President Duterte delivers a speech during the inauguration of the Tumingad Solar Power Project in Odiongan, Romblon the other day.
Palace: Duterte won’t allow Sanchez release
Christina Mendez, Edith Regalado (The Philippine Star) - August 24, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang will not allow the release of convicted rapist-murderer Antonio Sanchez, as the justice department has already deemed the former mayor not qualified for a shortened prison term under the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) due to the gravity of his offense, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said yesterday.

Panelo, Sanchez’s former lawyer, made this clear as outrage persisted over an earlier announcement by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra that the former mayor and thousands of other convicts might be released under the GCTA law.

Guevarra later clarified that Sanchez is not qualified for release.

“He’ll get angry because if the law says he’s disqualified, then why consider?” Panelo said, referring to President Duterte.

Panelo said Duterte has been firm in his stand on the enforcement of laws, including Republic Act 10592 or the GCTA Law.

“I’m not surprised. Why? Because the law is very categorical, that those convicted of heinous crimes, among others, are disqualified. They’re not within the coverage of RA 10592,” Panelo said.

“That’s what the law says. Isn’t it we’ve been saying, ‘what the law is, will always be the law. Dura lex, sed lex.’ The executive cannot oppose or amend the law, we will execute it,” he pointed out. “The guidance should be the law.”

A review of RA 10592 showed the law’s categorical exclusion of recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes from its coverage. “This is the letter and the spirit of the law,” Panelo said.

“Thus, the inevitable conclusion is that all those convicted of a heinous crime, including Mr. Antonio Sanchez, would be ineligible and disqualified from availing the benefits of the GCTA,” Panelo said in a statement.

RA 10592 amends the Revised Penal Code on the computation of the duration of imprisonment based on an offender’s good conduct.

“We therefore subscribe to the opinion of the Secretary of Justice on the matter. Further, we support his Department’s directive to the Bureau of Corrections to carefully and cautiously review the GCTA of persons who have been found guilty by the courts of having committed high profile, heinous crimes or crimes so grave that show extreme moral depravity,” he said.

Panelo said the Palace is conscious of the growing public sentiments against the release of the former Calauan, Laguna mayor who was found guilty of raping and killing UP Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta in 1993. Killed together with Sarmenta was her friend Allan Gomez.

“The sentiments of the people are understandable vis-à-vis the law passed by Congress during the previous administration and its recent interpretation by the Supreme Court,” he said.

Not us

Panelo emphasized it’s the previous Aquino administration which enacted the law that made possible the release of convicts on the basis of good conduct.

“As we have said, our task is to merely execute what the laws say as they stand,” Panelo added.

“The mandate of the executive branch of the government is to ensure the faithful execution of all laws. The executive cannot oppose any of them nor can it arbitrarily choose a provision of law which it will execute or not,” he said.

 “We reiterate, however, that while the executive branch has no discretion in the implementation of the GCTA, the law still allows for the proper evaluation of inmates to ensure their proper coverage,” Panelo said. “Otherwise stated, while the executive is constrained to grant the benefit of the GCTA, it will only grant it to those who are entitled to such benefit.”

Panelo said the Palace welcomes efforts by some lawmakers to review the law and possibly, open it to amendments. 

Panelo also assured the public of full cooperation of officials of government in the crafting of “better penal laws that are not only fair but are also morally sound.”

The Supreme Court, for its part, has distanced itself from the controversy stirred by reports of Sanchez’s possible release, saying it only interpreted the law that could enable the former mayor and thousands of other prisoners to walk free.

SC spokesman Brian Hosaka told reporters that the high court did not order the release of Sanchez, and that its June 25 ruling only emphasized that the GCTA law should be applied retroactively.

He said the SC based its decision on the “fundamental doctrine in criminal law that penal laws when favorable and advantageous to the accused, should be applied retroactively.”

“The implementation of RA 10592 is not within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Like all laws, it is to be implemented and executed by the executive branch of government. Again, the judiciary merely interpreted the law and ruled that it can be applied retroactively,” he said. 

Hosaka noted that Congress enacted RA 10592 in 2013 and amended certain provisions of the revised penal code particularly on GCTA.

More meticulous

As the government prepares to fully implement GCTA, Sen. Nancy Binay said the BuCor should be more meticulous and thorough in its evaluation of cases to avoid reckless errors.

“Let’s correct our counting.  A simple math mistake can directly perpetuate wholesale injustice. That’s why let’s not look at the case as a simple credit or deduction (of sentence) because of ‘good behavior’,” the senator said in mixed Filipino and English.

“Each day and number in the computation has huge implications. An error can be a criminal’s ticket to freedom,” she said.

DOJ’s Guevarra said he has ordered BuCor be very clear about its guidelines in granting GCTA. 

“So this is an opportunity for the BuCor to make clear the guidelines. Admittedly, mukhang hindi pa siya masasabing perfect. That’s an internal rule,” he added.

In the rules on serving successive sentences under Article 70 of the Revised Penal Code, the period of reclusion perpetua is set at a maximum of 40 years.

Under RA 10592, which amended provisions in the Revised Penal Code, Credits for Preventive Imprisonment and GCTA would commute the term of imprisonment of convicts. And once these allowances are granted, they cannot be revoked.

“It’s hard to imagine hardened criminals walk free without fully serving their life sentences just because of a clerical lapse,” she said.

“We need to have clear definition of terminologies and measurable indices so there will be legal and material basis. And there is a need to list certain crimes qualified for clemency or GCTA. If the sentence is double or triple life imprisonment, it should be automatically disqualified,” she said. – With Paolo Romero, Robertzon Ramirez, Romina Cabrera

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