What have 8 years in Munti done to Sanchez?
- Jose Aravilla and Nikko Dizon () - January 15, 2003 - 12:00am
What has nearly a decade behind bars done to former Calauan, Laguna mayor Antonio Sanchez?

Eight years ago, Sanchez entered the maximum security compound of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City after he and his henchmen were sentenced to seven life terms for the double murder of University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) coed Mary Eileen Sarmenta and her friend Alan Gomez on June 29, 1993.

Forensic evidence also showed Sarmenta was repeatedly raped before she was shot in the right eye with an Armalite rifle.

During his trial and after he was sentenced, Sanchez’s foppish vanity became the butt of jokes, especially his unusual hairstyle that is long on the sides and top, his preference for imported perfumes, and use of collagen preparations to keep his skin soft and youthful.

Sanchez said he is living on the contributions of his allies, who also occasionally send him imported fragrances and ensure he has a regular supply of collagen. He counts former First Lady Imelda Marcos as one of his friends.

Despite the tough, rugged environment of the country’s main maximum security prison, Sanchez still takes pains with his grooming, appearing for his interview with The STAR in a white shirt with its sleeves rolled up to mid-forearm and black slacks.

His hair was carefully combed to minimize a receding hairline and he was shod in white socks and rubber sandals as he walked into the office of NBP director Ricardo Macala on a cloud of Italian scent.

Why keep up the vanity? "Alam mo, anak, di tayo nagpapabaya ng sarili natin kahit nagkaganito tayo (You know, son, I can’t neglect myself even if it has come to this)," the sixty-something former mayor said.

While Sanchez laughingly admitted that his extreme vanity gives people the impression he is a homosexual, he said he has two wives, with whom he has three children each.

Sanchez said his second, common-law, wife makes regular visits to see him in jail. The woman, Editha, was also once elected mayor of Calauan.

His first wife, he said, is in the United States and has cut off all communications with him.

On a more somber note, Sanchez said his years in prison have given him the time and opportunity to focus on spiritual matters.

"I have learned to forgive," Sanchez said. "From the start, I felt bitterness but I have forgiven those who did this to me. Whenever I feel anger, I just pray the rosary and, in two prayers (two sets of five mysteries each), I am happy again."

Sanchez’s convicted henchmen, he said, "really wanted revenge, but I told them to just let things be. We will soon get out of this jail and back to our lives. This was God’s will."

The former mayor, a confessed admirer of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, maintained his stand that the crimes he and his men were convicted of and his subsequent imprisonment are the work of his political rivals.

Sanchez said the real killers of Gomez and Sarmenta — whom he did not identify — have apologized to him through an intermediary. He said he is just praying for those who have wronged him.

After doing eight years of hard time, Sanchez is qualified for a commutation of his sentence — a development that could pave the way for his early release from prison despite the fact he is serving two life sentences.

"Not yet," he said of the possibility he would be able to apply for early release. "It is not yet time." When pressed for an explanation, Sanchez said he is "letting God have his will."

Sanchez does not want to apply for early release yet. Rather, he is holding out hope that he and his jailed men will receive a full pardon. "I would rather have an absolute pardon. It will come. For us political prisoners, we have that option," he said.

He also admitted he is still interested in re-entering the political arena and running for mayor again should he receive an absolute pardon.

An absolute pardon will reinstate all of Sanchez’s civil rights, including the right to seek an elective post. For now, however, he said he is willing to wait.

It took 16-months for the Gomez-Sarmenta double murder case to reach its denouement.

Then Pasig Regional Trial Court Judge Harriett Demetriou found Sanchez and six of his henchmen guilty of conspiracy in Sarmenta’s rape slay and the murder of Gomez.

Demetriou sentenced Sanchez, his nephew Baldwin Brion, brothers Luis and Rogelio Corcolon, former policemen George Medialdea and Zoilo Ama and Sanchez’s gardener Pepito Kawit to seven life terms in jail.

Court records said the six henchmen convicted by Demetriou "abducted Sarmenta and presented her to Sanchez as a ‘gift.’"

Court records said that after raping Sarmenta, Sanchez handed her over to his six aides, who took turns raping her before killing her and Gomez, the court said in its 132-page decision on the case.

The court based its conviction of Sanchez and his aides on the testimony of former Calauan ambulance driver Aurelio Centeno and former Calauan policeman Vicencio Malabanan, who both turned state witness after entering the Witness Protection Program.

Demetriou dismissed the defense panel’s claims that the rape and murders were committed by Teofilo "Kit" Alqueza, the victims’ classmate at UPLB and son of then Chief Superintendent Dictador Alqueza.

While rape with homicide is a crime punishable with the death penalty, Demetriou ruled that it could not be imposed in the Gomez-Sarmenta rape-slay case because the crimes were committed prior to the re-imposition of capital punishment on Jan. 1, 1994.

Sanchez and his henchmen were also ordered by the Pasig court to pay the victims’ families a total of P11.5 million in fines, legal fees and compensation.

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