Panelo denies hand in looming release of ex-mayor convicted of students' murder, rape

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 21) — President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesperson and chief legal counsel Sal Panelo on Wednesday denied he was involved in the impending release of his former client, ex-Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez — a convicted rapist and murderer.

Panelo was among Sanchez's defense lawyers during the 1993 trial of the rape-slay of 21-year-old University of the Philippines Los Baños student Mary Eileen Sarmenta and the killing of her friend 19-year-old Allan Gomez.

He said allegations that he is involved in Sanchez's impending release is far-fetched.

"Mukhang masyadong malayo naman 'yun. Twenty-seven years ago pa ako abogado noon. Nag-withdraw na ako. Even before the appeal, nag-withdraw na ako," he said.

[Translation: That was a very long time ago. That was 27 years ago when I was a lawyer. I withdrew even before the appeal.]

In 1995, the Supreme Court found Sanchez and six others guilty of seven counts of rape with homicide. They were sentenced to seven terms of reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years of imprisonment.

Sanchez, who has only served 26 years in prison, will be one of the thousands of inmates and detainees who will benefit from the law increasing good conduct time allowance (GCTA) and a Supreme Court decision in July that applies the same law retroactively. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the former mayor is eligible to avail of the reduced jail term.

"That benefits lahat ng mga nakakulong na preso ngayon kaya isa sa mga magbe-benefit doon ay si Mayor Sanchez daw kasi matagal na rin siyang nakulong. Pati siya mae-entitle doon sa computation ng GCTA," he said in a text message to reporters on Wednesday.

[Translation: That benefits everyone who is incarcerated and one of them is Mayor Sanchez because he has been in jail for a long time. He is entitled to the computation of the GCTA.]

He also cleared Panelo of any involvement in the development.

"The matter of computation of GCTAs is therefore purely ministerial. I have no reason to believe that the intervention of any person, including Sec. Panelo, will be necessary," he said.

Guevarra estimates that Sanchez and other qualified prisoners will be released within the next two months. He said the Bureau of Corrections said the release will be on a "first in, first out" basis, starting with the processing the records of inmates and detainees from as far as 1993.

"New Bilibid Prison records on good conduct of PDLs (Persons Deprived of Liberty) had been in existence before the Supreme Court issued its ruling on retroactivity of GCTAs last June," the secretary said.

Guevarra said everyone imprisoned before 2013 is entitled to a recomputation of GCTAs earned, if any.

"The reduced sentence is a reward for good conduct, not for any other reason," he said.

Meanwhile, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) released a statement Wednesday condemning Sanchez' pending release, saying freeing the former mayor was "unacceptable and totally deplorable."

The VACC counts among its members, the families of victims of heinous crimes.

"If they implement this law, then we call on Congress to give victims an alternative, let them reinstate the death penalty for heinous crime offenders," they said.

CNN Philippines' Ina Andolong and Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.