MANILA (UPDATE)—Several senators on Thursday said convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez does not deserve to be released from jail, as outrage grows over reports he might soon walk free for his supposed good conduct while behind bars.
Sanchez, a former mayor of Calauan, Laguna, was sentenced in 1995 to 7 counts of reclusion perpetua (or 40 years imprisonment) over the murder of University of the Philippines Los Baños students Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez. Sarmenta was also found raped.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said Sanchez might be released because of a 2013 law increasing good conduct time allowance and a Supreme Court (SC) decision applying this law retroactively.
Although sentenced to 7 counts of reclusion perpetua, Sanchez stands to benefit from the 3-fold rule under the Revised Penal Code, which limits the service of sentence to a maximum of 3 times the harshest penalty but in no case more than 40 years.
The Revised Penal Code also allows the application of good conduct time allowances, which reduces the years and days spent in prison.
The periods for good conduct time allowance were increased in a 2013 law, Republic Act 10592, 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.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, the country’s justice secretary during the pendency of Sanchez’s case, said the news shocked him and he urged the justice department to withhold Sanchez’s release pending a review of his qualifications.
He said he will seek a Senate inquiry on the computation of the good conduct time allowance, adding that the former mayor was twice caught concealing illegal drugs inside New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
"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," he told ANC.
"He is charged with engaging in drug trading inside Bilibid penitentiary and on that basis alone he cannot qualify to avail of the benefits under the law."
BuCor Director General Nicanor Faeldon said Sanchez could be disqualified from the good conduct and time allowance rule based on these violations.
Drilon added that Sanchez was also convicted in the 1991 killing of Nelson and Rickson Peñalosa, a decision that was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 1999. He said that under the Revised Penal Code, "you cannot apply for [good conduct time allowance] when you have been previously convicted of another crime."
Drilon said the Senate inquiry will look into possible abuse of the implementation of RA 10592, noting that Sanchez was sentenced to 7 counts of reclusion perpetua for the Sarmenta and Gomez killings.
"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 said.
He added: "There can be abuse in the process."
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Sanchez should not be released from jail since he has yet to indemnify the victims’ families.
He added, the case should also prompt lawmakers to consider reviving the death penalty.
“[Seven] life sentences, no indemnification, hearings for parole did not inform Sarmenta family. Best argument for death penalty? Sotto said on Twitter.
Sotto also filed a resolution seeking a review of the implementation of RA 10592 for possible amendments. He said violations in the implementation of this law are punishable with imprisonment.
"This probably serves as a warning, before they commute or terminate this issue and release prisoner Sanchez," Sotto told reporters.
"This would be a call to the leadership of the DOJ, not only the NBP, to look into the computation that they are doing and what is their definition of 'good behavior.'"
Minority Sen. Risa Hontiveros also said Sanchez is not qualified to have his jail term reduced because his supposed good conduct while in prison remains questionable.
“Sanchez has shown no signs of remorse and displayed no effort at improving himself in behavior or character inside the penitentiary,” Hontiveros said in a statement.
“In fact, even inside prison, he has continued committing crimes with impunity.”
Hontiveros said correction officials must “prudently review and determine who truly deserve and are qualified to have their jail terms reduced.”
“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,” she added.
Meanwhile, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the controversy should prompt amendments to the 2013 law.
“Aside from legislating a maximum of only 15% reduction for Good Conduct Time while in prison, there must be offenses that should not make the convicts avail of parole or pardon such as those committed with extreme gruesomeness like terrorism, rape with homicide, and the like,” he said in a statement.
Sen. Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go, a close ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, said Sanchez should no longer expect that he will be freed soon.
“Mr Sanchez, ‘wag ka nang mangarap na makalaya pa. Ipagpatuloy mo na lang pagbayaran ang mga kasalanan mo dyan sa loob, kaysa lumabas ka, baka umikli pa ang iyong buhay," Go told repoters.
(Mr. Sanchez, don't expect to be freed. You must pay for your crimes inside prison. If you go out, your life might be cut short.)
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri also opposed Sanchez's release.
"As a UPLB alumnus, I cannot sit idly and watch this happen. Let us all speak up against this injustice," Zubiri said in a statement.
On the other hand, Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa said Sanchez deserves a "second chance," citing how the former mayor has become "a changed man."
"Mabait na siya, hindi na siga. Malumanay na, changed man na. Nakapalda na siya, naka-lipstick," Dela Rosa said.
(He is now a good man. He has softened and is now a changed man. He now wears skirts and dons a lipstick.)