By FORMER SENATOR ATTY. JOEY D. LINA
The public outcry last week seemed so immense that one could feel a repeat of the outrage in the ‘90s at the height of the court trial of former Calauan, Laguna, mayor Antonio Sanchez for the gruesome crimes against two college students.
The collective disgust of the “People of the Philippines” was indeed apparent amid news that Sanchez could be possibly released from prison, even after being meted seven life sentences for the 1993 kidnapping, rape, and murder of Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez.
For the families of the victims, the agony was intense as the impact of the news hit. “I wasn’t able to sleep last night. Everything came back to me – the pain, the struggle, bringing back our lives together,” a crying Maria Clara Sarmenta, mother of Eileen, told ABS CBN news on Wednesday.
The furor started last Tuesday when news outlets reported that Sanchez “may be released soon” pursuant to RA 10592, approved on May 29, 2013, which deducts jail time based on “credit for preventive imprisonment” and the prisoner’s good behavior.
“Mayor Sanchez’s good conduct time allowance is being recomputed pursuant to the new law and a recent Supreme Court ruling,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told media, referring to the SC decision dated June 25, 2019, that RA 10592 should be applied retroactively to cover those convicted and imprisoned prior to enactment of the new law.
The initial pronouncement that the new law could benefit not only Sanchez but over 10,000 other inmates as well, jarred those vehemently opposed to the release of the convicted former mayor. But the situation changed quickly after people expressed outrage. President Duterte rejected Sanchez’s release and the Department of Justice declared the convict was not eligible to benefit from the new law.
The DOJ’s final position was revealed the other day in my DZMM teleradyo program Sagot Ko ‘Yan (8 to 9 a.m. Sundays) when I had an enlightening discussion with Justice Undersecretary Mark Perete, DOJ spokesman, concerning the raging controversy over the new law which amended certain articles of RA 3815, the Revised Penal Code (RPC).
He agreed with the assessment that Sanchez is indeed not eligible to benefit from RA 10592 because of the law’s exemptions that apply to the convict, foremost of which is stated in Article 29, No. 1 of the RPC which says that offenders shall be credited for preventive imprisonment except in cases “when they are recidivists, or have been convicted previously twice or more times of any crime.”
Considering that Sanchez was convicted not only for the crimes against Sarmenta and Gomez, but also for two counts of murder for the 1991 deaths of father and son Nelson and Rick Peñalosa, then the cited exemption in the RPC ought to apply.
Article 97 of RPC, as amended, also makes it clear that the additional allowance for good conduct of prisoners benefit those who are qualified “for credit for preventive imprisonment pursuant to Article 29 of this Code”. Since Sanchez is not qualified for “credit for preventive imprisonment” then he is also not entitled for “allowance for good conduct”.
Usec. Perete also stressed that Sanchez cannot benefit from the law because Section 1 of RA 10592 states: “Provided, finally, That recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes are excluded from the coverage of this Act.”