Gina Lopez — our modern day hero
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - August 26, 2019 - 12:00am

The reported possible inclusion of former Mayor Sanchez in the list of convicts to be released because of a retroactive re-computation of Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) under Republic Act 10592 literally reopened the wounds that never fully healed since the gruesome 1993 rape with homicide case, aptly described by the trial judge as “a plot seemingly hatched in hell.”

With the ensuing public outrage, the government immediately announced that the former mayor is not eligible to avail of the benefits under the new law. But some quarters are saying otherwise, thus the suggestion for an immediate amendment to disqualify certain prisoners from availing of the GCTA.

For his convictions in the 1991 Peñalosa killings and the 1993 Sarmenta and Gomez rape with homicide case, Sanchez was meted out a total of nine penalties of Reclusion Perpetua, which by earthly standards, should justify his rotting in jail for 270 years and burning in hell for the rest of eternity. Under the “three-fold” rule, however, Sanchez can only be required to serve a maximum of 40 years of imprisonment. But after only 26 years in jail, the convicted rapist-killer may be released because the 40-year maximum period was substantially reduced by his GCTA under R.A. 10592, which substantially increased the credits from the previous 5, 8, 10, and 15 days per month of good conduct to the present 20, 23, 25, and 30 days, respectively. The DOJ wanted this new computation to apply prospectively. But the Supreme Court in a very recent ruling said that the new law should be given retroactive effect because it is favorable to the accused.

But was it not announced by no less than the Secretary of Justice and the Presidential spokesperson that Sanchez is not entitled to GCTA because he is not eligible for credit of preventive imprisonment (before conviction) under Article 29 of the same law, which stipulates that “recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes are excluded from the coverage of this Act”? I really hope so, but with the fundamental principle that any doubt should be resolved in favor of the accused, the Supreme Court may again rule against the position of the DOJ. A reading of Article 97 reveals that the deduction from the period of the sentence is available to: (1) Any offender qualified for credit for preventive imprisonment pursuant to Article 29 of this Code; or (2) Any convicted prisoner in any penal institution. It does not appear that the GCTA for the convicted prisoner is conditioned upon his prior qualification to be credited for preventive imprisonment. The disqualifications in Article 29 were not intended to apply to Article 97 otherwise the latter provision should have also expressly disqualified those who were convicted of heinous crimes.

But how can a convict, who was allegedly caught in possession of illegal drugs at least twice in prison, be considered in good conduct? He even stashed the prohibited drugs in the statue of the Virgin Mary. Sanamagan! The problem is that the determination of good conduct credits is on a monthly basis, which means that the credits the prisoner would have earned for the months he conducted himself properly will not be forfeited by his bad behavior in a succeeding month. What is clear is that he would not earn credits for the months he had violated prison rules or failed to observe good conduct. To my mind, this would defeat the purpose of reformation.

The objectives of Republic Act 10592 may be laudable, but perhaps Congress should have considered balancing limitations. It is important, as the IRR provides, to “redeem and uplift valuable human material towards economic and social usefulness” or “to implement the state policy of restorative and compassionate justice by promoting the reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners.” But prisoners who prove to be unworthy should not be benefitted as this would result to a mockery of our criminal justice system. 

The present confusion would have been avoided if Congress made it clear that the GCTA would not also benefit persons convicted of heinous crimes and prisoners who commit infractions of law or serious violation of rules while in prison. In this regard, an amendment of the law may be urgent. With respect to Mr. Sanchez, it appears that no further amendment would change the undeserved favor he got under the new law. Without an outright disqualification in the law, his release will depend on the retroactive determination of his GCTA computed on his monthly good conduct as borne by his prison records, unless there are other reasons to curtail his liberty longer, as intimated by the BUCOR chief. Yet, whatever happens, karma is eternal!

*      *      *

I remember the day when the cruel and disgusting news came out about Sanchez and his men in 1993. The lives of Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez were brutally taken by the mayor of a town in Laguna. Whatever plot they created about the murder, at the end of the day, we know that Sanchez was the mastermind of it all. As our Star columnist Bum Tenorio (who saw Ellen’s body at the University of Philippines Police Headquarters) said upon hearing the news of Sanchez’ possible release, “He deserves to rot in prison.”

The people of Laguna and the Philippines were alarmed and disheartened to hear the news of Sanchez’ release. After the rape and the murder of Eileen and Allan, the townfolk had difficulty healing from the acts done by the “mad-mayor” of Calauan. Laguna became a ‘ghost-town’. Today the wounds may have healed but something as gruelling as this will never be forgotten and forgiven. 

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Today, is National Heroes’ Day. Of course we thank the many heroes and martyrs who have fought and lost their lives to protect our nation. But today, we also have heroes who continue to burn the midnght oil and put their lives at stake for our country.

The late Gina Lopez who passed away just last week is a true model for Filipinos to look up to. Her perseverance was invincible. She was an epitome of a “real” modern-day hero. From her pure deeds I learned that: Whether in the quest of virtue or in the pursuit of material gain, whether in the achivement of glory or in the search for gold, you need that sturdy quality that knows no doubt, no wavering, no discouragement. When you see a woman who made a name for herself, one whom destiny seems to have made its favorite child, don’t you deceive yourselves into believing that she has achieved eminence through mere good fortune or luck. Known to the world is her brillant achievement, but unknown to the world are the long, dreary years of unremitting and patient labor, of obscure and wearing drudgery that precede the dazzling and joyous day of her triumph. Thomas Edison is often quoted to have said of what men call genius that it is two percent inspiration and ninety-eight percent perspiration. This was Gina’s dedication because she loved our country and our people. Rest now dear warrior, thank you!

The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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