Monthly Archives: March 2012
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.
FLOWER OFFERING: a language for miracle
In this age of high technology, faith and even science have been relegated to a bleak corner. Technology has taken over beliefs and reconfigured the entire landscape of man’s concern for being. Man has discovered that robotics can already replace manpower, reformulate man-hours and even replace humanity. But that is only on the surface. In the face of man’s overarching concern for machinery, there is one area which expertise cannot overcome. And this is what has been observed as “luck”, “chance”, “ providence”, “fate” or what the religious would oftentimes express faced with something, not even science or technology can pronounce, the term “miracle.”
Let me explain what my understanding about this overly used term “miracle” as far as my findings are concerned. It has been said that prayers are for the gods to respond, and normally, man reacts or awaits the response in the form of a miracle. That has often been what faith has taught us. That has often been what our religious education has given us by way of explanation. That has often been what our elders have inculcated in us. But miracles are seldom shown. It is a phenomenon and it is never something as expected. And so we pray expecting some miracles to happen, only to realize that we face the same concern as if we have not made any worshipful plea. But is there a way to seek miracle in a way that it could be expressed as a response, assuming that prayers, well some prayers, are still incapable of pushing for it.
Actually, there is a language which miracle can be goaded to happen. It is not a contraption of Latin expressions. It is not through physical means, as in extreme sacrifice. It is not even a change in one’s belief system. It is more on the outward manifestation of the person. It is in his action, more than his thoughts and intentions that matters most. Let me be a little sanguine. Pluck some flowers, place it in a vase or just wrap it, then without fanfare, or on your own, offer it on the altar and let it go. No need to mention anything because the universe knows what you want anyway. No need to plead since your demeanor says it all. Chances are what you need will be granted. Thereupon, you will express that there is some miracle that happen, no matter how trivial it is.
I have a few instances to narrate to buttress my simple theory. Actually, these are real cases. I just don’t know if it is directly the result or it is merely coincidental but here is all what I have noted. Case number one. I was fixing my living room. I thought that I should showcase my sculpture of a spiritual icon. I made an altar and placed all my parent’s mementoes on the corner table. And then I bought some fresh flowers for the effects. At that time, I was having a difficult time in my career since I was always in the freezer figuratively speaking. I was never a team player whenever my superior would play something irregular. I was never a part and I would never be a part of something unfortunate even if it would cost my integrity or career. If I would be summoned back to my command as prison officer, well and good, if not, then let it be. A week of offering flowers showed something wholesome. I was given back my command and things favorably happened. As to why, I still don’t know.
Then a relative whom I have assisted for quite sometime was depressed for failing a board exam. He was so depressed that he left my camp and went back to his province to repair his broken heart. I required him to return and do some errands for me instead. During the course, I compelled him to offer flowers to my altar. He would do it regularly and as soon as the first petal of the flower would wither, he would go around looking for flowering plants and having found only a few, decided to buy it from the nearby flower shops in the market place. He obeyed my insinuations since it is a command. Then I obliged him to take the board exam again. This time he passed.
A retired officer volunteered to stay with me for a while after his retirement from the service. He has received quite a sum and with this, he bought a hand-me down vintage stainless vehicle. He wanted to have an enterprise using the vehicle to transport his products. His vehicle however would be very expensive to maintain. The cost of repair was too much for whatever revenues he could gain from its use. He dumped the vehicle and pasted it with a poster with inscription of For Sale. The vehicle was displayed for months without anyone bothering to inquire. Frustrated, my retired friend had it repaired, and drove it back to his residence. Again, there were no takers until finally, the vehicle was stuck and it was no longer a good copy for a vehicle for sale. Moss grew over its hood and the entire sidings were almost covered with dust and dirt. The poor fellow reported back to me, his shoulder stooped and everything that he would utter was complaints and grievances. He was a luckless person and he would rather not try anything, fearful of getting misfortune. He would rather stick with me and be contented with morsels than attempting to dream some prosperous considerations. I asked him to do what my relative has been doing. That he should get some flowers to offer it to his altar or to my altar. Just offer and then it’s through. He has not completed the bi monthly cycle in offering flowers when I was informed that my friend left hastily because someone has taken interest in buying his junked vehicle. He got his capital back.
