By Genalyn Kabiling and Ellson Quismorio
Invoking his “higher authority,” President Duterte has ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) to block any early release of convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez.
Senator Christopher “Bong” Go revealed this on Monday during an interview with reporters at the National Heroes Day rites in Taguig City.
Go, the former Special Assistant to the President (SAP), said the President reviewed Republic Act No. 10592, the law that increased the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) given to inmates with good behavior, and found out that Sanchez, who was convicted of a heinous crime, was not covered by the law.
“Nag-order na siya na hindi ire-release si Sanchez upon the order of higher authority meaning, sino pa ba higher authority? Wala. Nag-iisa lang ang Pangulo ng Republika ng Pilipinas [He has ordered that Sanchez will not be released upon the order of the higher authority. Who is the higher authority? No one else but the President of the Republic of the Philippines],” he said.
“Pinaabot niya kay BuCor chief (Nicanor) Faeldon at (Justice) Secretary (Menardo) Guevarra para iparating sa kanila na hindi maaring ma-release ‘yan dahil pinag-aaralan ni Pangulo ang batas at nakalagay doon sa Republic Act 10592 na excluded ang heinous crimes [He told BuCor chief Faeldon and Secretary Guevarra that Sanchez cannot be released after the President studied the law. In Republic Act No. 10592, heinous crimes are excluded],” he said.
Sanchez was convicted of seven counts of rape with homicide for the deaths of University of the Philippines (UP) Los Banos students Eileen Sarmenta and her boyfriend Allan Gomez in 1993.
He was also convicted of two counts of murder for the 1991 killing of Nelson Penalosa and his son Rickson, the supporters of the political rival of Sanchez.
Aside from these, he also got convicted for violating the Code of Conduct of Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
Guevarra had earlier announced that Sanchez could be among the thousands of inmates who may walk free for good conduct.
The Supreme Court has allowed the retroactive application of RA 10592.
The DOJ secretary’s pronouncement on the possible release of Sanchez triggered public outrage, prompting authorities to clarify the government stance.
Malacañang initially said the government cannot do anything but enforce the law if Sanchez is qualified under the new law allowing early release of inmates for good conduct.
The Palace later came out with a statement, this time declaring that Sanchez would be “ineligible and disqualified” from availing himself of the benefits of the law since he was convicted of a heinous crime.
“A review of Republic Act No. 10592 or the law on Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA), which amends the Revised Penal Code (RPC) on the computation of the duration of imprisonment based on an offender’s good conduct, reveals that it is categorical in excluding recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes from the benefit of its coverage. This is the letter and the spirit of the law,” Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
“Thus, the inevitable conclusion is that all those convicted of a heinous crime, including Mr. Antonio Sanchez, would be ineligible and disqualified from availing themselves of the benefits of the GCTA. We, therefore, subscribe to the opinion of the Secretary of Justice on the matter,” he added.
GCTA review task force
Meanwhile, Guevarra is set to issue an order today (August 27) creating a task force to review existing rules on the GCTA that would allow reduced sentence of inmates.
“Ayaw din natin na yung mga hindi karapatdapat ay makinabang kung hindi naman talaga sila saklaw ng batas na yan (We don’t want undeserving inmates to reap the benefits if they are not covered by the law),” said Guevarra during a radio interview over DZBB on Monday.
“We just want to make sure,” the Secretary stressed.
Aside from the DOJ, Guevarra said the task force will be composed of representatives from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the BuCor, and the Board of Pardons and Parole.
The task force will be reviewing the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of RA 10592, the 2013 law which amended provisions of the RPC and increased the number of GCTA inmates could get.
Last June, the Supreme Court issued a ruling declaring that RA 10592 should be applied retroactively and not just prospectively since the RPC requires the retroactive application of penal laws.
While the task force is conducting the review, Guevarra said the processing of the GCTAs will be temporarily suspended.
DOJ spokesman and Undersecretary Mark Perete said the DOJ hopes that the conduct of the review will be done around 10 days for the benefit of deserving inmates.
“We also hope that the suspension of the processing of the expanded GCTA will also last for 10 days only,” Perete told reporters in a statement.
“We also don’t want the process unduly delayed with respect those really entitled to the benefits of the law,” he pointed out.
The review is being made in the wake of concerns that Sanchez could be released early due to his accumulated GCTAs.
Deputy Speaker and Basilan lone district Rep. Mujiv Hataman said the controversy surrounding Sanchez should not derail the implementation of the GCTA for thousands of qualified inmates in the penal system.
“The case of Antonio Sanchez should not imperil the fate of around 10,000 prisoners who are qualified for early conditional release by their remorse, rehabilitation and good conduct. They have earned it,” Hataman said.
“Tuloy-tuloy dapat ang evaluation for GCTA program (Evaluations under the GCTA program must continue),” he reckoned, citing prisoners who are “sick, old, infirm, terminally-ill.”
Having the opposite happen in light of the Sanchez case fallout would be “the greater injustice,” said the Deputy Speaker.
“Pwedeng i-hold muna ang approval, pero dapat tuloy-tuloy ang processing. Magandang batas naman ito (You can hold the approval, but the processing should continue. This is a good law). Call Sanchez a monster, but the law, the GCTA, hindi dapat mag-suffer (it must not suffer). We can review the law, but I believe we should not repeal it,” Hataman added. (With a report from Jeffrey Damicog)