Monthly Archives: September 2012

UNDERSTANDING CORRECTIONAL WORK: A Note to a newcomer in the prison service

My dear fellow officer,

Employment in the prison service is not an attractive proposition.  That was before when one can still manage to have a good selection as far as  jobs are concerned.  But the unfortunate economic situation of the country made it possible even for non-aggressive personalities to enter such hazardous and dangerous work place like prisons.

As a new comer, you are primed to earn so much.  The base pay is almost comparatively at par with the private sector.  The allowances make one dream of some savings.  The pace of work is not much restricted and not so much stressful.  One can even relax if you have the gait for it.  A simple token to your supervisor will do the trick and it makes a lot of difference.  After all, prison work, like the entire government service is never in danger of losing as in being bankrupt, unlike a private firm.  So there is no need actually to be extra vigilant when it comes to using government resources and in dispensing some thoughtful provision for your peers.  A minimum care is needed and that is all.   That is however where the positive side would end.

As soon as you formally enter the portal of prison administration, the nice looking screen saver fades from the scene.  As you struggle to get a feel of the institution through training, you begin to question the merits and qualities of that which is conveyed to you.  As you are posted after completion of training, you would realize that time was merely wasted for a number of weeks stretching and running around.  But as you receive your first income, the frustration immediately disappears.  That is for starters.

Now, let me try to appreciate where you are in the prison community.  You are suddenly given the warm welcome.  Suddenly, as a newbie trying to sink your teeth into the entire enchilada of prison work, you hear the salutation “Sir” (or Ma’m, in case of a female officer).  Earlier on, your entrance literally forced you to call everyone, official to clerk, even a clean looking inmate as “Sir” and now you must be relishing finally that you are called with the salutation Sir, even by the oldest prisoner in your camp.  You are already called a “Sir” without even earning a few summers for such accolade.   Instantly, the air of authority has wrapped your being.  Your very word, your very act, even your very innocent presence has been conferred with weight and authority.  You begin to feel that inside the prison camp, you are power incarnate.  And why not?  The safety, well being and security of prisoners depend largely on how you express your mandate.  It is not surprising if one day your dreams may contain episodes of torture, affliction and cruelty.  Prison work encourages these qualities and it is up to the maturity of the officer to evade those traits from the temptations of learning horror and imbibing pain.

I tell you what.  You must be confused in your first few weeks in the prison service.  It will even extend to a greater period if you may.  There will be a lot of challenges, mostly complaints and grumbling from your area.  The population under you merely wanted your attention.  And you should observe the proximity or your distance.  You should never be close or far.  Allowing yourself to be close enough is an invitation for contempt.  Distancing on the other hand would remove you from imposing your firm projections.

Be prepared to be tested.  Remember that you are in charge of human beings, whose intelligence has been honed by restriction and creativity.  They have a built in advantage.  They were imprisoned because they decided on the spot.  They resolved rightly or wrongly unlike ordinary people who procrastinate a lot before acting.  That makes the prison community a marginal one.  It is composed of people who can never be fooled.   If at all prisoners are vulnerable, it is not out of trait but more out of need.  Prisoners may also project gullibility but these are mainly used as tact expressed to gain more than articulated to lose something.   And for a considerable period of time, you are literally living in this kind of a marginal situation.  If you are peppered with tests and exams during your days in school, you will constantly be haunted in the same situation during the entire period of your tour of duty.

But don’t be disheartened and disturbed.  All prison workers are never duped unless of course they allow it.  They become street smart after a brief period of time.   There is deception in prison every second and these are clear lessons which you will be receiving regularly.

Study prison rules and those that govern your career.  It will help you in officiating.  Like any other game, whether basketball or chess, or any form of diversion, rules are important.  Ignorance of the rules is fatal in prison work, as it is elsewhere.  It could lead you to a corner where you will find no other route to break out.  Worst, you will never be able to rise up to the level of respect.

Having considered the above, you can now enjoy the fruits of your labor.  It is only under this situation where you can safely state that you have earned what you have received.  And you would likewise realize that it is not only the material side of your entitlements that kept you going but the wisdom and implication of a sagacious exposure, thus inspiring you to lead a significant life in your chosen career.

Be alert always.

Your senior officer, VJT


 I have a number of recorded cases in my personal journal where I would descriptively take note of how a prisoner conducts himself in the face of incarceration.  I have been in the prison service for more than three decades and the exposure is worth sharing.  Not everyone has that rare opportunity to rub elbows with offenders more so if for once the offender was  occupying a significant part in the pantheon of power—that is, one who wields a respectable kind of power on a vast constituency.  Such a person holds the reigns of authority which could mean the life and death of anyone.  And for this type of character, imprisonment or be penalized by incarceration is the worst that could befall him.

Let me recall the case of one Monico.  He was formerly a branch clerk of court in a province North of Luzon until a case was slapped on him for estafa.  The looks could be deceiving.  He was almost Caucasian, smooth fair skin, medium built, in his late 30s and self assured.  He was gentle and with good manners.  He was clean shaven, groomed and on the side of confidence.  That was on the day he was admitted in the Penitentiary.  After a few hours, after the last of his escorts would leave, his whole person would drastically change.

Here was a good looking man who would cry as in moaning and in turn would scandalize the entire quarantine area—the place where newly received prisoners are confined in batches.  And he would continue crying all throughout the entire week.  Looking how detested the fellow has become; he literally was transformed into a greased looking character, unkempt hair, shabby comportment, cantankerous and ill tempered.  He was already ripe to be beaten by his fellow inmates had it not for the segregation procedure the security personnel had undertaken on this type of offenders.  Suddenly he was no longer that gentle person he would project.  He evolved into a scum almost overnight.  After a few struggling months, he died of a lingering illness due to in large part to his carelessness and predisposition to filth.

Then, there was this postmaster in a postal station from central Luzon who was imprisoned for doctoring his daily time record.  Let me call him Leopoldo.  He was the opposite of Monico.  He was in a way unruly when he was turned over to the institution along with uneducated felons.  Like his company, he was disheveled, scruffy and untidy.  The only similarity he had with bureaucrats like Monico was their age. All others were completely the reverse.  Even after a period the change would manifest in a surprising manner.  He was like Monico, also a bureaucrat before he was charged and sentenced for five years.  The change would recur after his admission; from a grumpy character into a behaved person.  His prison uniform may be that low quality textile and easily stained and dusted but it is clean.  His manners project education and breeding.  Suddenly, he looked more of civilian personnel in prison than an inmate.

