Amid uproar, DOJ mulls suspension of convicts’ early release applications

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 24 2019 05:34 PM

MANILA—The Department of Justice is "seriously" considering the suspension of processing applications for good conduct time allowance (GCTA) grants on convicts, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Saturday. 

This, amid uproar over the possibility that former Calauan, Laguna town mayor Antonio Sanchez, convicted of the 1993 rape-slay of University of the Philippines student Eileen Sarmenta and the killing of her companion Allan Gomez, might be released early over the grant. 

The GCTA shortens the time of imprisonment based on a convict's good conduct. 

"We are reviewing the existing guidelines for GCTA and the BuCor (Bureau of Corrections) will henceforth base its actions on any new guidelines that will come out," Guevarra said in a statement. 

"We’re considering seriously the need to temporarily suspend the processing of GCTAs till the BuCor guidelines are reviewed and firmed up."

He said the halt would be temporary, and that convicts applying for the grant would just have to "wait a little." 

He said there has been a "deluge" of GCTAs to be recomputed given the retroactive application of a 2013 law increasing the GCTA.

Guevarra earlier said Sanchez might be released because of the law and a Supreme Court (SC) decision applying this law retroactively.

After the news attracted public outrage, Guevarra ordered a thorough review and re-computation of GCTAs of convicts.

He has also changed tune since, saying Sanchez is not qualified for GCTA since he was convicted of heinous crimes.

The slays of Sarmenta and Gomez made for one of the most sensational cases in the 1990s. Sarmenta was known to have been abducted by Sanchez's goons and given him as a gift. 

When he was done, his men then took turns raping her. She was then shot in the face. Gomez was, meanwhile, tortured and killed. 

The Pasig Regional Trial Court that handed down the verdict in 1995 described the crime as "a plot seemingly hatched in hell." Sanchez was sentenced to serve 7 terms of reclusion perpetua (40 years per term).

In an interview with ABS-CBN News Friday, Sanchez again claimed innocence and said he deserved to be freed. 

Apart from the Sarmenta-Gomez slays, Sanchez was also convicted of the 1991 murders of Nelson Peñalosa and son Rickson, for which he was sentenced to two terms of reclusion perpetua. 

While already imprisoned, Sanchez was busted for drug possession: first in 2006, and again in 2010, when he was found to have kept P1.5 million worth of shabu in a statue of the Virgin Mary. 

And in 2015, his cell was found to have been equipped with a flat-screen TV and air-conditioning unit, in violation of prison rules.

This, critics pointed out, proved he has not shown good conduct while serving time. 

Malacañang on Friday said President Rodrigo Duterte has said he would not allow Sanchez' release. 

The BuCor has also said he may not be eligible for early release through the GCTA. 

- with a report from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News