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When ‘good behavior’ alarms the nation

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra called it a “rumor” and Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) director Nicanor Faeldon called it a “speculation” when widespread public outrage greeted the news that convicted rapist-murderer Antonio Sanchez might be released because of Republic Act No. 10592, the 2013 law that increased the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) given to inmates, and a subsequent Supreme Court decision applying the law retroactively. The media and the public were chastised for making a mountain out of a molehill.

Who confirmed Sanchez’s possible release in the first place? Well, no less than Guevarra himself. He also said the families of the victims would feel bad, “but that is another matter.”

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If people get the feeling that the Duterte officialdom is jerking the people around, it is for good reason. The Duterte officialdom has time and again acted in gross dissonance with public sentiment, weaponizing the law to jail regime oppositors like Sen. Leila de Lima, as well as use it, like a Swiss knife to pry open various undue benefits from the collective weal, the latest being President Duterte’s personal gift of discretion to police personnel to accept gifts—forbidden fruits in the letter and spirit of existing laws.

The public outcry was instantaneous and overpowering. It appeared to jolt the Duterte officialdom into quickly shifting to damage control and making soothing noises, backtracking what could have become a smooth sleight-of-hand achievement of the Duterte administration. But it is too early to tell what game the Duterte officialdom is playing at this time. What “plot hatched in hell” might this distraction be a ruse for?

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The people looked to Malacañang for answers. Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo was summarily identified as having something to do with the impending release of Sanchez. He was the lawyer of Sanchez, and currently the principal “usual suspect” associated with the shenanigans of Mr. Duterte. Sanchez, who was meted out nine life sentences, to be released in 24 years despite arguably “bad behavior” in jail. For Sanchez to be released due to “good behavior” can only be, in the minds of a lot of people, the signature handiwork of Panelo.

Bad behavior? The empirical data is clear—Sanchez was a model of exemplary evil in the state penitentiary. Not only was he a drug user (2006), he was also a drug pusher, caught with P1.5 million worth of shabu (2010), cynically stashing the drugs in his personal image of the Virgin Mary. He also violated the rules by possessing and using contraband—an air conditioner and a flat-screen television (2015). This, of course, also means he has corrupted BuCor personnel because these transgressions could not have happened without the complicity of jail personnel.

Guevarra said that once released, Sanchez and those similarly eligible for release under the law can no longer be returned to jail; release is “irrevocable.” So, he advised interested parties to closely monitor the BuCor processing of the releases of their prisoner-of-interest. How will they know which cases are being processed, and what the procedure is? Will data and records on these prisoners be shared? Well, Guevarra said, to share the data might be a violation of the prisoners’ “privacy.” Because of the 11,000 possible cases, the case of Sanchez is still queued for review by BuCor. Apparently, they have a quaint, inscrutable system.

By the way, while everybody feels relieved that heinous crimes are an exception to the application of the law, a sharp lawyer pointed out that the law talks about “charged with a heinous crime,” not “convicted of a heinous crime,” and that the good conduct allowance referred to here is against preventive punishment.

Wow! We need to watch this saga.

This is not over yet. This will certainly force the mothers of Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez to stay on their toes, trying to get “intelligence” on how the GCTA law is being applied to Sanchez’s case. Sanchez cruelly robbed them of their children, now he will, with the complicity or incompetence of the BuCor and the Department of Justice, rob them of their peace of mind!

It should be of some comfort that the people have spoken loudly and vigorously. The Sarmenta and Gomez families will not fight for justice and peace of mind alone. These are gifts all Filipinos deserve, and gifts we will keep for ourselves.

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