MANILA - The family of Eileen Sarmenta cannot help but feel that the history of convict ex-mayor Antonio Sanchez with Palace spokesperson Salvador Panelo had something to do with the possible release of the convicted rapist-murderer.
Panelo, now President Rodrigo Duterte's chief legal counsel, was one of Sanchez's defense lawyers in the 1993 rape-murder case of University of the Philippines Los Baños student Eileen and the torture and death of her companion Allan Gomez.
"Hindi mo maaalis sa amin na since naging legal counsel siya (Panelo), parang merong...kasi sabi namin ng asawa ko, 'ba't napakalakas ni Sanchez? Kasi because of Panelo?'" said Clara Sarmenta, mother of Eileen, on Thursday.
(You cannot take away from us our fear, because Panelo was legal counsel then, as if there is...me and my husband said 'Why is Sanchez that powerful? Is it because of Panelo?)
"Hindi mo maalis sa amin 'yun kasi legal counsel siya noon eh. And Panelo is the spokesperson of the President (now)."
(You cannot take away that from us because he was the legal counsel then. And Panelo is the spokesperson of the President now.)
The bereaved mother, however, emphasized she is not accusing Panelo of supporting Sanchez's release, which came up because of his alleged "good conduct" inside New Bilibid Prison at Muntinlupa City.
"I'm not accusing him...but simple lang naman 'yun sa amin as an ordinary citizen. Yung iisipin mo...may pera si Sanchez, meron siyang koneksyon. Kaya, you know...," Sarmenta told reporters.
(I'm not accusing him... but it's just simple for us as an ordinary citizen. If you think about it... Sanchez has money, he has connections. So, you know...)
When earlier asked if he had something to do with Sanchez's possible release, Panelo said, "Definitely not. I have withdrawn as his counsel...years ago."
Panelo also noted he was just one of Sanchez's 7 lawyers, and that he withdrew as the former mayor's counsel after the conviction.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also allayed concerns that Panelo had a hand in the development, saying prison records on good conduct of inmates had been in existence even before the Supreme Court issued its ruling on retroactivity of GCTAs (good conduct time allowances) last June.
The periods for good conduct time allowance were increased in a 2013 law signed by then President Benigno Aquino III, which expanded the application of good conduct time allowance for prisoners even during preventive imprisonment and increased the number of days that may be credited for good conduct.
The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) has also said that Sanchez may not be eligible for early release from prison. BuCor Director General Nicanor Faeldon said Sanchez may be disqualified from the good conduct and time allowance (GCTA) rule based on several grounds.
Sanchez reportedly was caught with P1.5-million worth of shabu hidden in a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in his cell. An air-conditioning unit and a flat-screen TV were also seized from him during a raid in 2015.
WHAT WENT BEFORE
On June 28, 1993, Sanchez's 6 henchmen kidnapped Sarmenta and Gomez and presented the girl to him as a "gift." The mayor raped Sarmenta, handed her over to the 6 to be raped again before she was shot in the face, according to court records.
Then Pasig RTC judge Harriet Demetriou, who convicted Sanchez and his men, called it "a plot seemingly hatched in hell."
In a 1993 ruling that denied Sanchez's challenge against Demetriou, the Supreme Court said, "There is probably no more notorious person in the country today than Mayor Antonio L. Sanchez of Calauan, Laguna, who stands accused of an unspeakable crime."