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Editorial

Impaired justice

/ 06:00 AM September 08, 2019

Of all the reprehensible revelations arising from the case of former Calauan, Laguna mayor Antonio Sanchez, one other thing deserves as much outrage as his near-release from prison last month: his and his family’s refusal to pay millions in moral damages to the victims of his heinous crime committed more than two decades ago.

The Calauan politician, who claims to be a pious devotee of “Mama Mary” (the Catholic Church celebrates the birthday of the Virgin Mary today) and then hid drugs inside her statue while in jail, has refused to indemnify the families of slain University of the Philippines Los Baños students Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez, as revealed by the families themselves.

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Sanchez was sentenced to seven terms of reclusion perpetua, each equivalent to 40 years in prison, and ordered by the court to pay the families of Sarmenta and Gomez a total of P12.67 million in moral damages.

Twenty-six years later, those damages have yet to be settled—a flagrant defiance of the court’s order that Sanchez’s wife, Elvira, proudly and nonchalantly waved about.

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“Actually, your honor, we really have no intention [of paying],” she told a joint Senate hearing on the implementation of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) last week.

The Sarmenta and Gomez families, who had to relive their anguish and trauma all over again following news of Sanchez’s impending release, said they had yet to receive any form of indemnity.

“Kahit isang kusing wala (not a single cent),” said Eileen’s mother, Maria Clara.

“None at all,” echoed Allan’s mother, Iluminada.

That continuing injustice becomes even more condemnable in light of what Sanchez had been angling for in prison — clemency and early release under Republic Act No. 10592, which increased the GCTA for convicts.

As pointed out by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who was justice secretary when Sanchez was convicted in 1995, the court order is “final and executory” and that it is a “matter of justice” that the former mayor fulfilled his civil liability: “It is so unjust that here is Mayor Sanchez who is asking for clemency and who refuses to pay P12.6 million.”

Why is the justice system so apparently toothless that it can allow convicts like Sanchez to evade their civil liability, without any further sanction from the court or from the prisons office that oversees their incarceration?

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The money that the victims’ families never saw had instead bankrolled a lavish, favored lifestyle for Sanchez in jail; according to reports, that included his own air-conditioned “kubol” (cottage) with flat-screen TV and other amenities, all of which, on top of the drug-possession charge, violated prison guidelines and should have disqualified the man, already a heinous-crime convict, from GCTA consideration.

Sanchez appears to have issues with paying up money he owes: Aside from his civil liability to the Sarmenta and Gomez families, he also reportedly owes the government almost P1.8 million in real property back taxes from 1997 to 2018.

Last year, the government seized 19 ill-gotten properties he owned, including the notorious Erais Farm where Sanchez and his men committed their dastardly crimes against Sarmenta and Gomez. The Bureau of Treasury covering Laguna had completed the due diligence report on Sanchez’s properties, but has yet to receive an order from the national government for a possible writ of execution. What’s with the delay?

And if the high-profile Sanchez has been able to dodge paying up, how many others who have been ordered by the courts to pay damages or return money that belongs to the national coffers have ignored the law?

Take one other prominent case — different in circumstances from Sanchez’s, but still exhibiting the same brazen disobedience to a court order.

Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla, while absolved of the crime of plunder, was still ordered by the Sandiganbayan to return P124 million in public funds to the government; he has stoutly refused to do so, maintaining that he did nothing wrong — the same broad claim to innocence Sanchez clings to to deprive his victims of their long-overdue indemnity.

And, as with the unpunished Sanchez, the Sandiganbayan is seemingly blasé about Revilla’s noncompliance with its order; nothing further has been heard from it to compel Revilla, who has strutted back to the Senate, to return the people’s money.

What these cases suggest is how weakly the rest of a court’s order other than incarceration is implemented, ultimately blunting and impairing the cause of justice. Impaired, incomplete justice is hardly justice at all.

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TAGS: Allan Gomez, Antonio Sanchez, Eileen Sarmenta, GCTA, Inquirer editorial, rape-murder case
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