Former bureaucrats serving time in prison can be found in the extreme side of the population behavioral equation.  Either they are the brusque and arrogant or they are the tamed and easily a choice to be selected as trustees or orderlies.  It could be the result of their exposures and orientation as government worker that they imbibed such conduct but on the whole, they are never gregarious and always diffident and reserved.   They are always inhibited and the last to respond to any order.  They however could sustain whatever it is that is dictated on them, more assiduous and steadfast in following rules than the rest of the population.

Since these former bureaucrats occupy the extreme end of the behavioral scale, they could easily be located.  Either they become active gang members or on the other hand, the most loyal security assistants or the most ardent office helpers.

And one can find these two contrasting persona haggled in every corner comparing notes while those in between were busy with their institutional chores.  They constantly lament their fate and would cast aspersion on government and most especially the realization that they only have a few friends they can count on.  They are united when it comes to the travail of serving time, always exchanging ideas and volunteering information.  No, they are never on the compromising side, as in spying on what goes on in their respective posts.  They would never discuss gangs or prison administration.  The issue that constantly hugs their conversation is centered always on family, government and freedom.

Even if some of them would be ranked as high profile or celebrity prisoner, they are never that emphatic to project their worth.  They are conservative when it comes to exposure.  Unless prodded, they would never even take any initiative.  It is precisely this initiative after all that brought them to prison.  It is late for them though to realize that in government, initiative is a crime.

A bureaucrat in prison therefore is a picture of a bolt from the blue and his appearance expressed in coldness.  They are the newbie sector since mainly what they have violated are mostly laws recently promulgated.  This sector is non-existent before and probably would be amended later in the future.  Meanwhile, they are the unlucky few severed from the mainstream of contemporary providence.


dr penson sketch

I have encountered a lot of prison volunteers in my long span of career in the prison service but there is one person I considered a mystery—an enigma.  He came into an area abhorred and detested by the free community.  Prison is not a picture perfect place to spend one’s fitting career.  Not even to a philanthropist or saint for that matter.  The mere thought of prison, any decent and law abiding citizen would have expressed loathe and disgust already.  But despite this odium backdrop, a single minded person would brave the challenge, confront the eerie atmosphere and change detention climate; and transform it into an academe.  He was Dr. Cecilio Halili Penson.

The gentleman volunteer

He was Doc Celing in the prison community.  A tall, dark and athletic person.  He walked gracefully and projected a gentleman of the old school.  He was audacious in the pursuit of education.  He wanted people to listen to him intently and his presence commanded respect and deference.  He was in his early 80s when he started his prison volunteer crusade.  Yet he looked far younger than his age.  He was impatient for accomplishment but seriously patient when discussing an idea.

When he came in for the first time in the penitentiary as a volunteer, the institution was unprepared.  The prison officers were all familiar with do gooders coming from the ranks of the religious and others with commercial inclination.  But never on someone with an honest purpose in educating the ill educated and reforming the pathologically deformed mindset of a convict.  He had a doctorate in philosophy and his followers in his prison work were quick to address the kindly gentleman using the salutation of Doc.  He was almost a permanent fixture in the prison camp where I was assigned to manage.  It was a facility for the newly arrived prisoners in the National Penitentiary.

A work in progress

Doc Celing would endear himself to the prison community with his religious zeal in attending a class he dubbed “applied arts and sciences”.  He abhorred dogma and theories and in the courses he offered, everything was conveyed through case studies.  He would hide the technical jargon through amusing stories.  And the prisoners not only would enjoy each session, the end of each day would always be highlighted with prayers and hopes for Doc Celing to continue and pursue further his interaction ad infinitum.  Prisoners had a sad experience of having embraced a committed visitor only to be deserted instantly only after a few greetings.  They never wanted Doc Celing to leave them as yet.

The prisoners would almost memorize every stanza of phrase which Doc Celing would often impart to impress the teacher on the sharpness of his students.  They loved their mentor to the extent that some prisoners would confide to me that almost all of them had a tattoo mark of “Doc CHP” on their arms!  I kept it a secret also to Doc Celing for fear that it might turn him off, and eventually would be a cause to bid the boys goodbye.  It was a secret I never revealed even in the most trying of times as when I was promoted to the rank of Chief Superintendent, I had this policy of obliterating gang marks.  The Doc CHP tattoo had all the makings already of a gang!  And in my preemptive strikes, those with this tattoo were exempted.  I recruited them at that time as that para-security group assisting my security personnel in rounding up the gangs.

The mysterious Don Emilio

Doc Celing would begin his pontification on how to prosper with his story, the main protagonist he would christen as Don Emilio.  Don Emilio was, in his narrative, the central figure from where all wits and wisdom of getting ahead would commence.  His students were all hyped at how this Don Emilio could defeat his detractors and competitors.  It was for them a symbol of success, an icon to be emulated, and an example on which they could base their decision making.

I asked Doc Celing once, “Sir, I was hearing a lot from your students about Don Emilio.  Is that fiction or is that you or your father?”  He replied, “I was writing a book about Don Emilio.  He is my main character.  Here is my manuscript and I have as yet to finish it when I got involved in teaching here.  So instead of writing the thoughts of the person, I used it as the central spirit in liberating the minds of prisoners instead.”

For me, Doc Celing remains up to the present a very mysterious man, an enigma as a matter of fact.  He would rather be there in the confines of the prison camp tutoring inmates rather than pursuing a grand policy for the education of all.  After almost two years in the prison community where he had established a school for the applied arts and sciences and went on to organize the first college degree for prisoners program in the national penitentiary, he bid his graduates and followers for some rest.  We were all saddened by his departure.  Those were heady days when the Marcos administration was already on the brink of collapse.

