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Barry Gutierrez: Freeing Sanchez

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Social media has been afire the past few days with a heated discussion on whether the early release of convicted rapist-murder Antonio Sanchez, former mayor of Calauan, Laguna, was, in fact, legal. It will be recalled that in 1995, Sanchez was sentenced to seven (7) counts of reclusion perpetua (imprisonment from 20-40 years) after being found guilty of masterminding the gruesome rape-slay of UP student Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her fellow student Allan Gomez.

How can Sanchez, after serving only 24 years of what should potentially be a 280-year sentence, be up for release? Should not the fact that he was convicted of a heinous crime disqualify him from receiving any form of reprieve or reduction of sentence?

The first point that must be understood is that despite multiple 20-40 year sentences, Sanchez was never going to be imprisoned for 280 years due to Article 70 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). The provision contains the so-called “three-fold rule” which goes as follows:

“Notwithstanding the provisions of the rule next preceding, the maximum duration of the convict’s sentence shall not be more than three-fold the length of time corresponding to the most severe of the penalties imposed upon him. No other penalty to which he may be liable shall be inflicted after the sum total of those imposed equals the same maximum period.

Such maximum period shall in no case exceed forty years.”

Restated simply, if a person is sentenced to multiple prison terms the total period of actual imprisonment cannot exceed either 1) three times the longest sentence, or 2) forty (40) years.

Given this maximum, Sanchez’ early release is being justified under the terms of RA 10592, a 2013 law which, in turn, amends the RPC provisions on computing what are called “good conduct time allowances.” Simply put, a good conduct time allowance (GCTA) is a reduction in the period of the original sentence granted to a convicted prisoner – a person deprived of liberty (PDL) in contemporary parlance – per month of “good behavior” while detained.

RA 10592 substantially increased the number of days “credited” to a PDL for each month of good behavior, thus allowing for a shortening of the period for actual service of sentence. While the original implementing rules for the law intended that the expanded GCTA would only apply to PDLs convicted after the new law took effect, a 2014 Supreme Court decision applied the benefits retroactively, that is, even to PDLs convicted prior to its 2013 effectivity.

It must be noted that under RA 10592, there is no exclusion provided for those convicted of heinous crimes or those serving sentences of reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, unlike in other laws such as the Indeterminate Sentence Law (ISL or Act 4103) which provides for early release through parole. To clarify, parole under the ISL and GCTA under RA 10592 are completely distinct and follow different rules and procedures.

And while there are a number of social media posts that claim that Section 1 of RA 10592 excludes application of GCTA benefits to those convicted of heinous crimes, this is, unfortunately, a misreading of the statute. Section 1 amends Article 27 of the RPC which refers to crediting of the period served for preventive detention. GCTA is however provided for under Section 3 which amends Article 97 of the RPC and which, notably, does not contain the same exclusion, and on the contrary, explicitly applies to “any convicted prisoner in any penal institution, rehabilitation or detention center or any other local jail.”

So this leads us to the question: Is Mayor Sanchez entitled to the benefits provided under the revised RA 10592 for good conduct time allowance?

Under the law, good conduct time allowance (GCTA) is allowed under the following circumstances:

“Section 3. Article 97 of the same Act is hereby further amended to read as follows:

“ART. 97. Allowance for good conduct. – The good conduct of any offender qualified for credit for preventive imprisonment pursuant to Article 29 of this Code, or of any convicted prisoner in any penal institution, rehabilitation or detention center or any other local jail shall entitle him to the following deductions from the period of his sentence:

“1. During the first two years of imprisonment, he shall be allowed a deduction of twenty days for each month of good behaviour during detention;

“2. During the third to the fifth year, inclusive, of his imprisonment, he shall be allowed a reduction of twenty-three days for each month of good behaviour during detention;

“3. During the following years until the tenth year, inclusive, of his imprisonment, he shall be allowed a deduction of twenty-five days for each month of good behaviour during detention;

“4. During the eleventh and successive years of his imprisonment, he shall be allowed a deduction of thirty days for each month of good behaviour during detention; and

“5. At any time during the period of imprisonment, he shall be allowed another deduction of fifteen days, in addition to numbers one to four hereof, for each month of study, teaching or mentoring service time rendered.”

Based purely on his sentence and the time of conviction, and taking into account the terms of the law and the Supreme Court decision applying it retroactively, he would appear to qualify.

However — and this is a big and extremely significant however — it must be emphasized that the operative term which permeates the spirit behind the law is the term “for good behavior during detention.” Under Section 4 of Rule V of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the RA 10592, GCTA shall be granted for good behavior under one condition, which is:

The BUCOR, BJMP and Provincial Jails shall give special considerations to satisfactory behaviour of a detention or convicted prisoner consisting of active involvement in rehabilitation programs, productive participation in authorized work activities or accomplishment of exemplary deeds. It is understood that in all instances, the detained or convicted prisoner must faithfully obey all prison/jail rules and regulations.

And what are included in these violations of prison rules and regulations? The answers may be found in the Uniform Manual on Time Allowances and Service of Sentence, which was issued through Joint Department Circular (DOJ and the DILG) No. 001, dated October 10, 2017. Under Sec. 3, Chapter 5 of the Uniform Manual, prison violations shall deprive the prisoner of the benefits of the GCTA. The section lists 49 possible prison violations, including: (28) Keeping unauthorized amount of money, jewelry, cellular phones or other communications devices, luxurious properties and other items classified as contraband under the rules; (32) Receiving, keeping, taking or drinking liquor or prohibited drugs and smoking; and (46) Committing an act which is in violation of any law or ordinance.

It is in this light that we must now take into account reports that illegal drugs where discovered in the cell of Sanchez in 2006 and 2010, and that in 2015, a clearly unauthorized flat screen TV was also found in his cell. These clear violations of the Uniform Manual call into serious question the determination by the Bureau of Corrections that Sanchez was entitled to GCTA based on good behavior during detention. For how can one commit such egregious violations of the rules, including the actual crime of possession of illegal drugs and still be considered as having displayed “good behavior?”

These incidents certainly deserve a definitive investigation by the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, as contained in Senate Resolution No. 106 filed by the Hon. Franklin Drilon. If the convictions are final and executory, and if the incidents of illegal drugs are proven to be true, then there is sufficient legal basis to deny good conduct time allowance under RA 10592, its implementing rules, and the Uniform Manual on Time Allowance and Service of Sentence.

Anything less than a thorough investigation will only bolster the pervasive, and justified, sentiment that Sanchez, with the connivance of the authorities, is literally being allowed to get away with murder.

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