RODOLFO DIAMANTE: Prison Volunteer
Rodolfo Diamante is no diamond in the rough as how the iconic Arabian lore Aladdin has been described in classic literature. But like Aladdin, Rodolfo has become some kind of a folk hero, not in a kingdom far away, but in the heart of the prison community.
I have known Rudy since his first attempt to join the batch of prison volunteers in the late 70s. It was a time when penal establishments were evolving its mandate from retributive to restorative policy. This was likewise the time which was progressively ushered in and encouraged by then prison chaplain, Msgr. Ernesto Espiridion. Prisons, a closed environment for a time has become a Mecca for spiritual minded volunteers, social workers and philanthropists.
It was a period when socially conscious prison officers had collaborated with political prisoners in formulating an institutional environment where human rights and humane treatment are to be applied in the prison community. The institutional transformation veered away from a strictly hospital model into a coherent school environment. Prisoners were no longer seen as patients, sick persons for confinement but rather persons with defective values to be remedied with the rudiments of social direction and vocational skills through education. Hence, from rehabilitation come corrections.
The spritely young man, the boyish Rudy, since then never left the confines of the prison ministry. He became virtually the flesh and bones of every spiritual formation in the national penitentiary. I thought that like others, his prison visitation would be like a fad, a flash in the pan, a sudden religious awareness which were fleeting and temporary. But he persevered. He would even outlast prison officers in his personal crusade and would pursue prison reforms even if it’s politically incorrect. He has proven his relevance with his committed position with respect to correctional reforms and his high profile campaign on the abolition of death penalty.
The formal introduction of prison volunteerism in the country is almost equated with the entry of Mr. Rodolfo Diamante in the organized sphere of the prison service, not as a worker though but as an unpaid facilitator. Already a name in the church hierarchy as a competent scribe and program organizer whenever there are Church sponsored convocations, Bro Rudy, as he is fondly called, would find time working with a regular church worker Ed de Ocampo who was based in Manila City Jail. Both are bachelors and very active in religious ministry. Both have uncanny commitment to the incarcerated humanity too.
In a span of three decades as prison volunteer, he crusaded on prison reforms. His single minded advocacy was recognized by Church superiors until he was conscripted into the fold of CBCP Episcopal Commission on Prisoners Welfare. In the course of his church based function, he even went further advocating developments in the entire criminal justice system of the country.
In one of his animated debate in a congressional hearing on justice, Rodolfo Diamante, as Executive Secretary of CBCP-ECPPC has been quoted thus:
“The stance against the death penalty is in no way a posture to let criminal offenders go scot-free. The Catholic Church believes in justice and its ranked high in its hierarch of values. Thos who have transgressed the laws of the land should be held answerable and accountable after a fair trial; otherwise, they become effective endorsers of crime and criminal actions, and strong parody for the ethical adage that “crime does not pay.” But he hastens to add that “it is only the “Giver of life” who has the right to claim it.”
His argument literally brought into focus the abolition of death penalty. He would advance the thought that “rather than take away precious human life, the Church wants to explore alternatives to mete out justice. For one, it seriously considers—and vigorously advocates—a shift in the paradigm of justice: from litigation to mediation; prosecution to healing; punishment to reform and rehabilitation: from the retributive to the restorative. But taking way the life of someone, whom we have condemned, immobilized and rendered helpless with contraptions of of death is a horrible lesson to teach our children, that human life is as disposable as any contraptions and trimmings of postmodern life.”
Asked what ails the criminal justice system, Diamante claimed that “The system is weak. It’s prone to corruption and so it loses credibility. That is why the people get bold to commit crime because they know they can buy the system.”
Years of crusading have not dampened his activist spirit. He never even mellowed and slowed down. He has devoted his youth, the best years of his life in the service of the incarcerated humanity and their welfare has been assured. His efforts could be seen from a series of legislations which have been translated into laws addressing the welfare of the prison community.
Truly, the man has attained such historic posture almost synonymous to the development of Philippine corrections.