Iwahig Superintendents

IWAHIG PENAL COLONY: When I was at the helm

From Davao Penal Colony, I was transferred to Iwahig Penal Colony. That was in 1995. The place was a marvellous enclave of natural resources, its forests were intact, mountains provide a background of its productive flat plains, the ecosystem was preserved and its presence mitigate any danger for environmental and even natural degradation for the entire province of Palawan. It has an aggregate size of 29,000 hectares, a land-lock area where it is impossible to escape even if attempts to evade the harsh environment were commonplace. It is not an island but a large vast of land south of Puerto Princesa City. (It is land-lock and ideal to pursue an open institution since escape is difficult to pursue. On the north side of the penal colony is the city proper—a strip of an avenue where the airstrip occupies the end and a few kilometres after, the pier can be found, human and commercial activity are concentrated on this narrow corridor. A prisoner can easily be spotted. On the western side of the colony is the South China Sea (recently renamed West Philippine Sea); a vast mass of water where some of the most exotic sea life and marine monsters reside. Escaping through this route is impractical and dangerous. On the eastern side is a mountain range where one can find the most treacherous tropical rain forest in Asia, the only remaining undisturbed jungle in the country. Escaping through this path requires athleticism of the highest order and of course a full inoculation of anti malaria and anti rabies vaccine. At the back door, so to speak, on the southern side of the colony is a vast flat of arable land where bounty hunters are residing. These hardy folks could have tilled the rich soil and could have transformed it into a productive agricultural farm. But they would rather run after escapees so that instantly, they could exchange them to the prison officers for a sack of rice, no sweat.)

It has been said that the dialect of the province (of Palawan) changes constantly depending on the large of mass of prisoners transferred to the penal colony. There was a time when a big contingent of Tagalog speaking prisoners (mainly from Luzon) was transferred to the penal colony. The island which for a time was peopled by a minority called Cuyunin and speaks the dialect of Cuyunin, it mimics the sound of bird, has adopted Tagalog as its dialect. Succeeding years witnessed the transfer of predominantly Visayan inmates. A month later, the island was speaking the Visayan dialect already. For a short while, there was a period when the island speaks the Ilokano dialect! Even the exotic and almost to extinct bird called Mynah, an endemic fowl in Palawan, has the same intelligent instinct that could mimic exactly any sound it gains familiarity, even the English language!

The Iwahig penal colony has a rich history and heritage to speak of. It was, once upon a time, the center of civilization in the island. Iwahig has a recreation hall where all denizens of then sleepy municipality of Puerto Princesa would flock for a rare occasion of social life, as in listening to music, courtesy of an all-inmate musical band and some cosmopolitan dancing. The penal colony has almost everything to share to the native Palawenos. It has fresh water pool directly flowing from the mountains, a hot spring resort and a beach front. The forest yields bountiful resources which could rival the best and fully endowed five star hotel in terms of fruits and meat supply. Personnel from the colony need not yank out anything from their pay envelop to buy the necessary food requirements; a couple of inmates in their charge could make the necessary harvest for them already.

That was the situation when I assumed command over the facility. There was even an impression and which I experienced, that anyone who takes charge of the penal facility is almost a god in the province. Under the old Prison Law, the Superintendent of Iwahig Penal Colony had the same judicial power corresponding that of a Justice of the Peace, or what we refer today as Justice of the Regional Trial Court. I was contemplating on the thought when I received information that the Governor of the Province would come by for a courtesy call! Right after that, it was followed by the courtesy call of the Mayor of Puerto Princesa. As if I was still rigging from inconvenience and culture shock, the most famous son of Palawan, Atty. Ramon Mitra, a future speaker and would-be President, would come over for a courtesy call during my birthday, which was just an ordinary day in the prison community. My first few weeks in Iwahig were enough to fill a thick book on celebrity callers, the movers and shakers of the province. The agency heads of government offices, the former political leaders of different of the town, prominent businessmen, professionals, even media practitioners would regularly pay me a visit. I was beginning to understand the significant role of Iwahig to the entire province of Palawan. I was even under the impression that Iwahig was literally on top of the provincial politico-commercial ecosystem.

I was a picture of satisfaction for a career which has been torn with intrigue. In this side of the planet, I was having fun and exuding with celebrity status. I was the toast of the town and in return, I would oblige the entire prison administration of Iwahig to return the favour. In two months, Iwahig was the most beautifully landscaped facility in Puerto Princesa, rivalling even its gem, the Underground River. During my time, travellers and tourists would rather proceed directly to Iwahig before spending a day in the city proper in preparation for their departure. There was no day in Iwahig when no foreigner and local visitors would be seen. Travel agencies would revise their respective brochures featuring Iwahig as the premier destination.