The rebirth of Democracy

One day, days later after the bloodless revolt at Edsa, I was surprised by an agitated knock at the door of my prison quarters.  After opening the door, there I saw the towering figure of the man whom the prison community has held as an extraordinary intellectual.  “Venjo, good evening.  Nice to see you!”  said Doc Celing.  Still smarting from the sudden presence of an icon and a bit surprised at his appearance on the dead of night, I almost choked in responding, “Errr. Good evening Sir,.. Are you alone or with someone,…please come in, Sir.  And please have a sit….Sorry for the mess, I have books everywhere and I have as yet to clear my living room….”

“No,no,no, don’t bother.  I came here to tell you that we have a new government.”

“But there were still pocket resistance and things might turn up differently, Sir.  You know, just this morning, there were a number of military trucks positioned in front of the administration building.  From what I heard, prisoners will be moved out to counter people power…”

“Is that so?  What happened then?”  Doc Celing’s face expressed sadness.

“But don’t worry Sir, most of the gate guards were my former trainees, my students in the training school and they entrusted to me all the keys from all entrance and exit gates.  Nobody can mess around with our community here.”  Thereupon, I showed a bag full of keys to Doc Celing.  “I understand however Sir that President Marcos capitulated and so our new President is Madam Aquino now.”

“That’s right Venjo, and I am very proud because my daughter, Margie, the wife of Philip Ella Juico, the writer, you must know him, is designated as appointment secretary.”

“That’s great Sir.  You must be our new Prison Director then!”  I went up close to Doc Celing and excitedly extended my hand for a firm handshake.

“Hey, Venjo, not too fast.  I never meddle with the affairs of my kids.  No, never.  They do not even know that I am working here in Prison!”  That disclosure almost floored me.  Here was a teacher who had spent a great time, almost the whole weekend for years on end, sacrificing comfort in favor of teaching prisoners and to think that he has never informed his family that he was in such crusade.

“But Dwight, your son, knew of your programs here.”

“He thought that my prison visitation was a passing fancy only.”

“Anyway Sir, we can hope that under the new administration the golden age of prison service would be near!

Hearing that energized expression, Doc Celing stood up, looked at his wrist watch and shook my hand.  “I will see you next time Venjo.  I must be back to my dear Nena before she discovers our secret!”  We had a loud conspiratorial laugh that night.

Renewal of friendship and aspiration

It would take years before I would hear again Doc Celing.  I was already promoted and would be designated to trouble shoot problem spots in the penal system.  I would oftentimes be assigned to take command of all major penal establishments in the country and those were times when I have lost contact with a dear friend.  I would still marvel at the thought of one man in his advanced years braving the stress and tension of rehabilitating prisoners.

I would learn later that he was officially tapped to handle University of Life in Pasig.  Once upon a time, my sister, during the Marcos years, was its administrator under the supervision of Dr. Onofre D. Corpuz and then First Lady Imelda Marcos.  My sister however was one of the administrative casualties during the Edsa Revolt.  But Doc Celing’s post at UL was short lived.  The facility was transformed into the main office of the Department of Education thereafter.

I contacted Doc Celing and informed him that I was assigned at Davao and if perchance he had some business or would rather take a relaxing tour down South, he may find Davao Penal Colony an interesting area to continue with our education program for prisoners.  It was a mere shout in the wilderness and it was made more as a matter of greeting than an invitation.  At that time, Doc Celing was deep into the training of those who will leave abroad for a contracted work.

Our second wind

But lo and behold!  I received a brief note that Doc Celing had finally accepted my offer to visit Davao.

I have forgotten the time of his last visit but definitely that day when he appraised Davao Penal Colony, after our day long tour of the area, his presence would be felt and would be unforgettable.  We had a pact to pursue higher education in Davao, the same program we both introduced in the national penitentiary.  The man I was in touch constantly a decade ago was still the same energetic person I had as company that time.  Time stood still for the enigmatic man.  He was already defying nature.  His mind was still as sharp, as incisive, and as clever as before.  I began to draft an educational formulation for Davao Penal Colony and he was guiding my outline.  Finally, under his inspiration, Dapecol went ahead with the foundation of the Alternative Learning System, an obscure pedagogical approach then until it became a policy—an education mode which several years later would benefit boxing great Manny Pacquiao  and other celebrities wanting for higher education.

The terminal point

I was deep into the task of overhauling the system, tapping NGOs left and right for involvement, when suddenly my sister, whose residence is near Valle Verde Subdivision in Ortigas, informed me to verify the passing away of Doc Celing.  I was able to check it with my Manila staff and immediately flew to attend the wake.  I came in late and the remains of my friend were sent for cremation already.

I went back to Davao with a determined fervor to continue with what we have started.  And to date, unlike any other penal establishment in the country, Dapecol has a college degree program for male and female prisoners, topping national exams in the Alternative Learning System and other government education accreditation tests and has started courses recognized by Tesda.  Doc Celing was behind every effort and we could only offer a fledging corner we named after him, a simple testament to a grand visionary.

A living legacy

His demise constituted a sad day for prison education.  His former students, all ardent followers bearing his initials, mostly released already, must have heard about the depressing news.  But for us whom he cared for have carved in our hearts the living Doc Celing and he would continue to live through us and through the influence of his thoughts and ideas, contributing by paying forward his concern and commitment to those places where we would reside and retire.

Doc Celing spent his senior years in one place and through his released apprentices, he is now all over country and possibly around the world.

ON GETTING MARRIED: A letter to my nephew

My dear child, RJ.  You have grown into a hunk of a man and I just could envisage how it was before when you were a cuddly toddler.  You were a favorite grandson of Tatay and as such, there were times when Tatay would lose his temper and all hostilities will be directed to the favorite.  But oftentimes, during said outbursts, I was always there for you.  I was there to shield you from the knock out voice of Tatay during his tantrums.  That was always expected when you are the apple in the eye, you are always picked up and consumed.

Years later, that which I have lost track counting, I realized that the bubbly kid that you were has grown into almost a shadow short of the Hulk!  You must have inherited the genes of your father, himself a bulky man in his prime.  I could just imagine if we go for a walk and we would meet elementary kids, they might shout, “Its Po with Master Shifu!”  Remember the movie Kung Fu Panda?