Over at the penal colony where I was assigned, I was met with some friends especially those who have shown loyalty during my first and second term in said facility. That time, the fellow was having a bad time. He was oftentimes rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment. His internal organs were in disarray, his heart and blood pressure nowhere within normalcy and his body is diabetic. He has surrendered himself and even projected that he may not be able to live through in a year’s time and worst, would never attain retirement, which was only up for a few months. I convinced him to collect and offer flowers to the chapel or to his altar, if he has any. Loyalty from me dictated him to follow my instructions more than anything else. A few weeks later, after undergoing his usual medical examination, his doctors confirmed that he is on the road to recovery. My loyal officer friend retired and he is hale and healthy as ever.
From these instances, I felt that the language understood by universe to exact a miracle can only be conducted through the offering of flowers. I have yet to feel and see things otherwise.
A Perceptive View
In my more than thirty five years in the prison service, I have noted quite extensively how the prison community expresses itself. I have met quite a number of characters too. It is also a period I would consider as a generation of a specific population. Let me therefore share what my understanding is about the state of imprisonment, the dynamics of incarceration and the psychology of inmates.
1. The prison community is an inverted and a marginal society. It is inverted from the point of view of the free community. This can be gleaned from the way a person reacts on a specific stimulation, say when a loved one is recalled. To a freeman, he smiles at the thought. For an inmate, he becomes depressive. Prison is marginal because its culture is specific for those serving time. They have their norms, codes and secrets which are known but remains hidden and to be deciphered when brought out into the open. Prison officers live through for 8 hours (the period of their active duty detail) in this marginal community; and, prisoners live throughout this period for an average of 10 years.
2. The prison officer and prisoner must find common cause for their existence in the community and they must act out their respective roles. The prison officer must exude authority and express power through their built in supervisory function; prisoners, on the other hand, must be unquestioning, even mindless, if only to strike a balance of order. When the equation is reversed, prison administration is in a tailspin. Each one of them must overwhelm the other. It is a daily grind for the prison officer and the prisoner.
3. Although the prisoner is at the end of the food chain so to speak, they must express a certain degree of power if only to manifest life. Prisoners would form groups which would later be known as gangs. They would select the best person to lead and articulate their requirements. Although individually, the prisoner is powerless and defenceless in the face of secured fences and armed perimeter personnel, he finds relief and consolation by associating with his peers. It is here where gangs are most effective.
4. The prison officer on the other hand has the necessary supervisory control depending on the strength of his superior. While he has the advantage of belonging to an organized shift, he has vulnerabilities which the prison community can immediately ascertain. He finds a ready sympathy from those he is governing and it is here where familiarity and camaraderie are formed. To a certain extent, the relationship is even fostered by commiseration and understanding, which a prisoner has in surfeit as a result of their station in life inside. There were even instances when prison personnel have joined gangs as a consequence.
5. Relationship in the prison community is highly temporal. Affiliation is also very temporary if not provisional. There is no depth in any association only fleeting alliances. Everybody is guarding themselves. The environment is suspect and everybody is immersed in deception. If at all there is attachment forged it is more on survival and nothing more. To leave the area is wish fulfilment. Here is where prison officer and prisoner deviate. For the prison officer, prison is a life career. For the prisoner, a passing of time where any sense of permanence is immediately discarded. While inside the prison camp, to each his own is the general feeling. Death is everywhere and life is only found outside.
6. There are a lot of expressions for treachery in the penal setting. The closer a prisoner to his mate the more danger he gets. Those contracted to harm or kill are likely the one closest to the subject. Friendship is never an assurance for safety, it is even more applied for purposes of attacking someone. Like what has been earlier said that prison community is an inverted free community. The enemies one find outside is considered a friend inside and vice versa.
7. There is no concept of love in prison. Everywhere one finds gross familiarity and sickening hatred. Interaction among fellow inmates is coarse and vulgar but these are light and oftentimes dismissed as ordinary and imperceptible. This however does not reveal sensitivity. Prisoner, individually or collectively is susceptible and delicate. Errors are treated harshly and cruelly, and the wrong doer accepts any penalty with an open heart. False judgment however is never taken lightly. When punished without cause, a prisoner is unforgiving and ruthless. There are no gray areas in these matters.
8. There is no escaping mental derangement if one gets into the penal system, whether as officer or inmate. One internalizes the abnormalities of the situation. One is forced to admit its normalcy despite glaring discrepancy. One must admit as regular what is obviously a very irregular situation. Sanity is tested through insane means. One must force himself to smile and be subservient in a situation which must yield revulsion and contempt. When the prison community is silent, violence is not far behind.
