DERADICALIZATION IN PHILIPPINE PRISONS
Criminal justice authorities, backed up by tomes of studies conducted abroad, mostly in western countries, believe that radical elements should be confined in a separate facility and should never be mixed with common felons. This is the very essence of what “deradicalization” means for them. Radicals are simply to be segregated from the rest of the prison population. The presumption why this arrangement should be made as a matter of course is the suspicion that radical elements tend to persuade if not convince their fellow inmates, specially those convicted of common crimes, to swing their point of view and commence action according to their beliefs. And their beliefs are aimed at destroying government if not society as a whole.
Philippine Prison Setting
In the Philippine setting, there is no segregation system strictly speaking when it comes to a group identified as radicals. Depending on penalties, convicts are classified accordingly. If their penalty is more than 20 years, they are brought to the maximum security camp. If their penalty is below 20 years, medium security status; if only a year or two is left for the penalty to be served out, prisoners become minimum security inmates. That is the general rule in the segregation scheme of prisoners. Whether a prisoner has committed a high crime, simple offense or a heinous one as a result of his political affiliations or rebellious inclination, he would be brought to a specific camp depending on his penalty.
There are numerous cases where inmates who were categorized as confirmed rebels were integrated into the mainstream of a regular prison setting. And under the air of the usual prison climate, rebels eventually become regular faces in the community. If at all they are different from the rest, it is not their beliefs system that sets them apart, it is more of their skills, personal skills that matter. Their ideologies are completely ignored by the prison population. Their persuasion and faith are also not a factor for their adjustment and acceptance. It is more of their demeanour and projections.
A lot of ideologues who were incarcerated subsequently became active participants and a mainstay among the regular hierarchy of gangs. Their previous leanings and political biases were completely eradicated from their sworn and brain washed vocabularies. Be they guerrillas or military mutineers. If at all they have some measure of influence, it is more on how they would carry themselves in the face of prison restrictions. Institutional life, the regular routine and round-the-clock considerations virtually “deradicalizes” an ideologue during the service of his penalty. What happens after a prescribed period is more telling. The prison community psychologically and sociologically disrobes anyone with pretentious thoughts or even with deep seated philosophical orientation into an ordinary sinner. Prison, the congested type, is a vast levelling field.
Sometime ago, convicted dreaded Marxist ideologues, the hardened and difficult to contain ones, were hauled in batches and mixed with common criminals in the National Penitentiary. Years of rubbing elbows in the prison community replaced their idealism in favour of pragmatism. While they were referred to as “comrades” before, they were eventually more at ease to be called as “ka-kosa” (a prison language for co-accused). Majority even would swear hatred on their former company which never shared their institutional struggles and instead, gangs have instantly replaced their significance.
They even have gang marks to proudly showcase their new found loyalty!
Prisoners with Terror Links
Recent cases where feared terror extremists epitomized by elements of Abu Sayaf, with international connection with Al Qaeda and Jeemaah Islamiyah were convicted, were whisked inside the national penitentiary and collectively confined within the maximum security camp along with common felons. After a few months, they were all conscripted into a regional gang. Those who did not become gang members were alienated and made as toilet cleaners.
It would not take longer than a semester when those considered as pariah would later become active gang collectors!
Prisoners with confirmed international terror linkages
Another case involved a confirmed international terrorist, an Indonesian national who was on record a highly trained bomb specialist with direct lines with a terror network of Jeemaah Islamiyah. When the military intel group swooped down on the terror lair, the Indonesian was captured. After his prosecution and subsequent conviction, he was immediately sent to serve time in the maximum security camp of the National Penitentiary.
In a highly congested facility, he was expected to lead a faction of the local terror group serving time also in the same camp because of his connections and resources. Months went by, nothing happened with the anticipated collaboration.
The Indonesian merely shed his terror orientation, courted a local lady who joined a prison visitor, got enamoured until he got married. He did not stop from there. With his association and resources, he was able to organize a local store supplying food and other merchandize to his fellow prisoners. He became a local grocer in a short period of time.
On top of that, he was able to master the spoken dialect of his wife and became proficient in the prevailing vernacular. When he received his release papers, he almost collapsed as a consequence of sadness. He does not want to be expatriated. He wanted to remain in the country, live a simple life as storekeeper and see his children to school.
He was eventually deported. To date, it has been deduced that he left Indonesia and returned to the country secretly through the back door, the same route he made as a rebel, but this time, joining his local family and leading a normal anonymous life.
That is how “deradicalization” works in the Philippine prison.