Iwahig Penal Colony
IWAHIG PRISON AND PENAL FARM
It has been said that if and when Iwahig Penal Colony in Palawan province would be transferred to another site, the vacated spot consequently will become a fair game for development—- the rainforest will be destroyed, the natural mountain watershed will be devastated, wildlife habitat will be annihilated and the entire island of Palawan, a tiny elongated strip of island, west of the Philippines, will become a desert land for a brief period and eventually, whatever higher grounds the island possesses will be swallowed by the sea. Palawan or that part of the province called Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm is actually the last forest cover in the country. Either it maintains its penal posture guarding the area like a natural park or it bows out of existence along with the land mass. Iwahig therefore acts not only as penal facility where Japan learned the basic correctional approach in open institution treatment of offenders but also plays a vital role in the country’s ecological survival.
During the Spanish regime, Puerto Princesa in Palawan province was designated as a place where offenders sentenced to banishment were to be exiled. It never materialized however. It was only during the American occupation, when then Governor Luke Wright authorized the establishment of a penal colony in the province of Palawan on November 16, 1014 and became known as Iuhit Settlement. Subsequently, it became Iwahig Penal Colony. Its foundation was replete with violence. The first contingent sent to occupy the penal facility were those considered incorrigible and beyond redemption. But as soon as the first group landed on the area, mutiny broke out and those escorting the inmates were themselves subdued. The succeeding contingents were those classified as trainable and from there on, the penal colony became productive. In the 1950s, it earned recognition from United Nations as the only penal establishment pursuing an open institution approach. Prisoners serving time the area became known as colonists and settlers. The area became known as prison without walls. Iwahig at that time was a vast 40 thousand hectares, almost 80% of which were pure rainforests. To date, after a series of proclamations and land distribution program, Iwahig has retained a land complement of 29 thousand hectares, majority of which is still categorized as unspoiled jungle, a virtual lung where it sustains ecological balance for the island. Sadly, most of the proclaimed lands previously maintained by Iwahig which were transferred to local government, have become a haven for informal settlers, a loose group of migrants exploiting the natural resources of the area, slowly erasing the thick vegetation through slash and burn, transforming mangrove reserves into charcoal and consequently contributing to soil siltation.
Iwahig Prison has four sub-colonies, Central sub colony with an area of 14, 700 hectares; Sta Lucia with 9, 685 hectares; Montible with 8, 000 hectares and Inagawan with 13,000 hectares. It maintains around 3,500 prisoners distributed accordingly.
In 2005, Iwahig is the subject of an award winning documentary film, “Out of Bonds” by French directors. The same documentary also received a Grand Prix in 2006 International Documentary Festival in Korea.