August 22, 2019
Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo on Wednesday denied any role in the impending release of convicted rapist and murderer former Calauan (Laguna) mayor Antonio Sanchez.
In a phone patch interview, Panelo said he had withdrawn as Sanchez’s legal counsel.
“Mukhang masyadong malayo naman ‘yun. Twenty-seven years ago pa akong abogado noon dati, nag-withdraw na ako. Even before the appeal nag-withdraw na ako (That’s far-fetched. I withdrew from the case 27 years ago even before the appeal was made),” said Panelo, who was one of Sanchez’s counsels in the 1993 rape-murder of University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) student Eileen Sarmenta, and the death of her boyfriend companion Allan Gomez.
Eileen’s mother on Wednesday expressed her dismay over reports that Sanchez would be given an executive pardon and that within two months, he could be released from prison since his 1995 conviction.
“As a mother, I was dismayed and astounded upon learning of the news. When I arrived yesterday (Tuesday) night, my husband told me of the news. How could this happen? We could not understand how could he be granted a parole when the aggrieved party was not even informed,” Mrs. Sarmenta said in Filipino in a radio interview over dzMM.
“Definitely, we will make an appeal before the Board of [Pardon and Parole]. But, first of all, we will find out if indeed Mr. Sanchez applied for a parole,” she added.
Mrs. Sarmenta accused Panelo of having a hand in the impending pardon and release of Sanchez.
Bureau of Corrections Director General Nicanor Faeldon earlier confirmed that the former mayor might be a free man in two months, along with more or less 11,000 others.
Sanchez was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to seven terms of reclusion perpetua (up to 40 years’ imprisonment for each term).
Panelo, who also serves as President Rodrigo Duterte’s top legal counsel, said the government has no choice but to follow the law if it allows the release of Sanchez.
“Well, kung (if) the law as it is crafted says that all the inmates who are qualified to be released, then that’s what the law says. And we have to, as we always repeatedly say, there’s a rule of law and we always have to abide by the rule of law,” he added.
“Kaya nga sila nire-release, ‘yung 11,000, eh. Kasi nga pumapasok sila doon sa sinasabi ng batas ‘pag may good behavior. Meron silang mga computation. Hindi na natin teritoryo ‘yun (That’s why they are being released because they are covered by the law because of their good behavior. They have computations for that, that’s not our turf anymore),” Panelo said.
Republic Act (RA) 10592 expanded the application of good conduct time allowance for prisoners even during preventive imprisonment, and increased the number of days that may be credited for good conduct.
The Supreme Court also allowed in June this year the retroactive application of the law as it benefits detention and convicted prisoners.
Panelo said those who find injustice should raise their concern with Congress.
“The law has been crafted by Congress, so whatever concerns they have should be addressed to Congress,” he added.
Panelo said Duterte does not need to approve the release of Sanchez and the more or less 11,000 other prisoners because of the law.
According to him, the decision is up to the Board of Pardons and Parole.
Meanwhile, Panelo said he was happy for Sanchez for his impending release.
He, however, added that he did not feel vindicated about the news.
“I wish him well. Pareho rin ng lahat ng abogado na may mga kliyenteng nakulong pagkatapos na-release. Siyempre, you’ll be happy for them na may bago na silang buhay after the release (Like other lawyers who will be happy if their client will be released. Of course, you’ll be happy for them that they will have a new life after the release),” Panelo said.
“Alam mo ‘yung aking paghawak sa kaso (You know, me handling cases, I do it just) as a lawyer lang (only). I’m not attached to any of the cases I had emotionally,” he added.
In voicing her disappointment with the looming release of Sanchez, Mrs. Sarmenta at the same time said she was appalled that the former mayor had not paid even a centavo of the remuneration ordered by the Supreme Court in its confirmation ruling dated Oct. 18, 2001.
Eileen and Allan were senior Agriculture students at the UPLB when they were abducted and then killed.
The verdict was promulgated on March 11, 1995 before the Supreme Court confirmed it on Jan. 25, 1999.
“Until today, he (Sanchez) had not [said] sorry as a sign of remorse since the promulgation. I could not sleep since learning of the news yesterday (Tuesday). All the bad memories came back. We are not asking for damages, but it was included in the court decision. He did not lift a finger to follow the order. We want proof that he indeed showed good behavior (while in jail),” Mrs. Sarmenta said.
She added that she and her husband could not do anything if the government would release and grant pardon to Sanchez.
“But the only thing that we are wanting for him (Sanchez) to fulfill his obligations to us and to the Gomez family,” Mrs. Sarmenta said.
The high court’s Special First Decision ordered Sanchez to pay the heirs of Eileen a total of P3,982,080 (P350,000 death indemnity, P1,000,000 moral damages, P106,650 funeral expenses, P2,361,180 loss of earning capacity and P163,250 attorney’s fees).
For the heirs of Gomez, the court ordered him to pay a total of P3,992, 2202 broken down into P350,000 death indemnity, P1,000,000 moral damages, P10,000 nominal damages, P2,441,220 loss of earning capacity and P191,000 attorney’s fees.
The decision was penned by then Associate Justice Jose Melo.
The resurrection of the Sanchez case was based on the June 2019 decision of the Supreme Court granting retroactive provision to RA 10592 where convicts from 1990 may be granted clemency based on their good conduct.
With a reports from JAIME R. PILAPIL
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