9. The prison community is inhospitable and bleak even if one improves and transforms it into a five star hotel. The regimen and uniformity of schedule makes the ambiance severe and callous. For the officer and inmate, the stark similitude of surroundings reminds of punishment, of consequence, of humiliation, of shame. There is neither prestige nor esteem in presiding over the hardship of humanity than one obtaining in a penal facility. For the officer, the immersion is an education on suffering; for the prisoner, a lesson in humility.
10. Imprisonment hardens resolve. It heightens one’s tenacity. While it can be said that most inmates committed an offense as a characteristic decision done on the spot, the same instinctive determination is carried over in the prison camp. The manifestation however slows down because it is met with an equally firm steadfastness by the rest of the prisoners.
11. Viewed from another angle, imprisonment deadens one’s capacity for understanding. This is a consequence of concentrated attention on one’s safety. Every inmate knows that life is brittle, life is easily snuffed out, and almost every is impermanent. Every inmate has directly and indirectly subscribed to this notion because resignation for them means surrender and demise. Inmates must ignore any fleeting memory, and endure even faith for that matter, so that any unfortunate incident which may come unto them would only mean transitory. Inmates must believe and to a certain extent deceive themselves that everything is passing through and every problem, even if there are no solutions, is short-lived and momentary.
12. Imprisonment therefore must be a calibrated experience, not to be stretch any longer, neither it is to be shorted, for it is one crass experience which humanity at times has to undergo if only to yield the essence of genius and express the substance of greatness. Imprisonment is a break or make affair. For those who would make it is made, for those who fall short perish.
PRISON, a reader’s haven
Alexis Adonis is the only media personality I met not in my capacity as prison spokesman but as prison superintendent. We met not to have a discourse on the issues of incarceration but to tackle how to treat his imprisonment. Yes, Adonis was a prisoner and I was his jailor for a number of years. Adonis was a radio broadcaster of note and with a considerable following who quoted a feature in a tabloid, read it in his bloc time said incident and which eventually made him a subject for libel. He claimed, although in a way hearsay, that a politician was running away from his hotel room in his birthday suit after the discovery of his indiscretion. The incident created a furor and an instant scandal. As a consequence, he was charged and brought to court.
After a few days of trial and as soon as the decision was to be promulgated, Adonis was nowhere to hear the court’s decision. And it was unfavourable to his cause. He was sentenced in absentia and was immediately hunted. In a few days, he was arrested and sent to jail. He never had the time to appeal his case. Accordingly, no one had the power to file a counter charge, much more so, file an appeal against a powerful and influential personality unless one intends to lose his fortune. Adonis had no such luxury in the first place. He was merely a radio announcer with little means.
With only a bag containing his back shirt and some personal things, he was ushered into the jail and after a few days, transferred to Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol). The southern prison was an outback in the early 30s when it was founded and it has evolved into a farming community. Adonis was one among those given orientation for farm work except that he was disqualified as a result of his physical attributes. Nonetheless, he was given special institutional assignment as moderator during programs and on ordinary days, as interpreter. He has a good commanding voice, a clear speaker and knows a number of dialects. He was for a time one of the most respected office orderlies.
It was during this time that I would oftentimes summon him for small talk. He would not argue his case like most of his fellow prisoners when confronted with their respective cases but would rather consult me on his case and prospect for release by virtue of his deteriorating physical health. While he was never given a heavy assignment, neither compelled to do general services, he nonetheless expect the State to go slow on him humanitarian grounds. I was there actually to check on his security condition considering that he was on a high security risk and I have been receiving reports on his situation as far as threats are concerned. My visit to his area would be repeated on a regular basis.
Every time I would call him for a cup of coffee, I would prod him to use his time reading. And if he still could find chance, which in prison is aplenty, he should dabble in writing also. I would see to it that my schedule would include a time for checking out book sale and procure those which I could share to Adonis. One time, I told him an experience I had with one of my professors during my masteral classes when I submitted a paper regarding imprisonment. It was somewhat thick and it comprised a lot of insights about the regime. The professor thumbed it down despite my scholastic claims. I realized that my mentor was correct. No matter how insightful and how expressive my composition is, I cannot speak for the detainee in defining imprisonment. It would merely be an exercise of imagination with nothing realistic about my paper. That was what I was telling Adonis. He must put to good use his experience as prisoner to write something about the experience. He had every time in the world to fulfil it. He owed the world the lessons he may impart. A lesson about survival. A lesson about tenacity. A lesson about endurance.
