What public outrage can do
The administration’s volte-face on Antonio Sanchez’s early release from prison for purported good behavior showed what public outrage could do. After blithely citing the necessity of paying obeisance to the law despite the convict’s barbaric history, within a couple of days responsible officials were talking from the other side of their mouths and declaring no way will this former town mayor walk out of the national penitentiary under the aegis of Republic Act No. 10592. Shortly, President Duterte’s longtime personal assistant, the newly minted senator Bong Go, announced his boss’ indignation at the prospect of Sanchez’s early release—and the hemming and hawing ended. As though the big guy had saved the day. As though, and perhaps it is, his word is law.
This clear demonstration of the potency of protest vis-à-vis Sanchez’s case should reinforce the truth that power lies in recognizing injustice and pushing back. If the Malacañang mouthpiece Salvador Panelo thought he could get away with glibly waving away incredulous questions of how on God’s green earth Sanchez could be deemed eligible for early release, he was quickly disabused of the notion. Perhaps the former lead counsel of the man convicted of the 1993 rape and murder of Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her friend Allan Gomez has been too steeped in the juices of his current job that he believed it was possible to pull off the inconceivable, or that responsible officials would not have to reckon with public anger?
At any rate, it’s remarkable that Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra initially talked about Sanchez’s then impending freedom without including in the discussion the fundamental aspect that recidivists and those convicted of heinous crimes are not entitled to good conduct time allowance and therefore ineligible for early release on the basis of supposed good behavior. Incredibly, Guevarra was quoted as saying that the former mayor “may actually be released already,” suggesting that the very official holding the justice portfolio was ignorant of the coverage of RA 10592—or, more repugnant, that the rapist and murderer was being sprung for certain considerations.
Now it turns out that there was more than met the eye in the breaking news of Sanchez’s early release. According to his children, he was bathed, packed and quite ready to go on Aug. 20 as No. 187 on the list of prisoners for early release, but that it was no go when they arrived at the New Bilibid Prisons to collect him. They cited a release order supposedly signed by Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Nicanor Faeldon, as well as the supposed fingerprinting of their father that occurred the night before as part of the release process.
Guevarra said he would have the matter checked, in effect claiming cluelessness. He also said Faeldon had denied signing a release order. A BuCor press conference held yesterday was noteworthy for Faeldon’s absence.
The public having vigorously registered outrage over Sanchez’s attempted abuse of RA 10592, the logical next step is that it be informed as to what—or, more to the point, who—started the ball rolling. Perhaps the rot in the prison system that has long defied cleansing can begin to be addressed. Harriet Demetriou, who, as then judge of the Pasig City Regional Trial Court, found Sanchez and six of his subalterns guilty of the Sarmenta-Gomez rape-slays, is correct to call on the President to have the matter investigated so as to ferret out and punish those who had “twisted” and “made a mockery” of the law.
Because an unfortunate offshoot of this controversy is that progressive legislation such as RA 10592 has now been blocked from implementation, laying waste to efforts to free prisoners who had committed minor offenses and had truly exhibited good behavior while incarcerated, and who were too impoverished to come up with the amount necessary for bail. It must be pointed out to another rookie senator, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, that it is these persons deprived of liberty who should benefit from the law that was also envisioned as a means to ease the brutal congestion in Philippine prisons, and who deserve a second chance—and not the likes of Sanchez. It bears repeating: Panelo’s former client was also convicted of the 1991 murder of the father and son Nelson and Rick Peñalosa, and thought nothing of hiding a stash of crystal meth in the base of a statue of the mother of God that he was perversely keeping in his air-conditioned prison quarters.
What exactly is going on? As Demetriou has trenchantly pointed out, Panelo, Faeldon and his predecessor Dela Rosa should provide answers at a congressional inquiry.
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