Drilon, Sotto question basis for possible release of ex-Mayor Sanchez

Robie de Guzman   •   August 22, 2019   •   782

Senate President Vicente Sotto III (L) and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon (R)

MANILA, Philippines – The possible early release from jail of former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was convicted for rape and murder of two students in the 1990s, has sparked outrage among the public including several senators.

Sanchez was sentenced in 1995 to seven terms of reclusion perpetua (or 40 years of imprisonment) over the rape and murder of Eileen Sarmenta, and the murder of her companion Allan Gomez.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) earlier said Sanchez might soon walk free due to a 2013 law that increased good conduct time allowance (GCTA) and a Supreme court ruling last June applying this law retroactively.

The application of good conduct time allowance, which reduces the years and days spent in jail has been stated in the Philippine Revised Penal Code.

But under the Republic Act 10592 signed by then President Benigno S. Aquino III in May 2013, the periods that may be credited for good conduct to inmates was expanded.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who was the country’s justice secretary during Sanchez’s conviction, said he was shocked and saddened by the news and questioned the applicability of the new GCTA rule to Sanchez.

READ: Drilon seeks Senate probe on reduced sentence of convicted rapist ex-Mayor Sanchez

Drilon cited the allegations of possession of illegal drugs against Sanchez in 2006 when a prison guard found a packet of shabu and marijuana in his jail cell. In 2010, he was again caught with P1.5 million worth of shabu.

Five years after, authorities seized an air conditioning unit and a television set from his cell.

“Ang balita ay involved siya sa drug trade sa Muntinlupa. Paano naman siya nagkaroon ng allowance for conduct of good behavior? Ang balita pa natin ay mayroon siyang aircon sa kaniyang kulungan. Paano naman naging good conduct ito?” Drilon said.

“Is Mayor Sanchez really qualified under RA 10592? This is a question of fact, so it is best for the Department of Justice to put on hold its decision until these issues are resolved,” he added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III echoed Drilon’s sentiments.

“Possession of illegal drugs is good behavior?” he asked.

Both senators warned the Bureau of Corrections and the Bureau of Pardon and Parole to carefully compute sentence reduction of Sanchez and the thousands of other inmates who may be eligible for early release under the new rule.

“Kapag sila ay hindi nag-comply sa law o nagkaroon ng maling computation they can be subject to one year imprisonment, P100,000 fine and perpetual disqualification from office pati sa mga nagko-compute ng mali aba ay mananagot pa sila,” Sotto said.

“Kung talagang ipipilit nila, I would assist the Sarmenta family to bring the case before the regular courts. Iku-question natin ang exercise of the discretion to release Antonio Sanchez,” Drilon said.

The two senators have filed separate resolutions calling on their colleagues to probe into the sentence reduction of Sanchez, and amend the provision of the Republic Act 10592 to exclude from the granting of pardon and parole those who were found guilty of committing heinous crimes.

“Basta’t classified na heinous crimes hindi dapat mag-qualify, dapat reclusion perpetua ka tutal ayaw nyo ng death penalty sige reclusion perpetua ka. You die in your cell,” Sotto said. (RRD with details from Grace Casin)

Drilon, Lacson urge DOH to drop proposed P11.7-B fund for contact tracing, adopt other effective solutions

Robie de Guzman   •   June 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon called on the Department of Health (DOH) to be resourceful in its contact tracing and to drop its proposed P11.7 billion funding for the hiring of 130,000 individuals for the project.

In a statement on Tuesday, Drilon said government agencies should exercise prudent judgment in the use of public funds in consideration of the country’s growing budget deficit due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

“Mag-ingat po tayo sa paggasta ng pera ng taumbayan lalo sa panahon ng krisis,” Drilon said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Given the increasing budget deficit, which is projected to reach P1.56 trillion or 8.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product this year, this P11.7 billion should better be put to good use,” he added.

Drilon also backed Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s call to the DOH to divert the fund for contact tracing to the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

He said the health agency should stop insisting on its plan when it can find other ways “to do contact tracing without hurting the government coffers.”

The senator reiterated his proposal for the DOH to tap around 400,000 barangay health workers and parent-leaders from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program to carry out contact tracing to save the government huge amount of money.

“Since they are already organized, they can be quickly mobilized as contact tracers,” he said.

“Our objective to prevent the virus from spreading is based on our ability to efficiently identify the infected and notify those he or she has made contact with. Hence, contact tracing is a must and should never be neglected,” he added.

Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo Lacson urged the DOH to adopt cheap, yet effective contact tracing solutions of local government units (LGU).

He cited for example the LGU of Carmona, Cavite which developed an app that can track users’ location history using a mobile phone’s GPS. It also allows uses to log interactions with other people and do self-assessment if they experience symptoms.

“In just a few days of implementation, the local government has already signed up 42,000 out of the municipality’s 97,557 residents,” Lacson said.

“For those without smartphones, the local government’s barangay and police personnel can input the information for them,” he added.

The senator also cited Baguio City’s contact tracing scheme, which relies on the geographical information system platform to plot the areas where possible COVID-19 carriers live

“With these technologies, we can potentially save P11.7 billion being asked by the Department of Health for contact tracers. I share Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s sentiment that there are more practical uses for the amount,” he said, noting that the budget could be used for livelihood programs for those severely affected by community quarantine triggered by the COVID-19 crisis.

The DOH earlier said it is planning to hire more than 95,000 contact tracers to meet the World Health Organization’s recommended ratio of one tracer in every 800 people.

The proposed fund will be used to hire these contact tracers for three months.

Suspension of VFA abrogation won’t affect senators’ SC petition, Drilon says

Robie de Guzman   •   June 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday lauded the decision of the Philippine government to suspend the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

“This sudden policy change is a welcome development. The unhampered implementation of the VFA will serve the interest of our country, particularly with regard to the preservation of our rights over parts of the West Philippine Sea,” Drilon said in a statement.

He said the “abrupt” abrogation of the VFA as ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte last February – which was done amid the increasing aggressiveness and bullying of China – was “disadvantageous” to the country.

“What the country truly needs is a stable foreign policy that promotes our interest,” he added.

Drilon, however, said this development will not affect the Senate’s petition, urging the Supreme Court to rule on the upper chamber’s role in the withdrawal of international treaties.

“This turnaround does not affect the case that we filed before the Supreme Court. The petition we filed is for declaratory relief and mandamus where we asked the Supreme Court to uphold the power of the Senate over treaty termination,” he said,

“The fact that the VFA is reinstated will not render our case moot and academic. The case stands,” he added.

On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., said the Philippine government has informed the US government of its intent to suspend for six months the termination of the military accord “upon the instruction of the president” and “in light of political and other developments in the region.”

Sotto backs shift of NCR to modified ECQ, says rushing back to ‘old normal’ will be reckless

Robie de Guzman   •   May 12, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday welcomed the decision of the government to place high-risk areas under modified enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

In a statement, Sotto expressed his belief that the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to shift some areas into modified ECQ was based on recommendations made by experts who have been on top of the public health crisis.

“I am confident that the recommendations given to him were the result of intelligent discussions that were based on solid data provided by authorities on the ground,” he said.

While he acknowledged that many people, especially in the National Capital Region (NCR), are yearning to return to their jobs and start earning income again, Sotto said it would best “if we all proceed on the side of caution and not throw away the gains of our sacrifices for almost two months.”

“I understand their concerns about losing their work and being unable to provide for the basic needs of their families,” he said.

“Rushing back to the ‘old’ normal, or even just a semblance of it, will be reckless. It will expose majority of our people to the continuing threat of the infectious novel coronavirus and open the gates for a second wave, which could be more vicious and difficult to handle,” he added.

Earlier in the day, the government announced that areas with high-risk for COVID-19 will be placed under modified ECQ starting May 16 until May 31.

These areas include Metro Manila, Laguna and Cebu City.

The entire island of Luzon had been placed under ECQ from March 17 to April 30. Some areas, including Metro Manila, were then placed under an extended community quarantine until May 15.

Under a modified ECQ, 50% of the workforce and operations of selected manufacturing and processing plants will be allowed to resume. Transportation will remain limited for essential goods and services.

Sotto said the downgrade of many areas to a general community quarantine will be a challenge for everyone to be more responsible individuals, and to care for the welfare of the public.

“Ngayon natin makikita ang disiplina at responsibilidad ng bawat isa sa atin,” he said.

“Walang sinuman sa atin ang gustong bumalik ulit sa ECQ. Nakasalalay sa ating lahat ang success o failure ng ating laban kontra COVID-19,” he added.

As of May 11, the Philippines has recorded 11,086 confirmed cases with 1,999 recovered patients and 726 deaths.

Most of these cases were reported in Metro Manila.

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