Warning: This article contains some graphic depictions of rape and violence.
For the past few weeks, a seemingly forgotten nightmare case from the early ‘90s has reemerged. All this was triggered by R.A. 10592, enacted in 2013 by Benigno Aquino III to reduce sentences based on good behavior.
It might just be the key to the freedom of a convicted rapist and murderer.
Who is Antonio Sanchez?
“A plot seemingly hatched in hell”
That was the phrase used by the Supreme Court to describe the crimes committed by former Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez in 1993. During an already existing trial for his murder of a political opponent’s supporter and his son, Sanchez devised the plot to kidnap, rape, and murder the UP Los Baños students Mary Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez.
The plan was premeditated by Sanchez and six of his men, also members of the PNP of Calauan. These men were then-PNP Deputy Chief George Medialdea, Zoila Ama, Baldwin Brio, Pepito Kawit, and the Corcolon brothers Luis and Rogelio.
Sarmenta and Gomez were taken by Sanchez’s men from inside of UPLB’s campus. The two were in a van when they were taken which was used along with an ambulance to bring them to Sanchez’s Erais Farm. That is where the vile crimes took place.
The two students were immediately brought to Sanchez’s rest house, and Sarmenta was presented to then Mayor Sanchez as a gift. She was sent to Sanchez’s room bound and gagged, while Gomez was beat then tossed outside.
After hours, Sanchez thanked his men for their “gift” and instructed them to do whatever they wanted with her. A traumatized Sarmenta and barely alive Gomez were loaded back into their van and followed by Sanchez’s men in an ambulance. Gomez was left on a road where he was killed by a gunshot to his head. His body was left there to be found.
Sarmenta, however, suffered a worse fate. Still bound by her hands and feet in the back of the van, the six men took turns raping her. Another conspirator, Aurelio Centeno, was also present during the crimes but refused to take part in the rape of Sarmenta.
Sarmenta died begging for her life and suffering from a shot wound in the mouth. Centeno was ordered to get rid of her body. The men left in the getaway ambulance and left Sarmenta’s body is the van, showing confidence in getting away with what they did.
The two students’ bodies were found the next day.
How was the case handled?
After 16 months in court, Sanchez, Medialdea, Brio, Alma, Kawit, Luis, and Rogelio were finally sentenced to reclusion perpetua. Sanchez was sentenced nine terms while his men were sentenced seven.
Reclusion perpetua is a type of sentence in the Philippines, meaning “permanent imprisonment.” Unlike lifetime imprisonment, it is fixed at 40 years and does not allow parole or pardon until the first 30 years of the sentence has been served.
The conclusion of the trial depended on the accounts of Aurelio Centeno and Vincencio Malabanan who were both co-conspirators that became witnesses for the state. They described the events and admitted to taking part in the kidnapping of the victims but denied involvement in the rape and murders.
Is Sanchez really eligible for a shorter sentence or early release?
According to the DOJ, Antonio Sanchez may be among 11,000 inmates who are eligible for an early release because of R.A. 10952. It increases the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) given to inmates. However based on the way Sanchez has acted in prison, he shouldn’t be considered for a shorter sentence at all.
Since his imprisonment in 1995, there have been multiple incidents that point to Sanchez showing no signs of remorse for the crimes he’s committed or reform of his character.
He has been caught with the possession of illegal contraband in his cell including 1.5 million pesos worth of shabu. He also tested positive for the use of illegal drugs. Aside from the drug use, Sanchez also had an air conditioner, flat screen TV, and refrigerator inside his prison cell in Bilibid’s Maximum Security Compound.
There are so many points against him that it is outrageous that Sanchez was even considered for a possible early release or a shorter sentence. His heinous crimes and behavior in prison show that he is someone who deserves to spend the rest of his life in jail.
What has the public said about this?
Since it was reported that Sanchez’s sentence might be lessened by R.A, 10592, the public reacted with sadness and anger. Even local celebrities have voiced out their thoughts on the Sanchez case, expressing their disappointment towards the possible release of Sanchez.
The relatives of Mary Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez have also come out with statements regarding the news that claimed Antonio Sanchez had exhibited “good behavior.”
“We were shocked when we learned that he is a candidate for release. As far as we know, it’s supposed to be channeled through the board. If he has a petition for parole, we should have been notified.” said Sarmenta’s mother, Ma. Clara Sarmenta.
The public has also started an online petition which demands that the DOJ stop the release of Sanchez. As of writing, the petition has garnered 134,916 signatures. Not only does it urge the DOJ to stop his release but it also petitions to make sure that Sanchez serves his full sentence.
What can an ordinary citizen do?
As the youth of the Philippines, the best thing you can do is to register to vote for the 2020 polls.
The reason why Antonio Sanchez was able to do what he did is because he abused his position in power. It is time to put worthy people in office. People who use their power to help the country, not abuse its citizens. It is time to put people who won’t let these atrocities slide. It is time to elect worthy officials who will protect us.