Former Calauan, Laguna mayor Antonio Sanchez will remain in prison where he is serving seven life terms for the 1993 multiple rape and murder of University of the Philippines student Mary Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her fellow student Allan Gomez, after an audacious attempt to release him for alleged good behavior failed.

Incensed reactions from the relatives of the victims and the public prompted  President Rodrigo Duterte to declare Sanchez was not qualified to benefit from the good conduct time allowance law that allows a reduction of a convict’s sentence for good behavior. Until DU30 intervened, the complicit media seemed certain Sanchez, whose brutal crime first shook the nation 26 years ago, would walk home free. Unconfirmed reports even spoke of Sanchez being seen by some in Calauan where he reportedly plans to reenter politics upon his release.

The news had such a wrenching effect upon the murdered girl’s relatives, especially her mother, who had been heard to say it’s like living through her daughter’s rape and murder all over again. She had tried to escape the pain by shutting off her mind the cruel and inhuman details of the crime, but everything came back to torture her again after she heard of the possible release of the rapist-murderer.

No one has raised the constitutional propriety of DU30’s intervention—does the President have the authority to intervene, or shouldn’t he have left it to the high court to issue the proper ruling?  But his action has reversed all speculations about Sanchez’s impending walk to freedom. DU30 has won some badly needed applause for his intervention, but it has not prevented certain sources from asking: was there an actual proposal to release Sanchez for good behavior? If so, who initiated such proposal?

Or, did someone merely float a “trial balloon” to test if public opinion would support releasing Sanchez  at this time?  Under this theory, Sanchez would have walked home free if the reaction of the victims’ relatives and the public had been more subdued or benign. Only because they demanded “justice though the heavens fall,” was policeman-senator Bato de la Rosa compelled to switch with lightning speed from “everyone deserves a second chance” into the distinctly draconian—Sanchez “should have been hanged!”

For his part DU30 was pleased to ride on the wave of public indignation and declare Sanchez  was not qualified to be freed “for good behavior.”  Still, this does not dispose of the question, “who originally proposed the shortening of Sanchez’s seven-life terms’ sentence?”  If it was merely a trial balloon, as many suspect it was, who floated such a balloon? This is the first point the House committee on Justice, which is investigating the case, upon motion of Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr., should try to determine.

Some analysts think we may have to enlist the services of the President’s legal adviser and spokesman Salvador Panelo in this matter, for obvious reasons.  Panelo has admitted serving as Sanchez’s lawyer for a time. No one is suggesting he was the one who floated the balloon, but he may be in a vantage position to help solve the puzzle. We cannot be made to believe this was all a self-propelled, unsourced, speculation. The story could not have reached the front pages of the newspapers and primetime TV without being moved  by the usual movers.

In fact, the reports on Sanchez’s impending release fit into the administration’s usual manner of announcing things it intends to do before actually doing them. Except, in this case, public anger intervened and frustrated the intended release. There is no proof, however, that there was no attempt to release Sanchez before smoldering public temper prevented it.

Some media analysts are convinced the Sanchez controversy was actually timed to coincide with DU30’s fifth visit to China, whose details have not been easily accessible to the media. I do not buy this theory, for the simple reason that the China visit is too big an event, and spans several days. However it appears wrapped in mystery. Until a few days ago,  even the Philippine embassy in Beijing seemed to be in the dark about it.

DU30 and Xi Jinping seem determined to enter into agreements between themselves alone, without the full participation of their respective governments. One example of this the supposed agreement between the two presidents on fishing rights, which DU30 mentioned in a statement before his last State of the Nation Address (SONA). Secret agreements are the exact opposite of the Wilsonian doctrine of “open covenants openly arrived at,” which has become the standard for negotiations between legitimate governments.

This could pose no problem for Xi who is China’s president for life, and chairman of the Central Military Commission who exercises greater powers than the President. But DU30 is not authorized by the Constitution to enter into such private agreements. Under the Constitution, all international agreements, to be binding on the Philippines, must be ratified by the Executive with the concurrence of the Senate.

In my view, there is no need to conflate the Sanchez issue with the China visit. Both are capable of generating their own individual mischiefs.