Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo

MANILA -- Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo denied that he was involved in the possible release of former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was convicted for rape and murder in 1993.

Panelo was part of Sanchez’s legal counsel when he was accused of raping a University of the Philippines Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta and murdering her companion, Allan Gomez.

In 1995, Sanchez was sentenced to seven terms of reclusion perpetua or 20 to 40 years of imprisonment.

In a phone interview with Palace reporters, Panelo said he withdrew from the case before Sanchez appealed his case.

“Wala na ako doon e, nag-withdraw na ako (I am no longer a part of the case, I withdrew) 27 years ago so I don't think I will be in any position to make any comment,” Panelo said.

Panelo, also the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, said he no longer had any communication with Sanchez but was glad to hear about the news that he would soon be set free.

“Matutuwa ang isang abogado na ang kliyente niya 27 years ago ay makakalaya na. Magkakaroon na ng bagong buhay (An lawyer would be happy to know that his client 27 years ago would soon be set free. Would have a new life),” Panelo said.

“I wish him well kagaya ng lahat ng abogado (just like any other lawyer),” he added.

Asked if Sanchez deserved to be released, Panelo said he and the Duterte administration would always abide by the rule of law.

“Kung (if) the law as it is crafted says that all the inmates who are qualified to be released, then that's what the law says and we have to as we always repeatedly say there's a rule of law and we have always to abide by the rule of law,” Panelo said.

Panelo was referring to the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) or Republic Act 10592 which deducts an inmate’s prison sentence due to good behavior.

Panelo, however, said he was unsure whether Sanchez would still have a chance to run as mayor again.

“We have to study that. I think hindi na siya pupuwedeng tumakbo unless meron siyang kagaya ng iba na humingi ng absolute pardon pero kung wala di siya puwede tumakbo (he cannot run unless he has what others have when they ask for absolute pardon but if he doesn’t, he can’t run),” Panelo said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, said Sanchez’s release did not need the approval of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Hindi kailangan ng approval ni (It does not need the approval of) PRRD. NBP/BUCOR (The New Bilibid Prison and/or Bureau of Corrections) will review Sanchez's good conduct time allowances, kung meron (if there is),” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.

“Kung na-serve na nya yung reduced sentence, laya na siya (If he served the reduced sentence, he is free). Eleven thousand PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) may benefit from this law,” he added. (PNA)