There were of course difficulties bordering on controversies as I would feel its tense expression. As I was providing the city of Puerto Princesa its featured haven through Iwahig, I did not realize that I was already at the cross hair of political envy. One day, I would be in receipt of a move by the city government pursuing a claim and occupancy of one of Iwahig’s best sub-colony, the Sta. Lucia sub colony, where the best ever naturally designed cove in the country can be found. I did not allow politicians to ruin the area and to prove my point; I drove away the enterprising civilians trying to occupy the area. That drew first blood. The political group of the city would draft and almost pass a resolution declaring me a persona non grata to the city. I worked through my friends in media for a dialogue with the politicians until I was able to smooth their feathers. They however relented the peace since I did not give up my defence on the matter of chipping away a part of Iwahig land.

A group of businessmen from Davao, they whom I have befriended in Davao Penal Colony, prior to my transfer to Iwahig, came for a reunion and possible exploration of a joint venture. They proposed to develop an agricultural farm, to be planted with sugar cane, to an estimated 10 thousand hectares of Iwahig flat base. As it were, only 50 hectares were traditionally tilled as rice land and when I came in, I tried to expand it to 250 hectares and after a few months to 500 hectares. I estimated that after a year, Iwahig would be self sufficient in rice supply and the succeeding year, it could even supply the rest of all the penal colonies in the whole archipelago. I would not last a year though. This group of businessmen, headed by a friend Quitoy Lorenzo, from the prominent Lorenzo clan, owner of Pepsi Cola franchise and the La Panday group of companies, wanted to maintain their sugar supply (for their softdrink business) instead of importing it from China. If they could maintain a 10 thousand hectare of sugar cane plantation in Palawan, that would be the biggest sugar cane plantation in the whole of Asia, bigger than the Luisita of Tarlac and those at Bacolod. I was excited about the project since having the farm would mean a zero unemployment rate for the entire province of Palawan. And since it is a farm, there is no controversy to be generated since the environment would not be compromised. Iwahig personnel would have an increase in their take home pay also since they will also be conscripted in security supervision. Inmates will gain additional assistance in the same approach as those practised in Davao penal colony in the joint venture with Tagum Agricultural Development Corp. (Tadeco). Furthermore, the Bureau of Corrections will have revenue to support its fledging fund for the rehabilitation of all prisoners. And what would make it a very inspiring project is the fact, civilian workers to be recruited from Pueto Princesa city will contribute to the revenue of city government through their taxes and in a spending spree, they would be able to trigger an economic miracle. Commerce and business establishments would perk up the entire life blood of the province.

That will never happen because of political intervention. Some leaders do not want their subjects to be economically independent. They would rather have a sleepy town than an active and progressive constituency. And why not? The rich and established professionals do not want competition. Dependency of people on leaders assures the latter of exploited labor and more often, of slave labor. The entry of the Lorenzos in a proposed joint venture with Iwahig would surely disturb the sleepy atmosphere of the town; a bane and nightmare for some well entrenched personalities in the field of politics and commerce. There were signs of harassment already during the initial talks but the Lorenzos never gave in. They have me as their main negotiating partner and with me around, they can fulfil a good business partnership with government.

That idea would not last long. Politicians through their patrons in the higher echelon of government worked to throw me out of Palawan. Their suspicion on my presence long before had not yet been forgotten. Since I have a record of disallowing their mission to take over a piece of Iwahig, which I think would compromise the rain forest of the area, and with the farm, it could effectively provide good economic and education future for their constituency and sooner, some would compete even succeed in replacing their leadership, that intrinsically was something to address. They lost no time in lobbying for my transfer. For them, without me, the Lorenzos would be left alone and would eventually fold up. True enough, after a couple of months in the negotiation and preparation table, I was transferred to Zamboanga. The Lorenzos likewise dropped the project and out goes the future prospect for a prosperous Palawan too.

I was thinking that finally I found a niche in Palawan as one of its foremost pioneer in developing a sleepy town to a flourishing settlement, where poverty and destitution would be history. As it were, Palawan is still a fledging rural area, half an inch higher than their counterparts in the stone age era.

On the whole, I still maintain that Iwahig still holds the key for the development of the entire province of Palawan.


About vjtesoro

A perpetual student of Corrections

Posted on February 4, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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