But first he must read a lot. Read voraciously if necessary. There are lots of man-hours lost serving time in prison. It is only in prison that time, a precious commodity in the free community, is to be wasted.
I never bothered Adonis since then and I allowed him to internalize what I was then suggesting. All I knew was that he indeed took time to read but mostly he was into a lot of interaction with his fellow inmates. He needed that of course to spice up his immersion and later in narrating what happened during the course of his incarceration. The characters that he met were indeed great materials if indeed he wanted to write his memoirs down. A year later, he would be reclassified to minimum security status and after a few politically scandalous situations that begrudge his petition for release; he was eventually discharged from his detention.
It never took a while when I received a phone call from the man. He was at that time engaging me for an interview in his radio program. He got his broadcast post back once again. A few months later, still readjusting himself after six years in prison, he would be vindicated in the international court of justice. Accordingly, a decision was handed down requiring Philippine government to pay Adonis an amount equivalent to the period of his incarceration as payment for the period it squandered from him in prison. He may have lost his innocence but definitely he learned something which almost all great men in history—who were themselves incarcerated too—gained in the process, this time as far as Adonis is concerned, with material and legal recompense.
DORIS, MY SISTER
My one and only sister, Doris, has achieved so much already. She is an indisputable scholar from the time she entered school as early in Kindergarten up to the time she worked for her doctorate degree in criminal justice administration. She has literally circumnavigated the world, has lectured to almost all countries in Asia, has a friend in every foreign country and a consultant to all technical schools in South East Asia. She has everything and lately, she almost got cancer. Luckily, she came at a time when such ailment can be prevented and she was spared from such a tragic fate. It was a signal actually for her to tone down from her tight and gruelling schedule. It was a sign that she must have to take it easy. She has learned early in life that scholarship is everything and scholarship means to live under the shadow of persistence, serious study and pressured lifestyle. She must know how to relax even if what she was taught early in life is not to slow down at all.
My sister is unica hija to our doting parents. She was Tatay’s apple and Nanay’s jewel. She has in her poise, in her discipline the erudition of our ancestors. We subscribed to her intellect as she bore the respect of the academe. She was also in our estimation our economic redeemer, a lifeline, a beloved member who can reclaim luck and redistribute fortune. She is well equipped to conquer the world. We could only watch her from a distance. We could only hold on to our temporary reign and await for the day of reckoning. She is our captain and our future. That early, my sister would have endured the weight of expectations. She has been relegated and duty bound to challenge, to compete, to struggle for us. Tatay was there of course to pave the way; nanay was there to soften the flings; well, I was there merely as a shadow of whatever is left to fend. We were a team and she was our best shot.
She knew the vagaries of tension and responsibility in all its applied expression. She is a single parent and recently, a sibling in charge of an ailing parent, prodigious children and remarkable grandchildren. When Tatay left us, she was depressed but she must fulfil her parental obligation and must carry forward whatever has been left behind. She would carry the day for her family, alone as she was and pressured at times in the school she happens to be an administrator. Intrigues and competition were everywhere and she must have to cope up with every technical detail that she would encounter.
My sister’s name, Theodora, was lifted from the Christian calendar on the date September 11, 1955. (Since then, on different years, the date would have significant, nay, chilling events appended to it. There was the bombing of the World’s Trade Center in New York on said date, and the birth of Philippine dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, as a case in point). But this in a way had nothing to do with her persona except that in celebrating her birthday nowadays, one cannot escape remembering also the events that happened. She was an exceptional child. She would spend her toddler years not in the playpen but the school of her brother during the kinder years. When it was her time to enrol she would eventually be conferred with impressive grades. She would continue her scholarship all throughout the elementary, secondary and tertiary years at the State University. Her graduation in college would be intervened by a series of domestic problems, like marriage and sickness of my parents. Nonetheless, she would persevere where she left and on she takes further the seriousness of scholarship until she graduated as one of those on top of the class.
