By Beting Laygo Dolor
Contributing Editor

The judge who convicted former Calauan, Laguna mayor Antonio Sanchez of rape and murder says President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman should resign.

The reason? Retired judge Harriet Demetriou said it was “impossible” that Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo was not involved in the plan to grant early release to Sanchez despite the convict’s being disqualified.

Salvador was one of the lawyers of Sanchez when the former mayor was convicted of raping and killing University of the Philippines-Los Banos student Eileen Sarmenta. Sanchez was also convicted in ordering Sarmenta’s companion and fellow UPLB student Allan Gomez’s death.

According to Demetriou, “It is impossible that Panelo didn’t maneuver the decision to favor his former client, given his position in the Duterte administration.”

The retired judge said she was sure Panelo was involved in the aborted release of the controversial mayor. The presidential spokesman, she said, “was loyal to Sanchez…even until now.”

Demetriou said Congress should investigate Panelo, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Chief Nicolas Faeldon, and freshman Sen. Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa, who served as BuCor chief after retiring as head of the Philippine National Police.

The trio, according to Demetriou, should be probed for their involvement and intentionally twisting the interpretation of Republic Act 10592 or the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law.

That law has since been suspended on the order of President Duterte.

For his part, Panelo said he resigned as Sanchez’s counsel after his conviction in 1995, adding that he had not seen his former client since.

He also said that he had absolutely nothing to do with the attempt to grant early release to his former client.

According to Sanchez’s family, the order for the former mayor’s release had been signed last August 20. They showed to media last week a copy of that order, signed by Faeldon.

After having already served 25 years in the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City, Sanchez continues to deny involvement in the crime, even swearing on his grandchildren’s life.

Speaking to media in the vernacular, Demetriou addressed Sanchez: “You’ve said that before, when we were trying the case, that you are innocent, swearing on your family’s life.”

Swearing on one’s family did not prove his innocence, the retired judge said.

Further, the Supreme Court had affirmed her ruling “in full,” she said.

The only exception was the amount in damages, which the high tribunal increased from Demetriou’s PHP3 million award to the Sarmenta and Gomez families, to PHP4 million.

While trying the case, Demetriou said Sanchez had sent an emissary to offer her PHP30 million to find the mayor innocent of the charges against him.

Demetriou sentenced Sanchez to seven life terms, with the law considering 40 years as the maximum time to be served under a life sentence. Sanchez is serving the seven life terms on a concurrent basis.

Under the GCTA law, prisoners convicted of heinous crimes are not covered. Moreover, Sanchez has been caught in possession of shabu and marijuana inside his prison cell on at least two occasions, further disqualifying him from availing of early release.

Originally, the Justice department said that Sanchez was one of around 11,000 prisoners to be released under the GCTA law.

While Duterte has ordered the suspension of the GCTA law for an indefinite period, at least one senator is seeking to amend the law.

Sen. Sonny Angara said there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the law but that it only needed some fine tuning. Specifically, Angara wants the families of the victims to be informed of the pending release of the convicts who killed or raped members of their family.

The now controversial law was passed due to the overcrowding of the country’s prisons.