Justice chief: ‘No truth’ to reports on ex-mayor Sanchez’ release

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 22) — Amid public uproar, the top Justice official on Thursday cleared the air on reports that former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez is set for release.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra dispelled rumors that Sanchez, convicted for the 1993 rape-slay case of two University of the Philippines Los Baños students, can avail of the shortened service of sentence for good behavior. He said the case has yet to be examined by the Bureau of Corrections.

Sa kasalukuyan (As of the moment), his case records have not been examined and reviewed by the Bureau of Corrections yet. There is no truth to the rumor that he will be released anytime soon,” Guevarra told CNN Philippines’ Newsroom.

According to Guevarra, BuCor officials will still have to review Sanchez’ case for his eligibility for the Good Conduct Time Allowance or GCTA as well as the exact time he has gained during the sentence.

BuCor Director General Nicanor Faeldon, in a separate briefing, said that aside from Sanchez, cases of around 11,000 other prisoners will be reviewed. Faeldon said one thing is for sure: Those involved in illegal drugs while in detention will not be granted shortened sentence for good behavior.

"Clearly 'pag drug lord ka, hindi ka kasama sa good conduct time allowance. Pag-entitled ka pa niyan, sino pa ang good behavior dito, e di wala na?" he said.

Despite his stay at the maximum security compound of the New Bilibid Prison, Sanchez has been found to have violated prison laws by smuggling illegal drugs and contraband in his jail cell, BuCor officials said. 

Drug charges were filed against him in 2006 for possession of shabu and marijuana leaves. Four years later, he was caught with one kilogram of shabu hidden in a Virgin Mary statue. In 2015, an air conditioning unit and flat screen TV were seized from his cell.

Faeldon said they will make sure their decision will be fair and just.

"I'm assuring you that hindi rin kami makakatulog nang mahimbing kung walang hustisya sa magiging desisyon," he said.

Appealing decision?

As a general rule, lawyer group Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said the decision allowing the release of prisoners after earning merit for good conduct cannot be reversed.

"Unfortunately unlike a pardon, the victims’ families (are) consulted before the President can pardon. In this good conduct allowance, it is automatic. You don't even need judicial intervention," IBP President Domingo Cayosa said.

Guevarra urged concerned parties, including victims’ families, to appeal or submit their challenges during the GCTA’s processing.

"Kung sino ang gusto mag-object ay mag-object na during the processing of the GCTA. Not after. Kasi pag na-release, ibig sabihin ay na-serve na niya ang kanyang sentensya. Paano mo pa papahuli ulit ang tao na according to law, ay na-serve na ang kanyang reduced sentence?” Guevarra added.

[Translation: Whoever wants to object, then you have to object during the processing of the GCTA. Not after. Because once the person is released, it means he or she has already served his or her sentence. How can you chase a person who according to law, already served his reduced sentence?]

In 1995, the Supreme Court found Sanchez and six others guilty of seven counts of rape with homicide. They were sentenced to seven terms of reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years of imprisonment. This would total to 280 years, but under the revised penal code, maximum prison time shall not exceed 40 years.

Sanchez has served 26 years in prison since his arrest in 1993. BuCor said the convicted ex-mayor has in fact already served 49 years — exceeding the maximum time of 40 years — based on the computation of his GCTA under Republic Act 10592, which was enacted in May 2013. The Supreme Court in July ruled that the law, which increases the GCTA given to inmates, shall be applied retroactively.

Senator Franklin Drilon, who was Justice Secretary when Sanchez was convicted, filed a Senate resolution to investigate the computation process of the Board of Pardons and Parole.

Citing Sanchez’s instances of drug and contraband smuggling in the maximum security unit of the national penitentiary, he slammed how the convict was seen to exemplify “good behavior.”

Apart from lawmakers, IBP also called for a careful review and transparency on the standards for the evaluation of "good cnoduct" for releasing prisoners.

"Refinements and safeguards may be introduced in the implementation or through curative legislation. Anti-corruption, efficiency, and transparency programs in jail management should be relentless pursued," the lawyers' group said in a statement.