She found herself recruited as an officer of then powerful First Lady, Imelda Marcos, during the Martial Law years. And she would become one of the most coveted staff of brilliant minds in government service. She stayed at the Ministry of Human Settlements for a number of years until the first couple was booted out during the Edsa Revolution. It was a turning point in my sister’s professional life. Suddenly, she was orphaned by her fellow scholars who were associated with the dictatorship and had to scamper out in search of reinvention. My sister laid low for a while and I took her to my friends in the Academe and there she found again her bearing with scholarship.
The years that followed were subdued and almost insignificant. She would pursue her parental duties to the hilt. She would work on token hours but would concentrate more in nurturing her growing brood. This at a time when her spouse would attempt to short cut enterprises to the detriment of her savings. They would found themselves badly in debt and this would push the spouse to go abroad to try his luck. He never came back and worst, never heard anything from him. Overseas work at that time was still a big gamble, a great threat and there was no government support as yet. Those with less luck become victims and were considered goners. My sister as a consequence has to fulfil even the other half of the responsibility and this was where my sister would shine. She has a knack to recover at the direst moment and this she would move up.
She would move from one academic institution to another, from the University of Life to a UN based Colombo Staff College. Here she would exude in her usual gait for scholarship and competence in administration. At times she would be disturbed by the intrigues and intramurals of petty professional jealousy but she would come out of it unscathed. She would be recognized until the agency would become her world. She would also be the toast of her friends and peers and eventually would be nominated to represent the agency in all their international conferences.
She rejoiced seeing the world. She was literally on international flight almost on a monthly basis. She could have earned her flight wings earlier than most pilots are at the rate she was moving. In a year’s time, she was more than what the Spanish conquistadores have done in their travels for 30 years! She has been in USA, in Asia Minor, in South East Asia, everywhere in world. And she was utterly delighted by such exposures. She has completed her education and has become a rounded professional. I was pleading for her, this time, to write a book. She owes the world and history this consideration.
Yet the travel bug has diminished her work and she would even multitask if only to express her unlimited enthusiasm until she felt something strange. She has forgotten her health, having been focused all through out with her cross- country lectureships. Her body waived and she must for a while recuperate. In an instant, she was already under medical examination and that forced her to lay low. That compelled her to check her pulse and everything about her physical fitness. That made her realizes that she could only stretch herself to some limits. She has indeed exceeded and mortally challenged the gods of adventure. This time around she must find time to contemplate and renew her contract with reality. Time to reflect and well, recharge if only to reclaim for lost time and adventure further.
REV FR DOM LIBREA, PRISON CHAPLAIN
He rides on his trail bike, exuding youthful bravura and looks formidable. The rider from a distance may just be our neighbourhood juvenile, anxious and always at the edge. But no. He is the prison chaplain of Davao Penal Colony, a man entrusted with the spiritual hope of some six thousand prisoners a fragment of said population comprise the female offenders of Mindanao. (Davao Penal Colony is the only penal establishment in the country, to date, with a facility for female offenders. It is also the only prison facility where there are no gangs.) And this includes the family of correctional officers numbering around 300. (Likewise, during election period, Dapecol submits a singular voting bloc.) He is virtually the town’s leader as far as morals are concerned, the fountainhead of mystical lore, the reflection of divine dogma and a pious friend. He is Reverend Father Dominic Librea, or to his parishioners, Fr. Dom.
He has barely received his orientation in the penal setting when he began a methodical approach in his ministry, joining the youth and having regular banters with the elderly less than a year ago. In said period, he would rally the people to build their church, one that would replace the fledging edifice in favour of a new structure. It was a daunting challenge and almost an impossible task since construction of a facility does not only require massive funding but a solid will to persuade a conservative sector in the community to change their emotional and traditional outlook. For years—and Dapecol facility has been a historical relic older than the province of Davao del Norte itself—people flock the old chapel. Years of neglect however had a toll on the architectural configuration until it is almost a threatening experience to enter, much more so, attend the regular celebration of Mass. It is also no wonder why there is a dwindling of church goers attending the spiritual assingment every week end. Fr. Dom suspected that it is more an issue of safety than faith that reduces attendance. It can be factored that Fr. Dom came at a time when the penal colony never had a resident chaplain for the last decade, except for some friendly pastoral visits of priests from nearby towns.