Anyway, I wrote to tell you something in relation to your forthcoming wedding.  According to your Mom, my younger sister, that I should attend since you chose me to be your godfather.  As godfather, I must play a role of a parent to both of you.  But let me tell you something which you may reckon in the course of preparing for the big day.   These are questions actually.   Are you prepared to stay close and not grow tired if you chose to be close to home or always at home with your loved one?  Are you emotionally prepared if one day you would leave home as a consequence of your job and leave behind your family?  Do you have safety nets if in the course of daily life you might end up unemployed?  How do you propose to maintain your family if the worst happen?  I know that you can rebound but while preparing to position yourself, but do you have an idea on how you can sustain your family?  These are the same questions I wrote in my small pad while preparing to propose marriage.  It is not actually something that I thought of.  These are random questions Tatay and Nanay asked me on the way to our “pamamanhikan.”  I merely wrote it down in my diary to remind me of certain matters which I might encounter in the future—-including notes on my earlier response to it.

Getting married is never a fad.  It is responsibility in capital letters.  Failing to understand it is offering a mountain of problems to hurdle.  It is like building a factory of explosives aimed to blow one into smithereens.  I only have a few cases that I have encountered wishing for themselves their doom and they are usually patients for the mentally challenged.

I wished and pray that your marriage would be made in Heaven:  Strong, stable, secured, permanent and enduring.  Be reminded always of the saying, “Stop looking for the right person, BE the right person.”  Being responsible therefore must be your strong point.  Never mind the other qualities, it would follow if you may. There are however qualities for one to possess this attribute.  You must be patient, tolerant, understanding and uncomplaining.  Remove one from the enumeration is like removing a tire in a car.  It will never run.  And the worst part there is that a person instantly becomes irresponsible not knowing what hit him from above.

As godfather and this I must qualify, I am not there in a pretentious pose acting like an ideal husband, parent, lover.  I have never been one.  How I wish I could.  But despite this situation, I have never wavered in my responsibilities.  I started slowly building up my economic strength to shield my family from the slings and arrows of expensive requirements for social mobility.  I have savings for sudden emergencies.  I have small investments for my kids.  I constantly study and add degrees and quality to my credentials so that my family will never suffer any inconvenience of bankruptcy.  I have a ledger where I have identified current and future expenses.  I may be a juvenile looking 24 year-old at the time of my marriage but I have everything drawn up already.

If there were occasions where I failed, it is more of a response to a mortal challenge.  My job is a threatening one.  And survival dictates that I must go with the tide.  I have to use the same language in dealing with challenges.  If a crime is committed on me, the same crime is given as an answer.  If I am fooled in a transaction, I would also act foolishly to even the equation.  Tit for Tat as they say.  This is unhealthy for a family man.  Priests are never married because they are equally exposed on the hazards of their profession.  In my case, I married and went towards a profession that does not need a family.  I would oftentimes hear my colleagues express their sentiment whenever I would engage in prison warfare that I ought to be alone always without any baggage at all.  Prison work per se is an invitation to a commitment predicated by death and accident.  And who wants the head of family always at the forefront of danger?  And who wants a family man always armed when relaxing, planning pre-emptive strikes at a time when weekends are considered family days, always anticipating dangers, suspecting any change as fatal, in other words, living a life close to paranoia—along with his family?  I have been there and I have to shield my family so that they would not be there, hence I choose to live on the other side of normalcy.

The most ideal that I came close is to see how Tatay and Nanay cared for each other and nurtured us, their children.  I should have chosen a sedentary job.  At best, I should have organized a business.  Law enforcement is a vocation only for those with messianic complex.  Most of the serious practitioners die young.

In your case, I understand that there is little threat in your profession.  Love your work.  Be creative and assertive with your craft.  That way you prosper and lift your family towards a higher quality of living.  Do not be dependent on your environment.  Be dependable and ready to create an environment where you could flourish.  Be the master of your home.  Do not require your wife to act as your safety net.  She is there to cushion you from the terror of reality, from the angst of frustration, from the risk of depression.  Understand her always.  Women have better appreciation of life so do not underestimate her.  Her perception is greater so do not insist on your belief.  She carries your soul so be kind to her at all times.

Getting married is like having a kingdom of your own.  When I proposed to Tatay that I wanted to be a priest, he said “Forget it!”  He wanted me to be a king.  So on your big day, it will be a coronation of sort.  You must therefore act like one and believe firmly that you are on top already.  So manage your kingdom well.  Less than that, you are just playing a cruel joke on yourself and your queen.  Remember that you are groomed to be a king and never as a prince.  Be prepared therefore to find your kingdom or, worst, be complacent to live a life treated and seen as a clown.

So take note my dear child.  I want you to enjoy life with all its magnificent surprises and majestic calling.  One day,  a few weeks from now, you will be crowned.  Don’t worry, I will guard the ramparts for you, protect you from harm, deal with your enemies but please assure me that what I am doing is what a royal soldier is doing for a  KING.

Your loving uncle, Tito Ven


Science has improved its analytical and peripheral boundaries to the point of understanding even those matters considered taboo and beyond comprehension.  It has transcended the limits and it may even breach the unknown and undiscovered territories.  Of late, it has already understood the minutest details that define life, the molecules, particles and atoms that made life possible.  The only missing component is not an appreciation of the scientific treatise in furthering that which animates existence but the technical bravura in exploring, however brutal, on how life should be built.

In various laboratories, we find countless experimentation.  Mice, insects, rabbits, dogs, monkeys, name it, their innards are all studied meticulously and data counter checked with that which pertains human parts.  Response of various living things on a specific stimulation is also tested as against that which affects a human being.  Almost every conceivable test has been explored.  There are those that do not merit ethics and there are those too sensitive to divulge.  Nonetheless the road to extensive discovery is filled to the brim.  The future is overflowing with hope and possibilities.  Life as we know it today could mean another form of existence in the forthcoming period.

I have as yet to verify however if there are attempts in altering life.  There were successful experiments done on plants and it was some kind of a novelty.

I have to check whether these cacti’s lifespan has been changed though.  But from the looks of it, life can be altered according to one’s specification.  And if this can be done on plants, I think it could also be conducted on a human being.  There are even laboratory research where DNA can be studied in detail and revised accordingly to suit one’s preference.  Of late, DNA tests suggest a revelation on future physical predisposition of those who posess a set of genes and his proclivities.  From there  the next step could only border on speculation.  This situation can only be expressed however in films, in sci-fi novels and it is still within the realm of imagination.

