Premature announcement meant to railroad ex-mayor Sanchez's release, DFA chief says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 24) — The early announcement of the possible release of convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez was meant to "railroad" the process of cutting short the sentence of prisoners for good behavior, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said in a tweet Saturday.

The senior diplomat was responding to a comment by detained Senator Leila de Lima who had earlier speculated that the "premature [and] reckless announcement" was done to "drumbeat support for the death penalty."

“No. It was meant to railroad his release and present a fait accompli,” Locsin said, referring to a done deal or an accomplished and, presumably, irreversible act.

The Foreign Affairs Secretary has been vocal against the early release of Sanchez, saying the disgraced mayor deserved to die in his cell." Locsin even let out an expletive as he stressed that male prisoners "should all rot in their cells. Only women should get clemency."

Sanchez and his henchmen were convicted in 1995 for the rape and murder of Mary Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez, students of the University of the Philippines Los Baños in Laguna, two years earlier. Court documents show the 21-year-old Sarmenta was given as a "gift" to then Calauan, Laguna Mayor Sanchez, who raped her first before allowing his men to take turns on her. They were sentenced to seven terms of reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years of imprisonment. This would total 280 years, but under the law, maximum prison time may not exceed 40 years.

RAED: The heinous crimes of ex-Mayor Antonio Sanchez

Reports early this week quoted Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra as saying "thousands of convicts, whether they are high-profile like Sanchez or ordinary prisoners," would benefit from Republic Act 10592, which cuts prisoners' jail time based on good conduct.

Amid public outrage, Guevarra on Thursday clarified that Sanchez's case had not yet been reviewed by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor). This was confirmed by BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon who said Sanchez’s prison record may be reviewed next month and the public could witness the evaluation.

On Saturday, Guevarra told reporters the government is "considering seriously" the need to temporarily suspend the processing of good conduct time allowances for prisoners – until the BuCor's guidelines are reviewed.

Malacañang earlier said President Rodrigo Duterte would not allow the early release of Sanchez, because the sentence reduction policy excludes persons who committed heinous crimes. Faeldon added it was "impossible" for Sanchez to be released soon because of a violation he committed in 2015. Sanchez was caught smuggling illegal drugs and contraband in jail in 2006, 2010, and 2015.

Vice President Leni Robredo welcomed the government's latest pronouncements, but lamented how Sanchez could have been freed if the public did not protest.