Ex-mayor Antonio Sanchez eligible for release

Murder and rape convict Antonio Sanchez in his prison cell where the image of the Virgin Mary, to whom he says he is devoted, is prominently displayed in this February 1999 photo. | Inquirer.net photo

THE Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday, August 20, said convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez may walk free out of prison as he becomes one of the 11,000 inmates eligible for release under a new law.

According to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Sanchez would benefit from the recent ruling issued by the Supreme Court (SC) that orders the retroactive application of the number of days credited to prisoners for their good-conduct time allowance (GCTA).

“He (Sanchez) is not the only one involved here but also thousands under detention, persons deprived of liberty. So many prisoners’ good-conduct time allowances would be subjected to recomputation. Maybe one after the other they would be released,” he said.

The Republic Act (RA) 10592 amended provisions of the Revised Penal Code and allowed the credit of preventive imprisonment and revision of GCTA of persons deprived of liberty.

Under the law, 20 days will be deducted for each month for good behavior during the first two years of imprisonment, while 23 days for each month will be deducted during the third to fifth year. From sixth to 10th year, 25 days will be deducted for each month of good behavior; and 30 days for each month from the 11th year to succeeding years.

Additionally, 15 days will be deducted for each month of study, teaching or mentoring time rendered by the prisoner.

Sanchez, a former mayor of Calauan, Laguna, was sentenced in 1995 to seven counts of reclusion perpetua (or 40 years imprisonment) for the rape-slay of Eileen Sarmenta and murder of Allan Gomez, students from the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

Sanchez, upon conviction, was brought to the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa in 1995. He has served 26 years in prison from the time of his arrest to present.

However, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) spokesperson Sonny del Rosario said the former mayor has already served 49 years — beyond the maximum penalty of 40 years — based on the computation of his GCTA, as reported by The Manila Bulletin.

Several senators on Thursday, August 22, condemned the possible release of Sanchez, saying that the convicted rapist and murderer does not deserve to be released from jail.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who was Justice secretary at the time that the crime happened, expressed his shock over the news, urging the justice department to withhold Sanchez’s release pending a review of his qualifications.

He also said he plans on filing a resolution for Senate hearings into how the Board of Pardons and Parole computes the GCTA, pointing out that Sanchez was caught twice concealing illegal drugs inside the prison.

“From the records it would appear that he has not changed at all, engaging in shabu distribution, 10 years after he was convicted in 1995. In 2006, he was charged with illegal possession of drugs…In 2010, he was caught again with P1.5 million worth of shabu concealed in a statue of the Virgin Mary,” Drilon told ANC.

“In 1995, we prosecuted him successfully and sentenced him to 7 life sentences. Is that just ignored when the Bureau of Corrections allowed him this good time allowance?” he further said.

Minority Sen. Risa Hontiveros echoed his sentiments, noting that Sanchez is not qualified to have his jail term reduced as his supposed good conduct while in prison remains to be questionable.

“Sanchez has shown no signs of remorse and displayed no effort at improving himself in behavior or character inside the penitentiary,” she said in a statement.

“Freeing an unrepentant criminal who refuses to take responsibility for his brutal crimes and has even committed new and serious crimes while serving time is not restorative justice,” Hontiveros added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III also said Sanchez should not be released from jail, explaining that the former mayor has yet to indemnify the victims’ families.

Rights group Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, meanwhile said: “This case was considered as one of the triumphs of the Philippine judicial system at that time, yet, it seems that convicted criminals can still pull a few strings to surreptitiously orchestrate their escape, shamelessly disguised as ‘award’ for their alleged good conduct.”

“If released, Sanchez’s case will be another glaring example of how dysfunctional and unfair our current judicial system is. We cannot allow this to happen,” she added.

Family of rape-slay victim Sarmenta called for concrete proof of Sanchez’ good behavior from the authorities.

“We need to see, give us a copy of the computation, of proof that he is really well-behaved,” said Clara, Sarmenta’s mother, in a phone interview with Rappler on Thursday.

“How could he have good behavior when he didn’t follow all the rules; he had an airconditioning unit, he had a cellphone, and to top it all off, he had shabu hidden in a statue of Mama Mary,” she pointed out.

Clara expressed heartbreak over the news of Sanchez’s possible release. 

“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t able to sleep last night. Everything came back to me. the pain, the struggle, bringing back our lives together. Bumalik ulit lahat ‘yun (Everything came back). I’m really sorry that I’m crying,” she said.

Her daughter would have turned 48 on September 16.

On June 21, 1993, Sarmenta, along with her boyfriend Gomez, were kidnapped by Sanchez’s six henchmen. Sarmenta was presented as “a gift” to Sanchez by then-Calauan police deputy chief George Medialdea.

Gomez was beaten outside the rest house of Sanchez, while Sarmenta was raped by Sanchez inside. After the former mayor was done, he tossed Sarmenta to to his men who proceeded to gang rape her. She and Gomez were subsequently killed by Sanchezs men. 

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