There were notable experiments done during the war carried out by the scientific community, exploring on man’s body parts.  Medics of invading army on the guise of treating injured persons would pluck out from these ailing subjects, especially those arrested suspects to pluck out their parts, inter changed it and  then observed.  Livers, heart, internal organs, skin, eyes, extremities (even hair follicles) all were tugged and pulled out, yanked and tweaked if only to check whether it was medically possible to transplant body parts.  There were successful medical cases which has been concluded and highlighted in medical and scientific journals.

There was a time when the most delicate has been conducted already, that of heart transplant.  Now it is common place.  Another is open heart surgery where veins are used to replace ruined arteries in the heart or in such cases like cardiac catheterization.  And there are also kidney and liver transplants.  Science even went further by growing earlobes and noses in the laboratory using disks,  cells and other chemicals and then re-attached it on the body where it is needed.

Science is only a few years away from achieving the unthinkable—that of transplanting the entire body parts of a person into another thus saving and extending his life to achieve more years.  Parts may be grown in a laboratory flask, or on the person himself or through cloning and stem cell procedures.  This may take a little complicated scientific journey but this could be done.  The short cut and the most expedient may also be available by tapping the potential of the prison community.

Not that I am advocating the reduction on piece meal basis the body parts of prisoners but it is the most accessible in terms of sourcing.  This would border on horror and human rights transgressions if not properly conveyed but let us discuss the merits for scientific purposes.  If we cannot conceive of any plan to abolish imprisonment and replace it with alternative penal sanctions like community service and the like, we might as well look into how we can tap the vast resources of warm bodies deteriorating under the glaring tension of years under incarceration. 

Most offenders are sentenced to serve time for several years under tormenting schedule and afflictive situation.  Prolonged incarceration has a toll on the respiratory, nervous, digestive system of the person.  Imprisonment is one factor that could ruin and send a person to a debilitating circumstance.  Notwithstanding welfare provisions in the matter of treating prisoners humanely, the fact that his freedom is curtailed, his movements contained and even thought processes controlled, are enough to obliterate inhumanely whatever it is that makes the human body the temple it ought to be.  There must be some kind of a divine justice somewhere using certain equation.

If there is one offender for every one thousand law abiding citizens, I would even venture to say that there is also one mortally sick person for every one thousand healthy individuals.  Following this logic, I hope I am wrong, the prisoner can therefore through his body part contribute to that ailing law abiding citizen’s salvation.  This has been the usual tact why some time ago, a group of foreigners representing their principal sought medical intervention through procurement of body parts from prisoners.  This practise  was banned eventually.  Furthermore, there was a small town in a remote barrio where this has been a routine, until there was saturation.  Most of those in the town had surgical marks on their torso indicating medical procedure for organ donation.

This is not a treatise on organ donation but rather a call for calibrated study to explore the possibility of tapping the prison community, that wing where prisoners are given a gross penalty for prolonged sentences to ameliorate their sins through anatomical contribution.  Their respective prison terms would nonetheless devastate their bodies just the same notwithstanding years of rationed and government supported maintenance.

Science may one day surprise us with a medical bulletin that it can replace mechanically the entire body organs of one person thus leaving his brain to subsist and contribute wisdom for years and years to come.  And while prisoners may be considered as vile and bane, a dark spot in humanity, it can also be that beacon of light which hold the key to a bright future.



Jimboy was charged in court for carnapping and he was sentenced to serve the penalty of life imprisonment.  In this country, a lifer is confined for 30 years.  He did just that.  What made him a cut above the rest and for that matter as an inmate I would repose my trust during the period of his incarceration, especially in maintaining my official vehicle as a prison officer, was his expertise as a mechanic.  Skilled prisoners are highly respected in the prison community and valued by officers.  Skilled ones like barbers, writers, mechanics, technicians, artists, musicians—-well, it is only the universe that pays tribute to them notwithstanding the offense committed but by their environment as well.  They make life comfortable not only for them but for those around them.

When a skilled prisoner is released, he is torn between a community (prison) that embraced and trusted him and the free community which, through the courts and his complainant have vomited him.  Of course, there is a feeling of confusion and some kind perplexity.  In prison, he had no freedom, everything seemed controlled.  Outside, on the other hand, he is misunderstood and suspected.  In prison, he knew who his real friends are.  Outside, he lives in doubt and wariness.  He found his faith in detention, while as a freeman he is constantly lost.

As soon as Jimboy received his release paper, he chose the middle ground.  For those with little skill to express would rather stay along the periphery of the penal establishment.  They would rather be seen by a prison officer in nearby town where he will be greeted as a “graduate” rather than return back to his community of orientation where a single crime may immediately be inferred on his presence.   He asked me if I could adopt him.  He wanted to be under my employ even if he will not be given remuneration.  Just a little space where he could repair and exercise his know-how.  He would be staying with a prison officer in the free community and at the same time, reminded that he is also, as he expects it, to be treated as a convict, of whom he was once and almost, loved it.  Shades of Stockholm syndrome where the hostage has grown dependent on his captor on almost everything—from food to protection.

Like any total institution, prison is not designed to prepare its inmates to a life of freedom.  Prison teaches and imposes a life of dependency.  It is the individual outlook to appreciate the loss of liberty and it is up to the prisoner to repent, reinvent or take revenge.  No amount of prison orientation program can reformulate this aspect.   The period of his institutional servitude dictates the kind of life a prisoner would become once he is released.  Hence there are countries that revisit the sentencing scheme in its criminal justice administration.  Prolonged incarceration destroys the positive effect of disciplinary detention.  It negates the value of custody and transforms the person into a zombie.

Jimboy immediately found peace of mind under my jurisdiction.  He prospered as a skilled mechanic that he is.  Except that he never found time to take care of his health.  A few years later, he suffered a debilitating disease and passed away.

