Aug 23, 2019

Content warning: References to brutal rape and murder

Recently, a huge political firestorm happened when rapist, murderer, and former Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez was considered for an early release because of the 2013 Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law, despite being sentenced with seven terms of reclusion perpetua (40 years) in prison. 

The law supposedly increases the good conduct time allowance given to inmates where the Supreme Court wants the decision to be applied immediately. Many were quick to point out that the man shouldn’t be let out, but some, like Sen. Bato Dela Rosa, thought that Sanchez earned it because he had “redeemed” himself. (This, despite the senator being open about wanting to implement the death penalty) To wit: In an interview, Dela Rosa said that “according to corrections officers, nagbait na daw [Sanchez]. In fact, nakikita nila na nagpapalda na nga daw, so changed man na talaga siya, changed man.”

Thankfully, Malacañang stepped in and backed the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) statement as Sanchez not being eligible for early release. 

According to Bureau of Corrections Director General Nicano Faeldon, the law excludes “recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees, and persons charged with heinous crimes.” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also said that prisoners excluded from the Revised Penal Code (RA 10592) are those who are convicted of heinous crimes and have committed drug offenses.

“[Sanchez] has many involvements in some not good behavior that maybe would disqualify him. That’s really the probability,” Faeldon said. 

Malacañang then said that the Bureau of Corrections should indeed “carefully and cautiously review the GCTA of persons who have been found guilty by the court as having committed high profile heinous crimes or crimes so grave show extreme moral depravity.” 

Sen. Bong Go said in an interview that when he talked with President Duterte, not only did he disagree but was also angered by the impending release of Sanchez. Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, who served before as Sanchez’ defense counsel, also said in an interview that Sanchez is undoubtedly ineligible for release where he also welcomed other lawmakers to conduct hearings on the law’s eligibility so as to omit any misconception. 

THE CRIME AND ITS AFTERMATH

One Monday night 24 years ago, University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) students Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez were murdered by Sanchez and his men. The details were brutal: the mayor ordered their abduction in order to rape Sarmenta, and when the rapist got what he wanted, he “gave her out” to his men so they could rape her, too, and had Gomez killed. When Sarmenta’s torture was over, she too was killed.

From Sept. 29, 1993, to Jan. 31, 1995, hearings to prosecute Sanchez for his crimes commenced and found 40 people testifying for the trial. Sanchez denied any involvement in the case and tagged the son of retired Gen. Dictador Alqueza, Teofili “Kit” Alqueza, as the mastermind of what Judge Harriet Demetriou called as “a plot seemingly hatched in hell.

He received a penalty of seven reclusion perpetua which is equivalent to 40 years in prison on each of the seven men involved. The court also ordered them to pay an amount of P11.3 million to both the families of Sarmenta and Gomez for the damage they have caused. 

WHY WAS AN EARLY RELEASE EVEN CONSIDERED?

Under the Good Conduct Time Allowance law, prisoners are allowed a deduction of their imprisonment if they’re shown to exhibit good conduct during their sentence. We already know by now that there’s a caveat to this, that people who have committed heinous crimes are exempted from availing of this, but let’s forget that for a second. Did Sanchez stick to the rules and behave well all these years?

In 2006, Sanchez was charged with the possession of illegal drugs after being found by the prison guard allegedly keeping a packet of shabu, marijuana, and some drug paraphernalia. Again, in 2010, Sanchez was caught with a P1.5 million worth of shabu hidden in the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After five years, a flat-screen television and an airconditioning unit were also obtained in his cell. 

The mother of Eileen Sarmenta, Clara Sarmenta, said it best in an interview: “Paano naging good behavior hindi naman niya sinunod lahat ng patakaran tulad ng may aircon, may cellphone, to top it all off, may shabu sa statue ni Mama Mary. Paano siya entitled sa batas?” 

THE MASKS THAT RAPISTS PUT ON

How do predators, rapists, and murderers act? By putting on a clean face.

During his first year in detention while the hearings were still ongoing, Sanchez said that he felt sorry for himself for being framed on crime and being in jail without committing it. He kept saying throughout his interviews that his faith in the Virgin Mary and God was what kept him strong to “keep his sanity.” 

However, according to an article by Inquirer, when Sanchez was found guilty his other personality seemed to show where the once prayerful and religious person had suddenly transformed into a devilish look; his smile turned into a vicious snarl. 

It’s a Dr. Jekyll and Hyde scenario that happens way too often. In order to get away with their crimes and/or keep a sense of normalcy, people like these would employ a nice, saintly persona that masks their real desires and capabilities to commit heinous crimes.

When Sanchez was considered for an early release, it was because of his purported redeemed, tamed behavior as what Sen. Bato Dela Rosa said in an interview where he even added that his bully behavior had already died down. 

Is it true or is it an act?

The fact that Sanchez was even considered for an early release is laughable—at least it is, if it wasn’t so insulting to the families of his victims and a depressing look into how the justice system favors people with power. Because really, if Sanchez didn’t have power to leverage, if he had been a poor man who committed a less serious crime, would the justice system be as lenient towards him? Would he still be considered for an early release even if he was caught smuggling in drugs into his room twice?

In 1993, Eileen Sarmenta’s life was considered less important than a powerful man’s desire. In death, that man’s desire to be free is still more important than her memory—and only a provision in the law stopped him from getting it.

 

Header photo courtesy of Inquirer

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Read more:

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TAGS: death injustice laguna Mayor Rape sexual violence violence violence against women