The good con­duct test

Sun Star Bacolod - - Opinion -

AN­TO­NIO Sanchez was 47 and the town mayor of Calauan, La­guna on the night he raped Mary Eileen Sar­menta and then handed her over to his men. Sar­menta was 21. Her friend Al­lan Gomez was 19. Time stopped for Sar­menta and Gomez that night in June 1993. One of the mayor’s aides later tes­ti­fied that

Sar­menta, af­ter be­ing raped in the back of a van by six of the mayor’s men, begged them to spare her life. They gagged her and shot her in the head. They had got­ten rid of Gomez ear­lier. They beat him up, hit him with the butt of an au­to­matic ri­fle, and on their way to the vil­lage where they raped Sar­menta, they dragged him out of the van and shot him. A few hours be­fore that, Gomez and Sar­menta had sat in­side a Ta­ma­raw van, and what they talked or thought about, no one can hon­estly claim to know now. And then Sanchez’s

men came for them.

In the 24 years that he has been im­pris­oned for this case, Sanchez was mostly for­got­ten, ex­cept for the oc­ca­sional men­tions in news re­ports, doc­u­men­taries and one movie, now also for­got­ten. This Thurs­day, Sept. 12, it will be ex­actly 26 years since Sanchez first told the court he was in­no­cent. The idea that Sanchez nearly walked out of jail 19 days ago dis­gusts a lot of peo­ple be­cause his story was that rare thing: proof that even the wealthy and well­con­nected can be made to pay for their crimes. Sanchez

has served 24 years out of a po­ten­tial 40, and he was not

sup­posed to walk out un­til the year he’ll turn 89. Now, this is not the only ques­tion we can ask about the con­tro­versy that again sur­rounds the con­victed rapist and mur­derer, but it is the most per­sonal one: Do you be­lieve that per­sons, no mat­ter how heinously they’ve acted in the past, can change for the bet­ter?

Let’s be clear. I don’t think Sanchez de­serves early re­lease based on the Good Con­duct Time Al­lowance Law. Early re­lease on good be­hav­ior isn’t sup­posed to be avail­able to per­sons who’ve been con­victed at least twice. Apart from his con­vic­tion in the Sar­menta-gomez case, Sanchez was also con­victed of the mur­ders of Nel­son and Rick­son Peñalosa, a father and son who had cho­sen to sup­port one of the mayor’s po­lit­i­cal ri­vals.

You would need to have an ex­tremely for­giv­ing def­i­ni­tion of good be­hav­ior to ap­ply it to some­one who, at least twice, had been al­legedly found in pos­ses­sion of il­le­gal drugs while be­hind bars—in­clud­ing a batch con­cealed in­side an im­age of the Vir­gin Mary.

The rules for ap­ply­ing good con­duct time al­lowances are strict. In a man­ual the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion’s jus­tice and in­te­rior de­part­ments had writ­ten, in­mates couldn’t qual­ify for good be­hav­ior dur­ing any month when they com­mit­ted any of 49 mis­de­meanors, which in­clude loi­ter­ing and “mak­ing friv­o­lous or ground­less com­plaints.”

But while Sanchez may not qual­ify for early re­lease on good be­hav­ior, surely some of the 11,000 in­di­vid­u­als (by the correction­s bureau’s es­ti­mate) de­serve it. Think of the de­tainees whose cases dragged for years be­cause they couldn’t af­ford a good lawyer or lacked use­ful con­nec­tions to for­mer first ladies and pres­i­den­tial ap­pointees. Think of the de­tainees who may have been caught as fall guys, tak­ing the place of other may­ors who vi­o­lated the law as Sanchez did.

When Repub­lic Act 10592 be­came a law six years ago, the hope was that it would de­con­gest the coun­try’s over­crowded pris­ons and, more im­por­tantly, give re­formed de­tainees and pris­on­ers a sec­ond chance. As naïve as it sounds now, it was a state­ment of faith in each in­di­vid­ual’s abil­ity to change and to re­pair the harm he or she has done.

In­stead, what con­fronts us now is the pos­si­bil­ity that the pub­lic’s out­rage will gather more sup­port for restor­ing the death penalty, never mind the lack of ev­i­dence that it brings down mur­der and homi­cide rates. Who­ever tried to bend the rules in Sanchez’s fa­vor ac­com­plished that. He or she has also con­demned thou­sands of oth­ers who prob­a­bly do de­serve early re­lease on good be­hav­ior and sin­cere change.*

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