Another prisoner sought succor after receiving the release paper.  She was a female inmate who appreciated music and became one of the pioneer members of the prison band.  As its organizer, I maintained my members through regular jamming and counseling.  When she was released, she asked if she could stay under my custody.  Accordingly, after she got her discharge certificate, she went back to her community of orientation if only to find her husband serving time in the provincial jail.  Her children were nowhere and their house pawned away.  She feared that she had no other place to go except to go back to prison.

One day, she appeared at the doorstep of my prison quarters, eyes bulging, shabbily dressed and with a sad story.   She needed a job.  I required my security aide to facilitate her application for employment in a nearby farm and in a week’s time, she was a picture of accomplishment.  Prisoners given a break and trusted to be absorbed in the workforce are the most industrious and diligent.  They work hard and are very conscientious.  She stayed for a while until one day; I found a note posted on my door.  She has gone back to her family.  She saved and sacrificed so that she could sustain a crusade to look for her missing children.  On weekends, she would go from one town to another until finally, she saw her children employed as house help.  She rented a small cottage near the farm where she was employed and from there began to turn another leaf of her life.

The challenging part for those who have been through incarceration is not on the day they served their time, but like any college graduate, it is on the day they would leave the portal of that community where they spent the greater part of learning to understand the true meaning of freedom.


It is not exactly the way to a resort or a zoo or a market place.  It is not even a park or a playground.  Davao Penal Colony (or Davao Prison and Penal Farm) is the second biggest prison facility in terms of land area and inmate population in the country.  And this is not actually a typical penal establishment where the entire population are confined and restricted into an enclosure of cemented fence combined with cris crossing combat wires.

Historical Past

Davao Penal Colony, once upon a time, was the biggest prison establishment in the country and during World War II became an imperial garrison by the Japanese invading army.  It has hidden historical role as when it confined and left untold atrocities among its denizens, mostly American servicemen who were imprisoned as POWs (Prisoners of War).  A recent book “Escape From Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War  by John D. Lukacs, detailed the suspenseful plight of those servicemen and how a few managed to escape and a fraction of those who evaded, survived the rigors and challenges in crossing the unforgiving and treacherous jungle surrounding the penal facility.

During said period, the regular prison was closed down and its administrative side transferred to Iwahig Penal Colony.  For a number of years, it was detention area commanded by the Japanese Kempetai or Special Forces.  That was its history, its past, its inglorious reputation.

When War time was over, it was reopened and the facility took another persona, that of a repository of excess prisoners from Manila.  Most of those sent to serve time were all members of unruly groups, the violent and incorrigibles.  In no time, gangs predominated the landscape of the prison camp.  And as certain as their aggressive predisposition to control the prison community, relationship bordered on cruelty and sadism.  There were fierce competition to rule and control among prisoners sending the prison authorities into feats of brutality and vicious response.  Those were heady and ferocious times when the daily count of death would average to 10.  Riots in this part of the prison system were the worst in the history penal administration.  As compared from the Davao prison, the Muntinlupa penitentiary rampage was kids play!  This was in the roaring 60s.

The first Public-Private-Partnership

Then an unthinkable happened.  A private company (Tagum Agricultural Development Corporation or TADECO) explored the possibility of conducting a joint agricultural venture with Davao Prison.  It was experimental to say the least.  While prisoners were bashing each other’s heads, running amuck and imposing dreaded violence against each other, with prison authorities left merely to record casualty and bury those who fell, a group of agriculturists were busy charting a farm that would introduce a crop which eventually would become the second biggest export in the country.  That was an ironical period in the life of an institution.  Where one faction decimates its enclave, another was pursuing for its salvation.

The succeeding chapter in the history of Davao prison was engulfed in some kind of contemplation.  Prison violence would erupt occasionally until it fizzled out, while the swamp and estuary areas enveloping the prison camp were being transformed into an ideal farm.  Prison administration and its prison community began to notice the transformation until eventually; they were lured into a productive pursuit, a collaborative effort in unison with development.  Until finally, an agreement was forged to organize a joint venture program.

A Template of Modern Corrective Practice

Under this program are prisoners conscripted and enrolled in a Tesda formulated farming course.  This is where qualified (soon-to-be-released or those under medium and minimum security status) inmates are immersed in agricultural based farming and provided with stipends equivalent to the wage of an agricultural farm worker in the free community.  Some released prisoners, already skilled in banana farm care and maintenance, are absorbed in Tadeco and other farms in nearby towns.

Dapecol has gone a long way.  From a dreaded and fearful penal complex to a highly productive center of learning where rehabilitation and reformatory programs highlight its mission and mandate.

While it was shunned as a place of terror before, now it is the template of reform programs where spirituality and education are its principal orientation.  Within its grounds stand the Shrine of Our Lady of Prisoners also.

Currently, it is the Mecca of corrective lessons, a social laboratory of Criminology colleges in the whole eastern Mindanao.

For those in living in the periphery of the town and those residing in Davao, Davao Penal Colony is within a vast banana plantation, considered the biggest in the world, although technically, it is the other way around.  The plantation is within the vast prison reservation of Davao Penal Colony.

Dapecol encroaches on three big local government subdivision, a city and two municipalities.  Panabo city on the western side, Dujali municipality on the eastern part, Sto Tomas Municipality on the northern area.  From Davao city, the de facto capital of Mindanao, it is 56 kilometers or an hour’s drive.  Its road distance from Manila is almost 1, 500 kilometers.  By land, it can be traversed for two days.  By sea, three days trip.

Dapecol Today

Dapecol is likewise an extraordinary community segregated by farms from nearby municipal areas.  In a highly predominant Visayan dialect province of Davao del Norte, it is the only enclave where Tagalog is the prevailing tongue.  More so, it is also the only penal establishment in the country where there is a camp for male and another camp for female offenders.

Those who have taken a glimpse and have visited the place had only fond memories of visiting an ordinary prison breathing in an extraordinary manner.


MANILA. PHILIPPINES.  On September 21, 1972—40 years ago today, 56 year-old reelected President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared Proclamation 1081 and placed the entire country under Martial Law.  And it was a period that lasted for nine years on paper (although the ambiance of martial law administration stayed on up until the Marcoses were driven out of power during the Edsa revolt in 1986).


