By Vanne Terrazola, Hannah Torregoza, and Ben Rosario
The possible release of convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez has sparked public outrage, with Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III questioning the grounds of his looming freedom.
Sotto on Thursday said Sanchez should not be freed, believing that the rape-slay convict “does not qualify” as a person with good behavior.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) had earlier revealed that Sanchez is a candidate for release due to his reduced jail term under the Republic Act 10592, which amended provisions on the computation of good conduct time allowance (GCTA), or the privilege allowing the deduction of an inmate’s sentence as “a reward for good conduct and exemplary behavior.”
The former Calauan, Laguna mayor was sentenced to seven reclusion perpetua (maximum of 40 years imprisonment) for the rape-slay of university students Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez in 1993.
Since his conviction in 1995, Sanchez has already served 24 years in prison.
But Sotto questioned Sanchez’s inclusion in those considered for early release over good behavior. He recounted the former mayor’s recent offenses while already in jail.
“Paanong naging (How was that considered as) ‘good behavior’ when in 2006, there was a complaint filed against him for possession of marijuana inside the NBP (New Bilibid Prison)? In 2010, P1.5 million worth of shabu was found in the image of Virgin Mary in his cell. Paanong naging ‘good behavior’ ‘yon (How was that considered as good behavior)?” the Senate chief asked.
If he was indeed cited for good behavior, Sotto said jail officers should have started computing this after he was proven to have stopped his illegal drug activities.
“In short, he (Sanchez) does not qualify. Ganun ka-simple ‘yong usapan doon (That’s how simple this discussion is),” he said.
Sotto said he will file a resolution to launch a legislative inquiry on Sanchez’ impending release and a review of the RA 10592.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who was Justice secretary at the time Sanchez was prosecuted, called on the DOJ to put on hold the impending release of Sanchez.
“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 faimilies. Dugo’t pawis at luha po ang inukol natin diyan,” Drilon said.
“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 said.
Like Sotto, Drilon said he will file a resolution to investigate the impending release of Sanchez, saying the applicability of RA 10592 – or the law which grants convicted prisoners credit for good conduct behavior – to Sanchez is questionable.
“Ang balita ay involved siya sa drug trade sa Muntinlupa. Paano naman nakaroon siya ng allowance for conduct of good behavior? (The report is that he is involved in the drug trade in Muntinlupa. How can he avail himself of an allowance for conduct of good behavior?” he pointed out.
“Ang balita pa natin ay mayroon siyang aircon sa kaniyang kulungan. Paano naman naging good conduct ito? (There were also reports he has an airconditioned detention cell. How can you consider that good conduct)?” Drilon asked.
Drilon cited allegations of possession of illegal drugs against Sanchez in 2006 when a prison guard found a packet of shabu and marijuana, and in 2010, he was again caught with P1.5 million worth of shabu. Five years after, authorities seized an air conditioning unit and a television from his cell.
Drilon said the resolution he is filing is aimed at reviewing how the Bureau of Pardon and Parole (BPP) arrived at its computation of Sanchez’s good conduct time allowance.
Sotto said Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officials should explain the questionable behavior the matter as he raised that they might be held liable should Sanchez is found unqualified for early release.
“Dapat mag-ingat sila (The BuCor officials should be careful)… Kapag sila ay hindi nag-comply sa law, nagkaroon ng maling computation, they can be subjected to imprisonment and P100,000 fine or perpertual disqualification from office. So pati doon sa nagko-compute nang mali, manangot din sila,” Sotto said.
“So this probably serves as a warning before they terminate this issue and release Sanchez,” Sotto added.
The Senate chief also called on the DOJ to step in and look into the computation of the GCTA, as well as “their definition of good behavior.”
With the Senate inquiry, Sotto said he hopes to introduce exemptions on the RA 10592. He proposed that those convicted for heinous crimes should not qualify for the deduction of prison terms due to good behavior.
“Ayaw niyo ng death penalty, sige, reclusion perpertua ka. You die in your cell,” he said.
