Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Prison Officer’s Father


Remembering Tatay


Tatay never knew death, even if at the age of 86, he still exhibited a sharp mind and was aware of the fact that most of his peers had gone in the great beyond. He would still persist on what his mind would unfold and would still keep on dreaming as if in his prime as a young man. Tatay loved to travel. He never knew how to stop and rest. All that matters for him was adventure and more of it. Well, he passed away a couple of years ago, that’s right, at the age of 86, not because of any ailment but because he knew somehow he must rest. He never died actually, he merely rested. I know because every time I walk, I remember the gait of my tatay when walking. Looking at my shadows, even taking a glance at the corridors of malls where large glasses separate customers and display, I could see my father. Whenever I giggle or even laugh, I could hear how my father would let go of that guffaw.

I never actually relish being a clone to my Tatay. As a matter of fact, I try to be his opposite. He was high-strung, I am sober. He mastered several languages and proficient in major ones, I try only to learn one. He was a picture of a studious professor; I try to be a belligerent teacher. He was a model spouse; I am nowhere near his record. He never attempted to learn driving; I drive a motorbike, cars and even trucks. He was always at head of his peers, always alone; I am always with my peers and never lacked a company. He was a deadpan, I am humorous. He was easily drawn to an argument; I am always diplomatic. He tried to be good in music; I overtook him and became a part-time musician. He was an avid radio listener; I went ahead by being a radio broadcaster. He was at the centre of any party; I am always at the sidelines. He never absented himself in any feast day, always at the head of the table brimming with a plateful, well as for me; I eat little and seldom would attend any feast or gathering. In other words, I am nowhere a chip from my Tatay’s block even as viewed in any angle. I would even exude as an absolute negation of my Tatay’s persona.

But not for long. No, I never turned from the way I was. I never even ventured to review my contrasting style with my father. I am a different species and never looked back. As I grow older however, I could sense that my father is slowly appearing on how I carry myself. I may be a bit shy in a gathering but when shove to present, I am there projecting an electrifying personality. I may not be a person salivating and searching for a full meal like Tatay, but I, like Tatay, wanted to eat the tastiest food in town, even if only for a couple of spoonfuls. I could only feel the way Tatay must have felt before. He wanted to be brusque but he never had a chance. While I may not have the same opportunity, I would create one for me. Tatay was impatient, a character I was trying to spare my system. Tatay’s impatience developed into irritability which gave him ulcers and intestinal trouble later in his years. For me, my impatience was rerouted to arts, which gave me skill in sculpture and a steady hand in fine arts. I cannot build a building overnight but I can sketch one in a minute. Just the same, Tatay’s impatience or call it imperfection is deeply carved also in my character.

Tatay never died at all. He is with me all along. As I laugh, he was there actually laughing. His smirk is reflected on my facial distortions too whenever I would react at something absurd. Tatay was fond of walking, I would rather drive a vehicle. But strolling in malls and inspecting, there I was walking and it was actually Tatay as I could see him from reflections in the distance. There was even a visitor who mistook me for Tatay because my posture, voice and even the way I express myself were completely a rehearsal of my father’s gesture. It took me a while to plead that I am the son.

A few months before Tatay passed away, he would always be around in my office. He would even feign anger at his residence so that he could conveniently parlay some stories to regale me, a reasonable ground to see me actually since I was very busy in my career duties as a prison officer. While he imposed himself to me when he was enjoying a powerful figure as a parent during my juvenile years, later he would reinvent himself, trying to find means so that he could replicate something he missed and be for a while be like me, which he thought I have acquired through another tact and enjoy a portion of that which he denied himself in the past. Tatay would oftentimes try to see me despite his progressing weakness. He wished to be with me always. He knew that I am given provincial assignments, in far flung penal colonies and for him, it was a good break, an adventurous moment, memorable and satisfying. He would express excitement whenever my sister would sneak him into her own excursions. Tatay was indeed a man of the outside world. He was never a homebody and his frustrations lay whenever sickness would send him bound in his room for long. Sensing relief from troubled health, he would jump out and see the world. Well, during his last few weeks, his world is where his son is.