That Fateful Day


I still could vividly recall that day.  I was an 18 year old college sophomore playing basketball in the early morning of Saturday in the open court of Letran College in Intramuros, Manila.  Out in the streets, we could hear sirens blurring out but it did not cause concern for us cagers.  We stuck with the game and had hearty laughter every time a team mate fumbles the ball.  We were young and carefree.  We never minded the world around us.  What was important for us at that time was to win the game even if it was just a practice session.


The War Zone


We were about to wind up when four playmates that went out of the school compound to buy cigarettes came rushing back.  They were having a good laugh but their ashen complexion revealed something scary.  They shouted, “Ven!  There is war outside!”


My companions who were mostly in ROTC were jubilant to hear the hushed voices of my friends.  “You mean we have to wear our combat uniforms already, hehehe!!!” came the cavalier response.


“Look, outside, combat tanks with mean looking soldiers, all armed to the teeth,  are prowling and they are arbitrarily  arresting students, anybody, and anyone  especially those sporting long hair!”  my friends answered back.  The fashion at that time called for long hair among the youth.  All my friends had a healthy crop as crown and it was almost taboo to see your earlobes.  It must be covered by hair.  I was sporting an athletic afro look since I have a curly hair.  And if the warning was correct, we were supposed to hide from the so called combat zone.  And so after we changed our clothing, we went upstairs, in one of our rooms to look down at the parking lot where according to my buddies, soldiers were already posted.


A Day of Living Dangerously


There were also a lot of students, most of them my classmates in other common subjects, monitoring what was happening in the classroom where we assembled.  It was the only opened classroom at that time.  I discovered that those seatmates of mine were activists and firebrand of left leaning sounding groups based on what I was hearing from their conversation.  They were the ones actually being hunted by the military and the school campus was the safest place they could repair.  For a while, I was, well, together actually with my basket ball team mates, huddled inside the room composed mostly of, if my hunch was correct, dreaded insurgents!  I could see them folding what was like banners with red letters and the dreaded symbol of rebellion, the hammer and sickle.  For that brief moment, my basketball team became also, by association, a communist front!


One by one, my team streamed back to the gymnasium where the ROTC office was located.  It was for us an insured area since soldiers would never bother a unit recognized by them.  We could mix along with the staff and personnel and try to be one with them if only to elude the heat.  But our problem was, if indeed we were ROTC cadets, how come we sport long hair.  Our power forward volunteered a solution, “Why don’t we have an instant hair cut, a crew cut, to appease any soldier we might meet should we go home or leave the school premises?”  That was the dumbest suggestion we ever heard.  No one can touch our long hair, even if it would cost our lives.  We were even prepared to be driven out of our respective houses by our parents if they would pose as a threat to our lionesque mane.  No way.  We ignored the suggestion and went our separate ways.  Some scaled the back fence and got lost in the maze of shanties of informal settlers doting the side streets.  Others went back to the classroom to be indoctrinated.  A few went to the faculty room to seek assistance from priests who were manning the admin offices.  In my case, along with two friends decided to check it out on the street what was really happening.  We merely took a shower so that our hair would thin out covered by a baseball cap, with hair combed up and gelled in pomade.  All of us braved to move out until we reached home.


A Hairy Conviction


For us at that precise moment, martial law was not a threat to freedom and democracy, for us at that time, forty years ago; it was more of a menace to our lengthy fleece.


That was of course a Saturday.  The succeeding days were a revelation.  Two days later, a Monday, we, along with my classmates and fellow basketball players, were back in our classroom, sporting a different look and a brand new haircut, the high ‘n tight warrior hairdo.



Thus began our baptism of radical politics in the streets.


For a time, we, as a nation, hoping that giving up rights in favor of progress was what animated expectations.  It came out different.  Economic problems piled up.   We could not hit back at the mass deception.  We became sterile for a time.  Consequently, we were ashamed to face irrational power and derisively labeled as that generation of cowards and a society of indifferent weaklings.  There was little sacrifice and heroism during the course.  We the youth at that time were more concerned about lifestyle and only a few dabbled in fortitude.  But for those who remained steadfast, from their ranks today were, however, conscripted the champions of modern day principled progress.


Forty years after


Since then the country had difficulty achieving for its citizen the desired development.  Today, when my children would ask how come we are still laggards compared with other countries in Southeast Asiak, I could only sigh.  Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.  Thereafter, they found progress.  In our case, we were thrown to reinvent ourselves and for 40 years we are still in the wilderness unable to refresh our capability to mature into a well developed economy.


Foods that looked nutritious, delicious and appetizing are actually processed ones.  From a distance it is delectable and up close, mouth watering.  It can be summed up in just one word—yummy.  Food chains around the world almost became a charming haven for connoisseur that in no time, it also became instant multi million commercial fronts.  Newspapers have a specific section on food and there are magazines that devote entire coverage on food alone.  I have no bone of contention about it.  As a matter of fact, I was also on a food trip once in a while and if my budget allows it, more often than not.

The reason why I chose to discuss this seeming trivia of modern day humanity is because of its inherent role in the increasing deterioration of health among its practitioners.  No, not those in charge of processing food but those at the other end, those consuming the enchanting aroma and tasty cuisine.

When one eats processed food, the body loses its principal role—that of processing food.  Extend that procedure for a long time, our body becomes inured and would rather accept its fate as repository of something completed already.  If we extend the argument to something mechanical, it may sound like this:  why the need for technicians where there is nothing for them to work on.  They will just be additional personnel, some kind of an overhead expense and a potential group that may cause trouble.  As they say, an idle mind is the devil’s playground.

Going back to processed food.  When it passes through the body, our innards go into a frenzy of automatic processing too.  It recognizes that a processed stuff needs no further procedure and so our body relaxes.  There will be a lot of route in our system where the process will have to skip a lot rendering other internal organs working overtime at the expense of other organs which are forced to slow down.  This is something unwholesome and may telegraph confusion in our digestive system.  Our stomach—used to bring into several acids and juices will no longer perform as it were.  Our pancreas, usually on a silent mode will now have to take the center stage.  So on and so forth.  The result, the body’s internal organs function in a baffled way, confounded at the way it received nutrients and loads.