Congressmen oppose Sanchez’s release
At the House of Representatives, congressmen are preparing a resolution urging the DOJ to defer the release of Sanchez until all issues surrounding his impending freedom are resolved, particularly the computation of his GCTA.
Reps. Claudine Bautista (Dumper PTDA Partylist) and Eric Go-Yap (ACT-CIS) said they expect the swift adoption of the resolution as they stressed that the public outcry against Sanchez’s release could not be ignored.
“Yes, I believe there is a need for the Department of Justice to slow down and consider the strong opposition against any decision to free the mayor,” Bautista told the Partylist Forum Thursday.
On the other hand, Yap vowed to file a bill that will amend RA 10592 that amended the Revised Penal Code by authorizing credit of preventive imprisonment and revision of the GCTA for persons deprived of liberty.
The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality the retroactive effect of RA 10592 that will now be applied on Sanchez.
“The crime where this law will be applied should be carefully selected. It cannot apply on a person who raped then passed on the victim to others before killing her,” said Yap, chairman of the House Committee on Games and Amusement.
Yap said he has written a letter urging Secretary Guevarra to re-compute the good conduct credits of Sanchez and determine whether or not he is indeed qualified to be released.
Yap noted that Sanchez has committed several infractions while in prison, including involvement in drugs.
Both Bautista and Yap said relatives deserved to be informed of the impending release of convicts involved in the crimes committed against their loved ones.
Deputy Minority Leader and Ako Bicol Partylist Rep. Alfredo Garbin said he will file a resolution calling for a congressional inquiry into the Sanchez issue.
Garbin said the House Committee on Justice, of which he is a vice-chairman, should make sure that RA 10592 is “properly implemented and that only those inmates who showed good behavior can avail” of its benefits.
“Baka naman kasi iyong mga convicted drug lords serving sentence and testified during the 17th Congress in the Committee on Justice that they run a drug operation in collusion with the BuCor personnel ay mag-benefit pa dito,” he said.
“The DOJ can take judicial notice of their testimony during our drug hearing in the Justice committee. To me, certainly that admission goes against good behavior,” Garbin added.
At this developed, an online petition has been launched urging the DOJ to stop the release of Sanchez.
The petition, titled “Stop the Release of Mayor Antonio Sanchez; Let Him Serve His Seven Life Sentences,” was launched by Gomez’s friend, B. Vergara, who wrote that Gomez and Sarmenta “were loved by friends and family. Both lives tragically taken from us. Sanchez does not deserve a life outside prison.”
One of those who signed the petition is Gomez’s brother, Oliver John. As of writing, the petition has garnered 7,250 signatures.
Palace won’t oppose release
While lawmakers and concerned citizens are against the release of Sanchez, Malacañang is not inclined to oppose the release of convicted rapist and murderer former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez if he is eligible for early release for good behavior.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, who was Sanchez’s lawyer at that time, said the Palace cannot do anything but enforce the law unless such measure is amended or repealed by Congress.
“There is a law. If he qualifies under that law, then we cannot do anything. The best remedy there is you amend the law or repeal it. That’s for the lawmakers,” he said during a Palace press briefing.
“Until the law is there, we cannot do anything. They have to amend the law,” he added.
Meanwhile, Gabriela Party-List Rep. Arlen Brosas on Thursday castigated neophyte senator, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa for what she called his “shameless show of support” for the release of Sanchez.
“Senator Dela Rosa’s shameless show of support [for] Sanchez’s release is a gross disrespect to the families of the victims who are still grieving to this day,” Brosas, a member of the Minority Bloc, said.
On Wednesday, Dela Rosa reacted to the impending release from prison of the infamous Sanchez by saying, “[If] it is determined by the Board of Pardons and Parole that he deserved that commutation, then why not?… He deserves a second chance in life.”
The senator even cited information from corrections officers, saying that Sanchez is now a “changed man.”
Dela Rosa is a former chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and BuCor. (With reports from Jonathan Hicap and Ellson Quismorio)