Imagine if we did not care enough to read about current affairs in our country, then we would have a convicted rapist and murderer walking free amongst us.
The disturbing rape-slay case of two students in 1993 was revisited when the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the possible release of former Caluan, Laguna mayor Antonio Sanchez.
Sanchez was sentenced to seven terms of reclusion perpetua for the gruesome rape and murder of University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) students Eileen Sarmenta and her boyfriend Allan Gomez back in 1993.
On social media, statements from people who were directly involved with the case revealed gruesome details about Eileen’s tragedy in the hands of Sanchez. As I was reading the testimony of a journalist who put together the stories of the case, I felt rage and sympathy. Rage for the possibility of setting that monster free, and sympathy for Eileen, who was only a college student like me. My heart broke because she had a bright future ahead of her, only to be taken away by some pervert’s animalistic desires.
Sanchez’s possible release was set on legal premises, though. His 40-year sentence in prison was to be cut short because of the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law. The GCTA law or Republic Act No. 10592 provides an arithmetic formula that reduces the sentence served by prisoners for showing good behavior. This good behavior includes, but does not limit to, “active involvement in rehabilitation programs, productive participation in authorized work activities, or accomplishment of exemplary deeds coupled with faithful obedience to all prison/jail rules and regulations,” according to the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations.
In the words of Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Sanchez “deserves a second chance in life.” Sen. Bato even said that Sanchez was a “changed man,” relaying that the latter stopped being a “siga” (bully), and was also seen to have started wearing a skirt.
But does a changed man hide 1.5 million peso worth of shabu in a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary? Does a changed man feel the need to treat himself above everyone else in prison by putting an airconditioning unit and a flat-screen TV in his cell, despite being illegal?
The GCTA law should be considered beyond the mathematical formula. As the definition of “good conduct” becomes vague and reliant on the hands of those who decide, other facets should also be evaluated. As suggested by Edre Olalia, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president, the government should also consider if the prisoner is remorseful, if he/she admitted to committing the crime. The convict should also be willing to ask for forgiveness from the victim. Also, they should consider the impact of the convict’s release to the victims, the society, and their faith in the country’s justice system – to which Sanchez has not shown.
Thankfully, the Malacañang announced that Sanchez was unqualified for release because the GCTA law does not include persons charged with heinous crimes, as clarified by the officials.
Online petitions and social media posts that demand for the DOJ to change their decision on Sanchez’s release show that the people care, and that there is still hope after all. In an age where there is power in social media and the internet, it is a tool that we can use to resist together – resist against corruption, resist against tyranny, and resist against fascism.