THE JALOSJOS FOLDER
THE JALOSJOS FOLDER: A VIP ISSUE
FORMER CONGRESSMAN ROMEO JALOSJOS was a hot copy as far as his incarceration is concerned. Here is an important person, a legislator, a media creation (he was one of the most followed broadcasters in Mindanao before he began his political career), a lady’s man (he was married to famous thespian Nida Blanca and was rumoured to have contracted flings and relationship with showbiz dames), an owner of an entertainment firm(TAPE of Channel 7, producer of Eat Bulaga afternoon show) , a film producer, a stockbroker of note in one of the giant television company, a proprietor of the famous Dapitan resort—Dakak, virtually a political kingpin in western Mindanao and more. His case became a media staple of almost a year but his incarceration—the period, around 10 years, he served his time in prison—that captured the imagination of the public.
How was the former legislator during his imprisonment? I was the Prison Superintendent at the National Penitentiary at the time when Romy Jalosjos was about to spend his penalty for the second year. Specifically, I was the very officer who must have to hold on the tail of the tiger when the issue that Jalosjos was being virtually treated as VIP (Very Important Person). I was defending my institution against charges that we were allowing special treatment for a select individual prisoner like former congressman Romeo Jalosjos. The truth is that prisoner Jalosjos was just a statistic as far as the organization is concerned. What made him apart is not how the facility intended it to be, it is the inmates who were around him that made him exceptional.
Let me take you on those days when said inmate was serving time. This was in 2004 onwards. It has been said that when Romeo Jalosjos was brought from Makati Jail to the National Penitentiary, and was escorted to the prison overseers office for assignment of dormitory, he noticed several people, in tangerine uniform seated across the room where he was supposed to be processed. He humbly asked the prison officer, the one on the big table, if he will have to wait for the completion of those around before he can be taken up. The answer was curt. He will be processed immediately and those around him are gang leaders out to bid for his retention in their respective dormitories. Surprised at what he heard, he asked if the bidding involves money.
There was silence and there were nods from the predatory glances of gang leaders. (At that time, not my time though, gang leaders were reckoned by prison administration since they hold the peace in the prison camp. Gangs were in control almost of everything, even in handling of keys to cell and dormitory padlock except for the gates.) Jalosjos ever the politician smiled at those around and asked for the winning bidder. Hearing nothing, he asked how much was at stake. Again, there was silence until a burly prison guard, his escort, whispered to him an amount. He had a wide grin and whispered back to the guard. The personnel slowly moved towards the direction of the gang leaders and thereafter approach the officer manning the imposing officer desk. What has been concluded in those whispering negotiation was a clear understanding of all parties in said office. Instead of a gang buying off an inmate as their winning chip, here is an inmate proposing to buy off a gang. And so, Jalosjos never went through the rigor of being initiated into the fold of a gang. He at that instance became an owner of one! And so, Jalosjos was processed and recorded to be counted in the building where the Batang City Jail (BCJ)gang occupies. As he moved out towards the assigned dormitory, a swarm of inmates, mostly BCJ members, began to secure his person, hugging his personal belongings up to the cell where he is to be situated. The cell block was jam-packed but there was a spacious area for him, as owner.
The first few days were somehow blissful and away from weeks of daily criticism and embarrassing disclosure on his personal life. The first week was to be some kind of a rest. It would also be a period for immersion with a new crowd. Most of those who sought his assistance were those adjacent his sleeping cot. His bedroom neighbours wanted to transfer to another area and they wanted if the good owner could spare them a few sum to pay a new space in another cell block to decongest the room. The scenario would be repeated several times over until Jalosjos would have a big space all by himself in the cell block. He would be treated like a king. And in return, those who look up to him and would serve him would expect monetary assistance on a regular basis, as paid personnel for their new boss. He would maintain the gang as an owner and would pursue his requirements through the gang chain of command. And he gets things done pronto.
A few months later, Jalosjos, still unsuspended and technically still a member of the House of Representative, would flex his influence outside and would require donors to commit projects in favour of the maximum security wing where he is situated. And because of his high profile, he would again become a part of front page news. Accordingly, he is occupying a big room complete with all luxury and high end amenities. Prison authorities were dumbfounded with the information. It was hidden from them until someone cracked it , as usual, for a significant whislteblower fee. And true enough, Jalosjos was indeed staying in one cell, good for 35, but here he was, occupying it all alone and , well, with some gofers standing by the door, he was living grandly! The prison officer in charge of overseer task was immediately relieved and the cell block where Jalosjos was occupying became full once again. As a matter of fact, it was even congested.