As I write this piece, I know that it was Tatay who is composing my thoughts and yes, I could feel his warm smile and his pervasive scholarship. And indeed, Tatay is here to stay.


Entrance to the Correctional Institute for Women in Mindanao

Spiritually Alert

PG Romeo Chavez was not an ordinary prison guard. He reported to the New Bilibid Prison custodial force office by day, almost permanent in his shift from 8am to 4pm, but his bigger take was after his tour of duty. He was, after changing his officer uniform into casual dress, an itinerant peddler, a vendor from 4:30pm up to 9pm at the marketplace of Binan, Laguna, a 15 minute ride from his office. Even if his merchandise was parked a few steps from the Church, Chavez was never a religious person. As a matter of fact, he never went to Church at all. He was busy with earning a few pesos to support his growing family. For him, faith is only for those who can afford.
Despite his industry however he had difficulties in meeting both ends meet. There were a lot of temptation in the prison service like kowtowing with prisoners and their friends for a few bucks but these never interested him. There were opportunities like selling prison handicrafts but for him this could only reduce his integrity as a security personnel. But he must earn more since his children were about to enter school already.
One day he decided to request a change in his shift so that he could have time selling his merchandise without disturbing the time for his career in government. He would seek for a change of his assigned time, so that his period of work would be 4pm up to 12 midnight. It was a good schedule. The shift if at all applied outside means a period one waste whiling away with friends. And from 6am in the morning up until 3pm, he would be able to expose his goods to a greater number of people in the marketplace. The take and earnings doubled but it had a telling effect on his performance as correctional officer. He would oftentimes feel tired and exhausted.
As a result, he asked his supervisor to station him at the entrance gate so that he would be entertained by the parading patrol and constant movement. That way, he would forget the tension of his commercial endeavour conducted before. For a while, Chavez was having a grand time. He could whisk his troubled body from hawking in the marketplace to a sedate security assignment as in guarding the facility gate. As a guard on post, he had the luxury of sitting on the bench unlike in any other assignment where he must have to move from one point to another. It would be his favourite assignment. He would always give his supervisor a token of his merchandise as a way to thank him for the break.
Those were times when riots were prevalent in the maximum wing of the penitentiary. Fortunately for him though, his subdued assignment was also the safest. And while those personnel at the gates were secured from prison disturbance, there were times when sudden inspection by officials would create tension for them. But of course, those were far and in between violent sprees in the camp.
During one rainy night however when he was the only one manning the gate, while his supernumerary begged off for a minute to check the presence of his reliever several meters away, he could not help but dose off for a few seconds. Seated in a relax manner, rifle in between his legs, the barrel pointing above, Chavez embraced the instrument using it as balance while catching a nap. Since it was raining, the climate was inviting; coupled with silence, there was no other option for Chavez but sleep. Catnapping was his trained response to recharge and it was not difficult for him to hibernate in any position.
That moment was also, as if intended to, a time when the most dreaded and feared prison director dropped by unceremoniously. He wanted to personally check if all his men were standing alert inside the maximum compound. The director was accompanied by the superintendent and his lieutenants. As the group alighted from their convoy a few meters from the gate, the Director’s face contorted to see only one prison guard posted at the gate. Worst, the prison guard was seated in a relaxed manner , with eyes closed and mouth half opened!
The director unbuttoned his holster, felt the grip of his handgun, approached the guard slowly and at the top of his voice, sounding irked, shouted “ATTENTION!” Still the guard never made a movement at all. After a few seconds, he opened his eyes, directed it to the director and made a sign of the cross. He said, “Oooops, so sorry sir, I am just praying.”Then he stood at attention and made a snappy salute.
The director was impressed!





