Good behavior and the murderous mayor
What constitutes “good behavior” in prison? Does it include going around in skirts despite being a male, apparently a sign of reform (or penitence) on the part of the prisoner? Is it the inability (or refusal) to give the survivors of the victims even part of the court-mandated damages despite the passage of two decades? Or is it the willingness to allow government to seize (or set aside for safekeeping) the convict’s assets?
These questions need to be asked, because there’s a public outcry against the planned early release of convicted rapist-murderer former Calauan, Laguna mayor Antonio Sanchez—a plan the Duterte administration itself announced. Sanchez is supposed to be serving a whopping 280-year term or seven life terms of up to 40 years each. True, Sanchez has served 25 years, but as all the vitriol and pained cries elicited by the news indicate, not enough time has passed to take the sting off the memory of what he and his henchmen had done to college students Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra explained that Sanchez’s pending release is based on the retroactive application of Republic Act No. 10592, “increasing the time allowances for good conduct among prisoners, in effect reducing their jail sentences.” The law was meant to encourage good behavior among prisoners, Guevarra said, while also decongesting the truly horrible state of our jampacked jails.
But does this administration have to start with one of the most notorious convicts in Philippine judicial history?
Besides, “good behavior” hardly applies to Sanchez. He may have taken to wearing skirts, which Sen. Bato dela Rosa, he of the convoluted logic, suggests is a sign of atonement inside prison. But a surprise raid once netted an air-conditioning unit and flat screen TV inside Sanchez’s cell. These are items not usually found, indeed forbidden, in the quarters of prisoners in the national penitentiary. An even worse violation was the discovery in Sanchez’s quarters of one kilo of “shabu” worth P1.5 million, concealed inside, of all places, a statue of the Virgin Mary. Then New Bilibid Prison Director General Oscar Calderon said they suspected the former mayor of selling the drug to his fellow prisoners. Is that exemplary behavior?
Adding insult to injury have been the defenses offered by Duterte officials for the murderous mayor. Dela Rosa, main enforcer of the war on drugs in his time as national police chief, has pleaded for a “second chance” for Sanchez, conveniently forgetting that the police gave no chances at all to the thousands of drug suspects—including children—killed as part of Oplan Tokhang.
It seems the law on early commutation is being applied not with impartiality or objective assessment, but with favoritism and ulterior motives. What about, for instance, Sanchez’s coaccused? Are they, too, stepping out of the NBP scot-free? There are also speculations that drug lords who testified against the imprisoned Sen. Leila de Lima are set to enjoy an early release. Indeed, the willingness to cut short Sanchez’s extremely long sentence flies in the face of the Duterte administration’s staunch determination to keep De Lima behind bars—even as the case against her looks flimsier by the day.
An even deeper mystery is the news that earlier this year, Sanchez’s application for executive clemency was summarily rejected because of, said Parole and Pardons Administration head Manuel Co, the “gravity of the crimes he committed.” Is the application of RA 10592 then a politically expedient way of arranging Sanchez’s early release? At whose behest? As many were quick to point out, Sanchez’s lawyer during the trial was none other than Salvador Panelo, now the presidential spokesperson. (He has denied involvement and says the government “can’t do anything” about the commutation law.)
In 1995, 16 months after the arrest of Sanchez and his henchmen, many sighed with relief at their conviction, since it seemed to be proof that wealth and influence would not protect anyone from justice being served. Many applauded the harsh sentences imposed on the accused, which may have been Judge Harriet Demetriou’s way of ensuring that they would rot in jail for a crime that, as she put it, was “a plot seemingly hatched in hell.”
Who hatched this new plot hiding behind the skirt of the law? And what purpose does releasing the murderous mayor now serve?