Prsion administration was back in harness and media would become silent once again. The exodus of prisoners from Jalosjos’ cell would again be repeated. But as soon as administration would be informed on the migration, additional prisoners would be reassigned until one day, Jalosjos would propose that instead of prisoners forming a bee line asking for assistance, he would just organize a food shop, assume its capital and tap expert chefs from outside. The consideration for said project was that the inmate project holders would take charge of those who would seek Jalosjos’ assistance. The revenue from the project will have to defray whatever it asked of him and through his referral should be acted upon. And so the project was born and it would be the most renowned eatery inside. It became a hamburger joint and for quite a time after it opened, it received a deluge of orders. I was one among those hooked. The secret of the recipe was also common knowledge among us, the customers. The top chef in five star hotels were invited by Jalosjos to train his inmate cooks. The joint became famous and it was even featured once again in media as Jalosjos’ hamburger stand. Scandal broke out and the National Penitentiary was again the staple in tabloid.
The joint however was not how it should be. It was assisted by Jalosjos but he never bothered to get involved in it. His role was merely to refer those who were seeking his assistance. And true enough, whenever a group of prisoners would approach Jalosjos, he would just point at the joint so that it could produce what was being asked for. And those at the hamburger stand would oblige these inmates to stay around. Those who cannot stand to wait were collared by the bulky inmates and threatened to be sliced up to pieces to add flavour to the hamburgers. Right after I learned of the threats, I began to have second thoughts in ordering their speciality. For a while, the stand made good copy of how a project can be sustained and made feasible no matter how humble the environment is.
Jalosjos perseverance to introduce infrastructure and renovation became common place until media never cared at all. Here was one prisoner, spending for the improvement of a penal facility. He would hire private contractors to cement the pathway leading to his dormitory. He would even redesign the shanty-looking accessories in front of the dormitory. He would build a sports auditorium and a tournament size tennis court. All these at his expense.
Several prison directors would come and go, every elected head of government had their own appointees designated to lead prison. And each one must have to contain and understand, assume responsibility and reckon all sentenced prisoners, including the task of understanding those with celebrity status like Jalosjos. And everytime there were new appointees, the politician in Jalosjos would always be around in a supporting medium. There was even a prison director who would require all his senior staff (I was one of them but I declined it) to spend a grand vacation in the resort of Jalosjos at Zamboanga. That official would be obliged to provide a special treatment, and that includes an extraordinary grant in the reduced computation of Jalosjos’ penalty. That would be the basis for the untimely release of Jalosjos.
I was for a time the jailor of Jalosjos but it would only for a very brief period. Just enough to gain an insight on how he was during his early years as an inmate in the national penitentiary. How he was abused, exploited and manipulated later in his final years in the penitentiary, he is the most authoritative source who could explain. But he was just one of the prisoners who wanted to control everything even if in the process he would have to cruelly enter into compromise not only with his fellow inmates but largely with those officers who only wanted to be greased by his generosity and munificence.
Turning 70 years old and having served the minimum penalty prescribed by the courts, he was qualified to get his release. But not to the extent of finally coming across some demands from some influential prison officers. He was duped in his release and consequently, was rearrested. After a few months, he would be released finally. A victim twice over. And finally after receiving executive grant for his release, he would finally settle and recompose where he started, trying to figure out what went wrong and how he could recoup lost years.
A decade of serving time in prison is not a joke. It has left a mark on his being and as such, he would never forget such indelible experience notwithstanding the daily grind for danger and privilege. He has gained his freedom but imprisonment for him has been a memorable part of his life as a survivor. To date, he still clings onto such understanding and would still persist to visit prison if only to conduct a sentimental journey in one area where he lost not only his innocence but also gained his confidence to endure and outlast the extreme imposition of humanity against his person.
The prison system never for a time acknowledged that it almost failed in handling him but for all his expressed accommodating character, he was indeed an acknowledged special person, and to his fellow inmates, a truly very important person.