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Talk of ‘good mayor’s’ return puts Calauan back in news

DUMPING GROUNDS The bodies of Antonio Sanchez’s victims were found separately in Calauan town: Eileen Sarmenta’s remains were recovered at Sitio Paputok, Kilometer 74 in Barangay Mabacan (left), while Allan Gomez’s corpse was found at Barangay Imok. —PHOTOS BY NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

CALAUAN, LAGUNA—This town in Laguna that sits in the shadow of its neighboring cities and of the nearby university town of Los Baños is back in the news.

Bad news: The convicted mastermind for the brutal murders of University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) senior students Allan Gomez and Eileen Sarmenta, Antonio Sanchez, a former mayor of Calauan, may walk free after serving only 26 years of his sentence of seven life terms.

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The government announced earlier this week that Sanchez would be eligible for parole by applying to him a law that would reduce his sentence for good conduct.

Sanchez, now 73 and many times had to be taken from his cell at New Bilibid Prison to the Asian Medical Center in Muntinlupa City for checkup, reportedly had shown good conduct in prison.

“It’s just unfortunate that people are talking about Calauan again but for this reason,” said a female resident, who refused to be named for security reasons.

“But [Sanchez] has not even served a single life term yet,” protested another resident, who only wanted to be identified as Noy, 54.

Killing field

A group of residents in remote Barangay Mabacan led the Inquirer on Thursday to an open field, recently planted with pechay seeds.

It was here, back in June 1993, where a sugarcane farmworker found the half-naked Sarmenta, her face shattered by bullets, slumped on the vehicle of Gomez.

The farmworker has long been dead and sugarcane is no longer a primary crop of Calauan, yet residents remember stories just as grim whenever farmers dig up bodies or body parts in the field.

“There were not as many houses around here before and they said this was where they would dump the bodies,” said Jason Majora, 31.

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“We still get scared at night sometimes because they said the ghosts [of the people buried here] still roam around,” Majora said.

It is common knowledge in the town that Sanchez allegedly had a small private army that turned Mabacan into a killing field.

“But the only ones that Mayor [Sanchez] wanted dead were ‘shabu’ (crystal meth) pushers who stubbornly kept doing their business here,” said a source who worked for Sanchez even before the murders of Gomez and Sarmenta.

“Just a tip: If Mayor [Sanchez] had a hand [in the students’ murders], they wouldn’t have found the bodies,” he added.

The ditch

About 5 kilometers from Mabacan is Barangay Imok, an uphill village at the boundary of Calauan and San Pablo City.

On a roadside ditch was where Gomez’s body was found.

“My uncle who was then preparing his horses was the first to see Gomez’s body. [Gomez] had a bullet wound on the head, his brain was splattered on the ground,” said a male resident, who refused to give his name.

“I hope he doesn’t get out [of prison],” he said, referring to Sanchez.

The source who worked for Sanchez insisted that the ex-mayor was only framed for the students’ murders.

He said he was with the then mayor on the night Gomez and Sarmenta were abducted near the UPLB campus.

“[Sanchez] told us to work on repainting [something] for ‘jueteng’ before he left to stay with Ma’am Elvie,” the source said.

Elvie, now in her 60s, is Sanchez’s partner. The mayor and his wife, Editha, separated.

The farm

Elvie now lives on a property at Barangay Lamut 2. On Thursday, a caretaker told the Inquirer that Elvie was resting from several nights of traveling to Bilibid in hopes of bringing Sanchez home.

“[Elvie] seemed sad, hasn’t eaten yet. Maybe because they were all expecting [Sanchez] would already be released, but still had not been,” the caretaker said.

Not very far from Elvie’s residence is the family’s 30-hectare farm and the mayor’s rest house named Erais.

The farm was formerly named “7A Farm,” after the mayor and his children, whose names all started with the letter “A.”

“[The prosecution] said Allan was beaten up about 15 meters from the rest house, but look, it’s just right next to the road,” a caretaker said.

He also said the rest house, where the students were reportedly taken and Sarmenta raped, was made of nipa, the walls too thin they should have heard her scream.

A ‘good’ mayor

In Baranagay Kanluran is a property where Sanchez used to  receive guests in a three-story house.

The gate, now rusty but still showing the number “7” in metal, is kept closed most of the time.

Resident Celing de la Cruz, 81, said she owed Sanchez a lot, as he had paid for her debts.

Sanchez also once lent his own son’s clothes to her son for his graduation because they did not have money.

“Maybe it’s time people forgive,” De la Cruz said.

Like many other residents interviewed by the Inquirer, De la Cruz said Sanchez was a “good” mayor because he did them many favors, including paying for the coffins and burial of family members who had died.

“He didn’t choose. Just go and ask him for help,” a tricycle driver said, adding that Sanchez usually gave away money.

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