PRISON: Not for Female Offenders

1. This is not an apology for the fairer sex. Nor, would I venture to argue against the imposition of penalty on the erring female specie. My principal advocacy is to persuade criminal justice administration, specially the legislators that imprisonment is not a responsive and effective penalty for female offenders.
2. Any offense or violation must, as a rule, be given the corresponding punishment. It is not only a truism or principle in law but a logical and valid social policy. Not to mention the fact that it is sound, rational and reasonable. My point, however, is in the implementation of the legal consequence to be applied. More so, if at all it is to be applied on female offenders.
3. In the Philippines, the female takes the back seat when it comes to aggressive social posturing. They are never central in any activity that would require daring, risks or perilous jobs. They are culturally consigned to assist their man, or their son, for that matter, in any endeavour that requires support. It is on this background where they are most vulnerable. Unlike the man, their counterpart, they are traditionally the one in charge of home. Their absence could wreck havoc on the family and it goes without saying, could jeopardize the future of children.
4. Commission of crimes however does not determine gender when it comes to gravity. The imposition of penalty by the judiciary likewise does not discriminate nor differentiate, neither distinguish nor single out whether it is male or female. At times, crimes may even aggravate depending on sexual category.
5. Crimes committed by anyone, the female in particular should be dealt with and that’s imperative. My point is, if a female offender is to be penalized for a period of ten years, so be it. That is what the law in the interest of justice demands. But it should not be spent nor served under a regime of incarceration.
6. Imprisonment is never an accepted social procedure for women in conflict with the law. It is not only unfair, physically debilitating amounting to torture but ruthless and callous. It strikes at the heart of the family.
7. A female offender may be sent to community service. To work long hours in lieu of her misdeed, sin or felony. She may be required to serve or compensate for her wrongdoing or delinquency but this should be conducted outside of institutionalization. At the end of the day, she must be home. She must be with her brood. With her loved ones. Her family should never be a part and parcel of that which she must have to pay, although in reality or in effect, it may be for her love of family that made her commit a crime—directly or indirectly.
8. Penalty for female offenders may range from street sweeping to mandatory servitude in government hospices, communal stations or as attendants in such total institutions like leprosarium, tubercular facilities or mental health institutions for a period corresponding their penalty. They should be given stipend to sustain their fare and welfare but the remaining remuneration goes to government coffer to indemnify their respective victims.
9. In the event the female offender abuses or evades the responsibilities conferred on her as a matter of course, then she allows herself, as the judicial agreement should entail, to be institutionalized. That is, to enter the regime of incarceration. Until such an incident occurs, the female offenders should never be out rightly sent to serve time in prison.
10. What is it that makes prison anathema to a female inmate? Firstly, her biological make up. Unlike her male counterpart, where male prisons may be allowed to receive visitors within a liberal atmosphere (in Philippine prisons, there is such a thing as “stay-in”, where his visitor is permitted to stay overnight inside the prison camp even if occasionally), there is no such provision for female prison facilities. Secondly, the type of offenses. Mostly, she has committed victimless crimes—either her vulnerabilities or gullibility that coerced her into the commission of the crime or plain poor legal defence preparation. Only a few sector, and this includes the male prisoners as well, could well afford a good lawyer that would crusade to carry on justice in his or her name. And thirdly, her health—physical and psychological. Like any food, some are cooked using steam, others through pressure cookers and some through the grill. Corrections like cooking is not dedicated to spoiling.
11. There is also the matter of government appropriation in the subsistence of prisoners. On the whole, there are around 2,000 female prisoners serving time in two correctional facilities in the country (the major facility is situated in Mandaluyong City, Metro-Manila, the other, recently organized, is in Davao del Norte, Mindanao). Government subsistence for every prisoner is P 50.00 per head a day. If we have 2,000 female inmates subsidized by government at P50 per, that means P 100,000 day; or P 1M in ten days, or P4M a month. If the average period a female offender in serving time under institutional means is 8 years, that means 96 months, computed in earlier equation at P4M a month, that can easily be translated into a staggering amount of P384M (or P48M a year)! This amount did not factor yet the upkeep of the facility and the personal services that goes into the administration of the prison camp.
12. And who are these female prisoners in the first place? Up close, they are your ordinary housewives, maids, grandmothers or kid sisters. Torn against a cruel environment and a demanding culture, they are mixed into a fray, confused in a convoluted relationship and their response, quite expectedly, is a run against the law. Government response on the other hand is harsh—imprisonment as if failure is a hostile act that requires instant death or agony for a prolonged period.
13. Historically, any offense is dealt with exacting consequence. While the male are oftentimes the object of organized vengeance, the female receive the cruel end of the treatment. The males for quite a time became fodder to entertainment as when pitted against a beast or trained gladiator, while the female was to be sent for enslavement. Until civilization improved even in the matter of applying criminal justice principles. Man as well as woman would receive almost an equal treatment in the scale of the penalty matrix. Both man and woman, those who defied public order, are sent to the calaboose to repay society for the felony committed.
14. The symmetry of punishment however equal and fair in the estimation of justice does not project an ideal response. The effect does not correspond correctly to the expected result. Man after the regimen of incarceration, depending on the prison condition, either becomes incorrigible or, as most cases are, changed positively. The woman, on the other hand, whatever is the prison condition, are psychologically harmed and impaired already. The female are socially alienated and their mind set are mutilated beyond healing. This is not what corrections to a specific sector is all about in the first place.
15. One may hate a person, a woman specially, when she commits a crime. Like any offender for that matter regardless of gender, a violation is a violation. A misdemeanour is a misdemeanour. A transgression is a transgression. If that would be the standard, the world view so to speak, then prisons is for all the law breakers—no segregation necessary at all. But we have prisons for males, prisons for females and we know fully well the whys and wherefores. At the start therefore there is the difference. This difference is what this paper aims to contend and claim.
16. Prison, as the title suggests and which this crusader wants to project, therefore, is no place for female offenders.

