But much more important, what their work does is to keep due process in play for people who would not otherwise be legally represented—because they are poor, or they are subversives, or they are monsters.
After hitting Panelo, the yellows took newly minted Senator and former PNP chief Bato de la Rosa to task for saying that Sanchez “deserves a second chance.” However, every verbatim transcript of his comments that I’ve seen online clearly has him complaining that the same people who object to giving the mayor a second chance are the same people who’ve been opposing the death penalty as well. Which is of course is nothing but the truth, no matter how rough: You want to irrevocably put someone away for good, you put him to death.
On the other hand, some people have been pointing out that the law releasing the mayor was passed under PNoy. I’m no fan of the former president, but it’s a stretch to claim that PNoy had the well-being of the mayor in mind when he affixed his signature.
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The third issue that’s come up is a renewed clamor again for bringing back the death penalty. There are all sorts of jurisprudential and public policy arguments for and against it. For this piece, however, let me focus on what the Church says. If we’ll be talking about literally life and death issues, we ought to be looking for guidance from an institution that claims to exercise authority on both sides of the Great Divide.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (§ 2265-2267) does allow for the death penalty in principle: “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty.” However, “if non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety…authority will limit itself to such means”.
Given the availability of such non-lethal means today, the Church concludes that “the cases in which the execution of an offender is an absolute necessity are” [to quote St Pope John Paul the Great] “very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
In addition to the expected justifications for punishment—punishing the guilty and protecting public order—the Church adds a third consideration: do not “definitively take away from the offender the possibility of redeeming himself.” So, if we’ll be second-guessing the life sentences that were meted out on Sanchez, in lieu of the death penalty, we ought to ask ourselves:
Were his offenses redeemable? Before God’s infinite mercy, yes they were. But did he seek redemption? His good conduct behind bars—net of any misbehavior—might indicate that. But the true extent of blackness in his heart today is beyond any human judgment.
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