Is Sanchez a convict, or a house guest?
Almost 25 years ago, on a Tuesday morning in March 1995 it seemed that every radio, every television set was tuned in for the same event. No, it was not a basketball championship game. The decision of Judge Harriet Demetriou on the Gomez-Sarmenta murder case was being read out in court. Described as one of the most thorough decisions of its kind in Philippine jurisprudence, it took four hours to read the entire ruling. Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez was accused of the rape and murder of UP student Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her friend, Allan Gomez, in a case that shocked the entire nation.
When finally, the dispositive portion was reached, and the guilty verdict pronounced on the accused, the crowd at the session hall broke out in cheers and jeers. Sanchez and his henchmen were sentenced to several life imprisonment terms. I said to myself, maybe the system works after all. I was sure he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison.
After 26 years in jail, there is talk about the possible release of Sanchez on the basis of good conduct time allowance (GCTA). Many reports and discussions today center on an explanation or interpretation of Republic Act No. 10592, a law providing for the reduction of prison time of convicts for good behavior. The legislators who passed this law must have studied the matter carefully before its passage. But as is often the case, it is in the implementation that generates some controversy.
My concern has nothing to do with the law. My concern has to do with the convict himself. Is he a prisoner serving time in the national penitentiary? Or, is he a house guest who just happens to be around every now and then?
Take a close look at the recent pictures of Sanchez. He is well-dressed, pants are tailored to fit, with stylish belt around his waist, shoes appear to be of fine quality, shiny. He wears dark glasses and what looks like an expensive wristwatch. He walks with an “alalay” (aide) beside him, concerned more about his bald head exposed to the elements. He appears to have no cares in the world. Around him are uniformed Bureau of Corrections personnel, who appear to be protecting an important personality. The picture reminds me of some small-time politician moving toward a ceremonial area, with bodyguards and fans surrounding him and clearing the way.
Another picture, this time taken inside his cell: he is smiling, in a white shirt, long sleeves rolled up, pants ready for an outing. He wears a wide-brimmed cap similar to that of golfers, and a watch to match. He has a photo of the Virgin Mary and Christ the King just above his bunk cluttered with three pillows, perhaps of fine silk with linings on the edges.
My mental picture of a prisoner in jail, at least in the national penitentiary, is one who wears prison attire, usually orange, same cut as everyone else, sharing a cramped cell with others. No electric fans, and certainly no air conditioning.
Does he actually stay there, or is he an out-patient type of prisoner with outdoor privileges in the guise of hospital visits? Some of our “special” prisoners had tennis courts especially for their exclusive use, a private spa with accompanying amenities while other prisoners are jampacked in crowded detention cells with sleeping space so limited they have to take turns sleeping.
The big question is, who gave permission for all these extraordinary privileges and comforts that are being extended to convicted rapists and murderers?
In an earlier column, “Soldiers in mufti,” reader Jojo Alfonso has some criticisms about the military organization. He asks: How come the NPA insurgency is still here? Who planned the “Mamasapano blunder”? How are funds utilized for intelligence and operations? These are valid questions that should be answered by defense and police authorities. I have pointed out in the past that the NPA insurgency is now on its 50th year. As to the PMA curriculum, the PMA is not under CHEd but under the Department of National Defense. This is by law.
For clarity, let me say that no other institution in the land has contributed so many of its graduates for public service at the Cabinet level, in recent years. This does not diminish in any way the respect and affection I have for all our teachers. In his lifetime, Washington Sycip was an icon of the business community, a highly respected professional. The views he expressed should be of concern to all of us. By the way, Sycip has also criticized the military establishment.
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