By Hannah Torregoza
Is stashing shabu inside the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary considered good behavior?
Senators on Thursday took turns asking this question to the Department of Justice (DOJ) after it announced that former Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez, as well as thousands of other convicts, might soon be released under a 2013 law that credited good conduct while in prison.
Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara said he cannot understand why the DOJ did not take this into consideration when they reviewed his case.
Angara argued that the reduction of prison sentences, under the retroactive law on Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) or Republic Act, is not a mathematical formula that can be computed separate and isolated from other factors that must be considered.
“It is not an estimation solely driven by the mechanical subtraction of years from the sentence. There are qualitative considerations like good behavior or if the inmate, by his actions, had exhibited true remorse and rehabilitation,” Angara pointed out.
“If the person had committed a crime while in prison, like stashing shabu inside the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, does this not affect his chances of clemency or even forfeits it?” he said.
“In his ledger of sins, does the commission of a new crime cancel whatever penalty was extinguished by previous good conduct? Does the new law cited by the DOJ exempt ‘recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes’ from its coverage or does it take the likes of Sanchez from its purview?” he further pointed out.
He also said the DOJ should have also consulted the friends and families of the victims before they proceeded with the rape-slay convict’s release, considering what he committed was one heinous crime that shocked the nation in the 1990s.
“In the grant of clemency, should the friends and family of the victims be mandatorily consulted, and in fact, as the ones directly suffering from the loss, be the first to be solicited of their views, and should the latter be given much weight?” he stressed.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, likewise, said she believes authorities should prudently review and determine who truly deserve and are qualified to have their jail terms reduced.
“How can Sanchez qualify for good conduct when he was reportedly caught with P1.5 million worth of shabu hidden in a religious statue in his cell in 2010? How does he qualify for good behavior when he was enjoying VIP perks such as an airconditioning unit and a flat-screen TV, also in his cell in 2015? These are not the acts of a reformed and repentant inmate,” Hontiveros pointed out.
“The implementation of the new GCTA guidelines should go beyond simple computations. More importantly, a thorough assessment of an inmate’s overall conduct inside prison vis-a-vis the nature and gravity of his or her crimes is required,” she said.
Thus, Hontiveros said she does not believe that the rape-slay convict Sanchez is qualified to have his jail term reduced.
“Sanchez has shown no signs of remorse and displayed no effort at improving himself in behavior or character inside the penitentiary. In fact, even inside prison, he has continued committing crimes with impunity,” she stressed.
Angara said it would be a big blow to the justice system if Sanchez is allowed to be released after committing such heinous crimes.
“The issue here is whether Mayor Sanchez is entitled to these good conduct allowances given his conviction for drug possession while imprisoned and given the gravity of his crimes,” he said.
“Assuming he is entitled to these good conduct allowances, we need to amend other portions of the law, like Section 3 to state that recidivists or repeat offenders should not be entitled to good conduct allowances,” he pointed out.
Angara said the law should apply to all “but it must also be seen to be able to do justice to the victims.”