The Prison Officer as Blogger

A Prison Officer

Penson Hall at Davao Penal Colony

PENSON HALL at Davao Penal Colony


dapecol jan 18 13 003

Penson Hall, Dapecol Prison Reservation, Davao del Norte.  It was renovated courtesy of  Mr. Ricardo “Dick” Penson.

(Dick Penson is at the forefront of a political crusade, on a platform that pursues a constitutional provision on anti-dynasty.  Like his father, the iconic Dr. Cecilio H. Penson, who pioneered college degree program for prisoners, the son also shines and continues a progressive advocacy.)

A case of Escape and Retrieval

Toxicodendron radicans, better known as poison ivy is a poisonous North American plant that is well known for its production of urushiol, a clear liquid compound found within the sap of the plant that causes an itching rash in most people who touch it.
Poison ivy can be found growing in any of the following three forms:
as a trailing vine that is 10–25 cm tall (4 to 10 inches)
as a shrub up to 1.2 m tall (4 feet)
as a climbing vine that grows on trees or some other support.
The plant may have been introduced during the American occupation in the early 1900s until it became an endemic plant used to decorate fences and walls of homes in gated communities. It has been said that snakes are afraid to scale walls when there is a poison ivy vine twirling on the perimeter.
The plant was to be heard again, this time as a signature tag of a seductive villainess in the famous Hollywood Batman movie series. Actress Uma Thurman typified the human cum plant who would try to defeat Batman and Robin in their crusade for justice, earning for her as one the most lethal outlaw that matched the bravado of the caped duo. She was Poison Ivy, a classic character that achieved quite a following among comic fans.
But the most remarkable and true to life adventure of another female denizen who was labelled as Poison Ivy did not come from imagination or literary woodwork. She was one of the most elusive and enigmatic felons the law enforcement agency of Philippine government ever bagged. Jails were no matched to her cunning however. While she can easily be caught and prosecuted, she had also that rare capacity to leave captivity if she really intends to fly from the cookoo’s nest. Her cunning in evading the law nonetheless ended until she was convicted for Theft and brought to the Penitentiary to serve time.
She was known as Poison Ivy, a label that would attach to her persona, not to her liking though but it stuck just the same because of law enforcement jargon in depicting its subjects. She had an amiable and cordial feature, a likeable projection one could instantly trust from a distance. She was genial and friendly, the type any person wanted to have to complete a task. She was an ideal assistant. In no time, she would be employed as aid and helper; and her employer would lose no time extending trust to her. That would be the signal when she would strike.
Her modus operandi is a template for property predators. She would prepare the meals for her employer, sprinkle it with a concoction that would sicken the stomach and when danger is sensed, especially if the employer has a history, say, of a high blood pressure or heart ailment, she would feign alarm and concern. She would even pretend panic and agitation. In the ensuing fright, employer would consent for an emergency hospital check up. The employer is immediately calmed, her arms virtually stabbed with dextrose. That would be the time when Poison Ivy goes back to the house and in her sweet time, ransack the place for precious and valuable items. Thereafter, she would still check her employer and pay partially the hospital for the admission and related expenses. That would be the period when she would bid quietly her employer goodbye. Once the employer is revived and is discharged, she would find out that she has lost every expensive and prized article in her house, including her trustworthy assistant.