Fr. Dom, like the present day youth, rejoices at education. After he has completed his masteral course, he immediately moved to attain the next higher level, a doctorate degree. Amidst all the tight schedule of ministering to the spiritual health of all prisoners in Dapecol, finding time to be with his youthful constituencies in the town, coordinating with his peers and superiors in his congregation, supervising the construction of a new church in a new site (across the old structure), he could still travel around on his dirt bike. Such a sight of a free spirit enjoying the air of adventure as well as the saintly discipline of a man of the cloth. Such a sight to behold for a young man, clutching a prayer book, trying to change a community torn by indifference, influenced by scepticism, overwhelmed at times by distrust and for a time, in the absence of a spiritual guide, almost consign to a period of disbelief. He must walk through these challenges and like his predecessors who almost succumbed to the pressures and temptations of uncertainty, he must, like a bike rider as he is, hold on to his balance, negotiate the rough roads and reach his destination unscathed.
He has multiplied his believers and in no time, will he succeed where others before him only wish they should.
A TALE OF A RELUCTANT PRISON VOLUNTEER
Joel Villanueva is not your ordinary prison volunteer. But he became one accidentally anyway. Let me tell you his story.
He hated crime and lived within the bounds of law. He never even tried to break his principle and virtually led a life away from corruption and anything illegal. He would have been made already (had he accepted bribes and goodwill fees). He held a very powerful and influential position during the incumbency of President Cory Aquino but he never wavered in the purity of his heart. He declined any offers that would compromise his integrity. He left the government agency though with a broken heart. He never realized that those like him who were appointed to fulfill an obligation of righteousness would break their promise as soon as they assume power.
He resigned and migrated in a remote barrio where he could enjoy his peace and sleep well at the same time. Government is not for him.
Joel is an Atenean and son of an illustrious architect. He is well connected through his school network. (Ateneans are at times very clannish…like gangs.) He is a scholar and eventually has completed his graduate studies in another famous school, THE Asian Institute of Management or AIM. (I enrolled also in this learning institute before but backed out after a day because I could not cope with the scholastic requirements. One of them is to study 60 cases a day. Yes, 60 cases and each case have a minimum of 150 pages. No way will I survive such a punishing and grueling academic routine.) Here is one guy who, like other geniuses, breezed through and completed the masteral program. For me, he is one hell of a guy already and I was privileged to know one up-close.
After his frustrating government stint, he moved to the private sector. He worked with a foundation that advocated on the protection and welfare of the physically disabled. For a while, he was having a grand time since his performance can be sent through internet. He had all the time in the world to enjoy freedom from structure and his intellect grew further. He would also dabble in computer technology and would be recruited as speech writer, project analyst and technical consultant. Such work did not require his full time hence, he still could marshal enough period for his dirt bike. (While exploring further the forested area of Palawan, I would meet and get acquainted with the man.)
I was then newly designated head of a prison facility way back in 1995 and we were in Puerto Princesa, Palawan Province at that time. My penal facility is the infamous, nay dreaded Iwahig Penal Colony. And I got his interest focused on prison work. Like him, I hated illegal activities. Like him, I wanted honesty as an integral part of government service. He resigned but in my case I plodded on. He never cared about the denizen in prison but all he cared for was the services and programs to be delivered. And he was a wizard along that line.
When I was visited by a friend (who happens to be owners of La Panday, a multi-million company, then franchisers of Pepsi Cola Philippines), a proposal was made to transform the vacant portion (around 10 thousand hectares—Iwahig is a vast prison reservation comprising 29,000 hectares) of the penal reservation as sugar cane farm. If it succeeded, the sugar cane farm would have been the biggest cane plantation in the whole south East Asia—but sadly it never materialized. At that time, I was able to convince Joel to be my one-peso-a-year consultant. Joel was in his elements, like a gull floating on warm air. Well, politics ended our commercial venture and I was transferred to the farthest correctional facility (at San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm in Zamboanga) and Joel went back to his technical consultancy on the local government of Palawan. That also ended Joel’s flirtation with the prison service, for a while.
Years later, we would meet again. Joel was involved in the private sector as project analyst and had retained his usual free schedule. He would conduct his business through his computer and would find time checking on his friends for consultancy as free lance adviser. In my case, I would be reassigned to Davao Penal Colony. In 2009, or 14 years later I found out that Joel was still active in his consultancy but was exploring other areas too to conduct his business. I offered Mindanao, my place in Davao, at Davao Penal Colony. He acceded and we were back in harness. Joel immediately became, whether to his liking or not, a prison volunteer.
