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.


About vjtesoro

A perpetual student of Corrections

Posted on September 22, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

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  4. John Luckacs, author of the book “Escape From Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War,” would like to erect a small marker/memorial to honor the memory of the Americans and Filipinos who participated in this escape. Whom should we approach for permission to do this? Lukacs is coming to the Philippines on April of this year. Please help if you can.


    • Dear James Litton, greetings. Davao Penal Colony (presently called Davao Prison and Penal Farm) is under the Bureau of Corrections (Bucor). Bucor is under supervision of the Secretary of Justice. If the good author intends to propose and construct a memorial for American soldiers in Davao Prison and Penal Farm, he must proceed to the office of Secretary of Justice Leila Delima, Department of Justice, Padre Faura, Manila. From there, the Secretary may designate coordinators and facilitators for Mr. John Luckacs. For your information and reference. VJT


  5. very informative and it also helps the tertiary student to widen their knowledge about the penal colony institution.


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