She would roam the street, loaf around malls, moneyed and quite lavish enjoying the fruit of her surreptitious endeavour until such time she runs out of resources. Thereupon, she would again hunt for a prospective employer. That would be her routine. She gets employed, poisons her employer, brings her to hospital and drains her employer’s house of valuables. Until the law catches up.
She was charged, prosecuted and sentenced for theft. It was estimated that she has accumulated millions worth of valuables that her penalty signified the extent of her crime; she was sentenced to life imprisonment. In the penitentiary, she was easily accepted because of her pleasant and convivial projection. She was warm and friendly until she was given a light assignment among female inmates in a handicraft shop. She was very careful not to be popular among the group. She would feign conservatism to the point of being seen as autistic. With such behavioural cover, she can scan her environment without being seen as dubious. She began reviewing her surroundings, the corridor, the pathways, the walls, the fences. Checking the terrain is almost instinctive for her.
One day, she grew weary. The sun was unusually shy and most people must be lethargic. That for her is a sign. Slowly, she wrapped the regulation blanket, brought it in the shop and while she affably interacts with her fellow trainees, she innocuously leaves her corner, smiles at her peers and proceeded with a bundle onwards at the backdoor of the shop. Along the corridor, fronting the fence, she made a couple of glances, threw the blanket askew at the barbed wire fence, climbed quickly and in seconds, she was already outside of the camp. She pretended to walk normally, removed her uniform to display a new set of civilian clothing. She dumped her prison clothes and proceeded to walk characteristically like any resident in the area surrounding the camp. She reached the gate and a few paces before the guard station, she waited for some pedestrians. She would try to blend with them projecting that she was also a part of the group. She had that featured smile which can elicit trust and reliability. In a few seconds, she was already in the mainstream of the free community.
A few hours later, the penitentiary was on full alarm. The newly received prisoner, known to them as Poison Ivy may have been lost inside the prison camp. The custodial personnel were in panic, until they discovered a dry blanket splayed on the fence. The marks of a muddy sneaker and signs of hand grip indicated that it was used for the escape. For the first time in the history of the women’s prison, an inmate bolted through the fence.
A few hours thereafter, a manhunt was flashed. For the tracker team, the problem is that she cannot be located in a specific area. She was born in a remote town of Davao del Norte but she merely spent her first three years in the elementary before she was swaddled to stay at Ilo-ilo. When she graduated in the elementary, she joined her aunt in Manila where she finished secondary education. She is basically multi-lingual and can move around with ease. Over at Davao del Norte where she could find her relatives, it was believed that her estranged father is a top communist rebel already. She will never regress back to rejoin rural life. She can survive in urban areas through her charms knowing that the metropolis is too impersonal to detect her wiles.
In other words, Poison Ivy is still out there, prowling and may be somewhere in the neighbourhood waiting for a chance to be conscripted again. Beware of strangers. That wonderful lady smiling in one humble corner may not be that friendly after all. Civilization has introduced a number of changes. Development has many sides. One of them is serial crime. (Note: Just a few days out on furlough, Poison Ivy was re-arrested. Presently, she is restricted in the maximum security area of the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City.)

A Day’s work in Escorting Prisoners

A day's work: escorting prisoners from shipment

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