For a while, Joel was reviewing the prison landscape for whatever commercial potency it might exude. But my penal facility was unfriendly to computer geeks. Even cellular phone signal was hard to come by. He transferred to my base in Davao City and there he bloomed. We were deep into the programs specially those that concern the prison joint venture program. He would conceptualize a lot of projects for prisoners including a hospice for the elderly prisoners. He was lining up a series of projects until his elders would require him to go back to Manila. His father was already weak and he must be, as the eldest, within reach of his parents. We have not finalized yet nor formulated the fruition of our correctional consultancy efforts when he left, leaving me behind with several open ended projects to organize.
To date, with Joel eyeing another province south of Luzon, I am dangling another offer of consultancy not in Davao but in Muntinlupa city, where my central office is situated. The depth of his mind would be needed at the top but he would rather not accept it unless, I, his friend would be stationed right at the helm. At the rate we are going and the interval of several years before we decide on a collaborative effort, at our age, I wonder if we will ever appreciate the inroads we will be contributing to the prison system. A few years more, both of us are already outside of government. By sheer luck, I would suppose, we will be in our 80s. Well, in my case, I still could walk by then. Joel on the other hand , who is my senior by several years, may already be in his 90s and hopefully I pray so that he could still recognize me. If we are gifted with a strong gene, who knows, we may be considered the oldest prison volunteers in the world!
The prison community is composed of two (active) groups. (There are other groups as well but they comprise the minority, like the elderly, the infirmed, the physically disabled, the sick, and the mentally deranged) Of the two active groups, majority are those who never dreamt of being imprisoned at all. They fell short, most likely because of poor defence preparation or inability to get a good counsel to defend them. And the other group, which is a minority, are those whose profession is to violate the law, the career offenders, so to speak. While they may be a small number, in prison, while considered hell, is their home.
Prison is a place where society confines those who transgressed the law. The State deems it proper to segregate from the free community those who violated its tenets, defied its norms, breached peace, abused public safety and broke social amity. Ideally, prison camps should be peopled with deranged personalities, the psychotically kind, and whose minds are deformed. It has been stereo-typed as an area where the most dangerous sector of society is treated. In reality however, the contrary is true.
My hypothesis is that there are prisoners who are “rehabitable”, not the criminal kind, although they may have transgressed the law, and there are others who are not. Rehabitable here means those who can still be restored, those who still can be redeemed socially, those who still believe that there is life after incarceration. In other words, from the term rehabilitation, there is such a term which can be used to denote prisoners who still can be saved and therefore rehabitable.
It can therefore be gainsaid that the rehabitable are those who accidentally broke the law. Those who are otherwise have embraced a career of crime. Note that these two groups are at odds with one another. They never mix at all if given the necessary procedures for their combination. There was even a prisoner who wisely described that they are like ants. There are black and reds ones. They never mix at all too notwithstanding the fact that both are generally seen as ant.
One cannot however determine from mere looks who are those rehabitable and those who are not in a homogenous grouping in the prison camp. Looks and physical poise are never made as basis. Although how one carries himself by way of neatness, one can already assume that which is internal, again, it is not a firm reference still given the wide deception operating within the restricted environment of the prison camp.
There is however a way by which to separate one group from another. And this is by way of enjoining those interested to gain a skill or be given education while serving time. The only privilege to be accorded here is the enrolment in the program and the possibility of receiving a record of proficiency and nothing more.
An experiment is conducted among 100 prisoners, candidly and randomly selected. In this scale, 70, representing 70% wanted to enrol in any educational program. The 30, or that representing 30% have nothing to do with any institutional offering. (This activity may also be replicated in any correctional setting and most likely, the percentage would indicate the same. If there are great discrepancy, then the criminal justice administration in the area is found wanting. A legislative visitation or review of laws is therefore in order.)
This exercise would initially indicate that in a penal setting, rehabilitation is prescribed for a majority and retributive treatment is to be applied on the rest. By retributive here implores the segregation of those who cannot adjust institutionally and should therefore be consigned to a space which has been installed with all the fear factor necessary to shock the person back to reality.
The number also would indicate the rate of recidivism, assuming of course that the person has not perished as a consequence of his character and damaged mindset.
Education therefore is the only intervention in a corrective situation where rehabilitation as the principal mandate in the treatment of prisoners may be conducted.