Judge in Sanchez conviction slams Panelo, Faeldon for 'twisting' GCTA law

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Tabaco City, Albay (CNN Philippines, August 28) — The judge who convicted ex-mayor Antonio Sanchez to seven life terms lambasted a number of government officials for "twisting" the lower jail time for good behavior law to favor the rapist-murderer.

Retired judge Harriet Demetriou said Presidential Spokesperson Sal Panelo and Bureau of Corrections Director Nicanor Faeldon intentionally skewed the interpretation of Republic Act 10592 to allow Sanchez's early freedom.

"Tini-twist nila na good conduct time allowance (GCTA) kasi matagal na daw si Sanchez doon na 25 years. Eh mabulok man siya doon, hindi siya qualified under the law unless the law is amended," she said.

In 1995, Demetriou found then-Calauan Mayor Sanchez and six of his henchmen guilty of seven counts of rape with homicide for the rape-slay of 21-year-old Mary Eileen Sarmenta and the killing of 19-year-old Allan Gomez, both students of University of the Philippines-Los Baños. The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling.

Demetriou said Faeldon allowed the GCTA application on Sanchez when he is clearly not qualified because the law excludes heinous crime convicts from shorter jail time privilege.

"Faeldon is also making a mockery of the RA 10592 na nagsasabi sa kanya, mga prison officials na huwag niyong palayain si Sanchez kasi guilty ‘yan ng committing ng heinous crime… Klarong klaro ang batas. Bakit hindi nila yan masunod? Bakit ipapalusot nila sa good conduct time allowance na hindi naman qualified?” she said.

[Translation: Faeldon is also making a mockery of the RA 10592, which states that Sanchez cannot be released early because he was found guilty of committing a heinous crime. The law is very clear. How come they cannot follow it? How come they are trying to pass it off under the GCTA even if he is not qualified?]

Demetriou also said it is “impossible” that Panelo didn't maneuver the decision to favor his former client given his position in the Duterte administration.

Panelo, concurrent chief presidential legal counsel, was Sanchez's defense lawyer during the 1993 trial.

"Hindi siya makakapagsabi na wala siyang alam sa pagpapalaya kay Sanchez, that is impossible. Presidential legal counsel siya," she said.

[Translation: He cannot say he didn't have a hand in the release. That is impossible because he is the presidential legal counsel.]

The former Pasig Regional Trial Court judge said Panelo should have advised Duterte that Sanchez was a convicted rapist and murderer, therefore he is not eligible for an early release under the lower jail time law for good behavior.

"The first thing he should have advised the President: "Mr. President, he is not qualified under the law, he cannot be given good conduct time allowance because he is found guilty of heinous crimes, 7 counts of rape and homicide. Dapat alam niya (He should have known), he was one of the defense counsels ni Sanchez eh," she said.

Demetriou added, "So he actually fooled the people. He actually fooled the President."

The retired judge had a simple message to Panelo: "Mag-resign ka na lang, Panelo."

Demetriou said Panelo and Faeldon should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice. He added Panelo should be disbarred as a lawyer.

“He's very loyal to Sanchez, I think even until now. So that makes him doubtful as to how he is loyal to the Constitution, loyal to his office as Presidential Legal Counsel, or he's loyal to Sanchez as his former defense counsel,” she said.

In a statement, Panelo called Demetriou's call for him to resign "silly, if not absurd."

"I serve at the pleasure of the President, and as his alter ego, I will not be distraught nor derailed by any unfounded remark raised against me. I will instead continue to faithfully perform my duties in accordance with the law, the functions attached to my office as well as the directives given me by the President," he said.

Panelo said he advised Duterte that Sanchez and other inmates charged and convicted of heinous crimes, repeat offenders and escapees are excluded from the GCTA privilege.

Panelo said in an earlier media briefing in China ahead of Duterte's visit that he texted Demetriou to again deny any involvement in the reported early release of his former client.

"For your info, I have absolutely nothing to do with it. I said, in fact I did not even know that RA 10592 was passed until it broke out. Yun. Hindi naman siya sumagot (There. She did not reply)," Panelo said in a media briefing in China, ahead of Duterte's visit.

Panelo has said allegations on his involvement in Sanchez's supposed impending release are far-fetched because he had withdrawn as counsel before Sanchez filed his appeal with the Supreme Court. He added he last saw the former mayor in the late '90s.

The Department of Justice on Tuesday ordered the temporary suspension of GCTA as a "precautionary measure and in the interest of prudence" in light of the public outrage on the much talked about early release of Sanchez.

Panelo also dismissed as "rumors" the Sanchez family's claim that a release order for the former mayor was ready on August 20.

Stringer Rosas Olarte contributed to this report