Trigger warning: This article contains details of rape.
In today’s episode of How Fucked Up Is Our Justice System?: Antonio Sanchez, the convicted murderer of two University of the Philippines Los Baños students back in 1993, is set to taste some sweet, sweet freedom after approximately 24 years in jail.
What is this? Black Mirror: Philippines?
Read more: Why women freeze when they get harassed
In case you haven’t heard, here’s a quick recap: Antonio Sanchez is the former mayor of Calauan, Laguna. In June 1993, Sanchez’ aide abducted Allan Gomez and his girlfriend Eileen Sarmenta. Sarmenta was later presented as a “gift” to the mayor. After Sanchez raped Sarmenta, the girl was passed on to the aides. They took turns in abusing her, while leaving her boyfriend Gomez lifeless by a gunshot. As if raping Sarmenta wasn’t enough, she was shot in the head with an Armalite after her assault.
Sanchez received a 360-year prison sentence for the heinous crimes. So why, after 24 and a half years of serving their lifetime sentence, are they given a chance to roam as free men? Due to a 2013 law or Republic Act 10592 (Good Conduct Time Allowance) where convicts can lessen their sentences by doing good deeds, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra claimed Sanchez and his co-conspirators might be freed soon.
First of all, what does that mean? Well, Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa tried to define it. According to corrections officers, nagbait na daw [si Sanchez]. In fact, nakikita nila na nagpapalda na nga daw” was the sexist remark of dela Rosa. He used the term “changed man” to describe Sanchez in hopes of grabbing the public’s sympathy.
Pretty ironic how Bato, who’s been wanting to reinstate the death penalty, is the same person trying to cut a 360-year prison sentence of a proven rapist and killer. Not only that, he said Sanchez deserves a “second chance.” Pretty ironic how he isn’t alarmed that a monster like Sanchez will be freed just because he thinks he’s a good noodle. This is the same man caught smuggling shabu inside a Virgin Mary statue while in jail.
So, why does this man deserve our instant forgiveness—as if the victims’ families aren’t traumatized enough?
Is our justice system still designed for convenience? Does it still favor the powerful, taking into account that Salvador Panelo, now our president’s Chief Legal Counsel, was Sanchez’s lawyer in the rape-slay case? If “second chances” are an easy giveaway, then maybe we can look back at the times our system failed to give them to those who deserve it better.
The hungry supermarket clerk
The Inquirer article about this incident opens with “how much does freedom cost?” Back in 2017, a 21-year-old sales clerk named Paul Matthew Tanglao was caught stealing a can of a 31-peso corned beef in the supermarket he was working in. The reason? He was hungry. We’re sure no one wants their freedom to cost P31, but for the poor and the hungry, it may be the only choice. But of course it’s easy for officials to arrest ordinary people. Of course. What could’ve been settled within the premises of the grocery store and a concern that could’ve solved by the store’s management went a little too far here.
The worried 79-year-old man
Another supermarket story involves a 79-year-old man named Ricardo Castro who lives in Tondo, Manila. According to Inquirer, he was “arrested for allegedly stealing a small bag of chocolate worth P36.” Did he mean it? He said he didn’t—he explained that he simply forgot to pay for the chocolate because he was busy worrying about his son who had cancer. Castro even offered to pay for the pack, but the police officers didn’t buy his story and detained him immediately.
Kian Delos Santos
It was two years ago when 17-year-old Grade 11 student Kian Delos Santos was murdered during a drug war operation. “Tama na po! Tama na po! May test pa po ako bukas!” the innocent boy cried, but was he given a chance to speak for his case? No. He wasn’t given a second chance to explain himself, robbing him of the chance to live. And he didn’t even do anything wrong.
All EJK victims
Guns are the antagonists of these narratives, and there are many. One is the story told by Victoria Ramirez who lost her husband Carlito and their only daughter because of the drug war. “We were going to buy some rice and I just ran for cover,” she narrated. “When I turned around, I saw Carlito lying in a pool of blood.” The Human Rights Watch notes that according to unofficial government data, 6,600 children have been killed in the anti-drug operations by Jun. 2019.
Allan Gomez and Eileen Sarmenta
Did they ever get a second chance in living, when they had every right to be? Nope. They were bright, young students who could’ve been living full lives right now. It’s sad to think they were robbed of opportunities just because of misogyny. It might be too late for them to be given a second chance, but at least, give their grieving families some rest.