TUNNELS IN NEW BILIBID PRISON
My prison quarters is situated a few meters away from the imposing perimeter fence of NBP maximum security compound. Across the road, the frontage of my quarters is directly facing Post Tower number 10. Sometime in the early 1980s, a number of military six by six trucks would park along the road in front of my quarters and the entire stretch of Post Tower number 10 would be taken over my military personnel. I was then a senior psychologist in the diagnostic center of the penitentiary.
The military operation on that part of NBP perimeter fence took sometime. The area was covered by a long stretch of nipa as if there was construction going on. The guard was not allowed to be posted at the tower so I presumed that the activity had permission from NBP leadership.
Not until one of the labourers in the “construction” site would knock at my quarters to ask for water that I realized what was going on in that covered area. Accordingly, the fellow is one among several construction labourers contracted to bore a hole at the base of the perimeter fence. The labourer added that as soon as they get through a tunnel, another group would take over their function.
The entire operation took three months with several military trucks coming in by day and moving away every dawn as if silently they were carting off something valuable. Except for a hunch, the impression of those in my neighbouring quarters was mainly on the amusement side. Majority of them would quip that it was one of those desperate treasure hunting operation of government.
At that time, there were rumors that the fabled Yamashita loot comprising of gold and jewelries were neatly stacked on the criss crossing of tunnels beneath NBP. Historically, NBP was once upon a time a Japanese sentry outpost and garrison. As a matter of fact, a good half a kilometre away from the NBP maximum facility, there was even a Japanese cemetery.
A decade later, after a series of promotion, I was appointed as Prison Superintendent. My first command assignment was to be in charge of NBP. As administrator, I summoned the chief engineer of my agency to my office and asked if he has a blue print file of NBP’s buildings. Either the Engineer was incompetent in his office or he was just too lazy to check out, he never gave me anything except for some electrical lay out plans for the facility.
To satisfy my curiosity and be competent on my environs, I required the elder officers and even took time out to visit retired ones who were assigned in the area if only to ask if they have personal knowledge on the purported tunnels beneath NBP. I got a handful of information. These were enough data for me to explore the entire NBP facility. I checked the tell-tale signs whispered to me by retired officers like a pathway using the former armory stockroom. And true enough, there was indeed a gangplank several feet below leading to a well constructed tunnel. The underground corridor however was blocked by a wall, a recent construction, based on the way the hollow blocks were cemented.
Sometime past, according to some retired prison officers, no prison personnel can be seen walking inside the prison camp. Posting duties were conducted using underground pathways or tunnels. Either a security personnel would walk on top of walls leading to the upper deck and onwards to post towers, or, descending from the main door, passing through underground corridors to reach the middle security center post.
I never had the occasion to explore these alleged tunnels though because after a few months, I was transferred to a regional prison establishment but my understanding was that during the time the Japanese Imperial Army’s occupation of the prison facility, the built in tunnels were even expanded and additional ones constructed using prison manpower, mostly prisoners of war, where several secret crevices beneath the prison camp were made in the process. Tunnels that would lead from outside were also constructed if only to use the same route for purposes of ingress and egress for safekeeping alleged war booties. There were still areas near the prison camp where concrete slabs and tunnel markers predominated the landscape of the prison reservation.
These tunnels made use of steel matting to prop the sides of manholes and iron tracks (riles ng tren) on which all additional tunnels were installed. After World War II, these underground easements were covered. That explains why there were stacks and abundance of steel matting and iron tracks almost everywhere in the prison reservation during the early 1960s onwards.
Years passed with different administrators at the helm, changes in security conditions and conflicting administrative policies were issued and applied. There were times when security was foremost; a time when rehabilitation was a focused activity; a period when infrastructure was pushed; another period when nothing but factions overrules all professional career considerations. Consequently, that which has been there beneath the facility, at the underbelly of NBP, had been lost in the security consciousness with all the intramural of factions in the organization and worst, had virtually been ignored as a consequence of prison congestion.
Tunnels are suspect whenever there is a prison facility. But during the time when it was used by an invading army, tunnels also became a safe place for keeping precious loots.
Prisoners may dig for freedom. Government may want also to dig for some treasures.