There were studies pointing at the way man’s teeth are designed also per evolutionary condition.  Accordingly, it is devised to munch fruits and vegetables only.  Hence, there are some back to basic movement among food connoisseurs lately reviving vegetable craze (as in being vegetarian) and fruit consumption.

The point here is this.  To maintain health, man should never deprive its internal organs its principal mandate of processing food.  Therefore, one should not allow himself to eat processed food if it intends to be healthy all throughout.  To do otherwise means to invite ailments or to grow weak and become sickly.

I remember during my first year as head of the prison reception center, a newly retired Federal prison chaplain visited me.  He said that his kidneys collapsed already and that he was exploring the possibility of seeking donation from prisoners for one kidney to extend his life and make life less miserable.  Persons with collapsed kidneys must regularly, that is on weekly basis, must have to undergo dialysis session.  “Why Reverend, what happened to your kidneys, I mean, how did those beans collapsed?  Have you had an accident?”  I asked.

“My dear Sir, I was a federal chaplain for two decades in the State Penitentiary and I was very busy with my tasks that meal times were even spent in conferences.  I have to literally survive and content myself eating hamburgers during lunch time.  And it was not once, it became a routine.  You know how hamburgers are, it is processed, a lot of salt, chemicals, etc.”  replied the man of the cloth.

“You mean Reverend, you attribute your kidney ailment from those tasty hamburgers?”

“Well, those were the immediate diagnosis coming from my doctor.  Anything processed is bad to one’s health according to my physician.  I thought for a while that a hamburger fill has enough nutrition to gas up my day.” 

“Ok, Reverend, I will go to the security wing and ask if some of my wards will heed your request.”

(A month later, I was informed that a prisoner volunteered to donate one of his kidneys to the retired prison chaplain and the next that I heard was that, the good chaplain repaired in his home province and continued with his ministry.  The prisoner who volunteered one of his kidneys after a period was released.  I just don’t know if they were still communicating but from where I was, both lived a normal life after the medical procedure.)

I was reminded of my dear sister.  She had kidney trouble too.  The ailment virtually made her chair bound and could not flex her legs.  She contracted the ailment from the therapeutic procedure she underwent when she was radiated for cervical cancer.  Accordingly, her kidneys were injured as a result of the radiation procedure.  But of course, I would also attribute the kidney trouble from the food she was fond of.

My sister loves good food.  She has this fixation over a pack of chicharon (fluffy fries from pork skin) and on her way home from office she would drop by her favorite nook to treat herself with a heap of the newly cooked crispy snack.  My suspicion is that the pork skin was the culprit in damaging her kidneys more than the radiation.  For me, if its radiation, how come only the kidneys were affected when there were more sensitive organs and tissues around which are even more vulnerable to cobalt exposure.  It is the processed food she would spoil herself that ruined her comfort, sent her to pain and challenged her health more than anything else.  I am also guilty of this predisposition but the cost of the snack is quite prohibitive that I could only pamper myself if I am liquid for the day.

These are only a glimpse and there were lots of notable cases I could draw from relatives and friends whose internal organs including their nervous system that would be racked by consuming processed rations.

I realize that eating raw vegetables, fruits, green and leafy ones and some high protein nuts are not only beneficial and wholesome but also components to keep one fit, strong and hale.  It really is painful to ignore processed food.  It is tempting and very alluring.  I hated the view that processed foods are that unsafe.  But I am just a mere victim of analysis and in my study; and I wish I am wrong, that a healthy body depends largely from what we bring into our system.







This is a follow up to my earlier letter to you my loved ones.  I promised to send you one.  I would presume that you have already internalized what I have shared to you last time and this letter would merely situate your gains towards a positive end.


There are, methinks, thousands of books, pamphlets and countless articles on the art of negotiation.  Accordingly, it is not only a science, not only an art but a major part in the arsenal of anyone trying to survive and win in any struggle.  There are countless approaches, principles, methods too to be employed so that once the person during negotiation applies these tactics, one is already conferred and assured of receiving the better part of the transaction.

I have as yet to make a summary and translate in one swift consideration how these approaches can be applied.  But I have devised something that would equate these matters into one simple undertaking.

Let me take you to our previous lesson on winning.  Remember the process of defeating and defying time?  That you must try to get up before a designated period, that is, as soon as the time you have promised to awaken will have sounded out.  I said you have won and that you are already a WINNER.  Now, let me continue from there.  As you go out to greet the world there will be people who would pounce on you for something.  It could be some complicated requests or a plain question on what time is there on your watch.

Now listen up.  If there is a person or a group of persons who would approach you with a query, never respond at all.  Lest you might misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that you ignore or disregard the fellow but you should take note of what he said (and retort later) but as a rule, you should not reply first.  Make the first move or instantly ask another question.  Remember, it is always you who must initiate the first question if you could not dismiss the person in front of you.  Think of something relevant to displace the first move or question made on you.  The trick is for you to get the upper hand.  Let him respond first to you before you react on that which the fellow wanted you to do.

You will be amazed that the fellow has immediately been charmed.  Anything you ask or require him to do will be done for you.  He will do the bidding for you because he is under your spell already.

If you are in a meeting, in a discussion, in a conference or may be in a transaction, remember to ask the first question.  Anyone whom you wish to submit to your presence should be the person you will ask first.  Any question will do.  You may ask how his day or his date, anything innocent.  Once he responds, you have him tucked under your control.  Even if in the course of your activity he piles up a lot of questions on you, in the end, he will always defer to your side or in anything where you are positioned.

You are familiar in a classroom setting.  Once the teacher comes in and declares a greeting, everybody responds.  From there on, all of those in the classroom are subservient to his requirements already.  Try to greet the teacher first before he commence and start to check your attendance, chances are he will dismiss the class early, and most likely you would hear complaints from him that he got out of bed on the wrong side.  Worst, he will never find the proper bearing to teach if that happens.

Now, let me repeat for purposes of emphasis.  If you want to dominate without being dominant, manipulative without being oppressive, to take a lead without being overbearing; you just want to express simple command, be respected in your ideas, in other words, succeed in the negotiation table whether it is conducted in a board room or under the tree, then don’t ever forget to ask the FIRST QUESTION, whatever it is.

Take good care always and share this also to your loved ones.

You ancestor,


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