DAPECOL IN MY MIND
My first official visit, actually my first trip, to Davao Penal Colony (now Davao Prison and Penal Farm) was in the summer of 1985. I just completed a country representation in UNAFEI, Tokyo, Japan then when a directive was issued requiring me to proceed, along with several prison officers, to check Davao Prison. Dapecol then, even at present, was a beautiful community situated right in the middle, as a matter of fact at the heart, of a sprawling vast tract of land systematically organized as a banana farm and hardwood tree plantation.
Living in the area was like staying inside an oxygen tank!
It was indeed a very impressive place for a penal colony.
In 1994, I was assigned to administer Davao Prison and Penal Farm. It was my first out-of-town assignment. Accordingly, there was a problem in the facility. A certain high profile inmate could not be controlled because the fellow had high level connections with military officials that his unchecked movements to leave the area remained a problem. I was directed to solve the institutional problem.
Well, I did. After a week, I reported back to central office and presented my solution. The Director noted and directed me to return back and assumed the colony leadership. After a year, I was again recalled by the prison leadership to take another assignment. I was tasked to take over the administration of Iwahig Penal Colony. My Dapecol stint was very inspiring.
In 2000, after a brief stint at Iwahig and then at San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm in Zamboanga and New Bilibid Prison, I was again ordered to assume command of Dapecol. It was a disheartening period at that time for the facility. Dapecol officers were traumatized by a bloody carnage, a brutal hostage situation where an officer died along with several inmate hostage takers and numerous personnel injured in the process. It was a time for healing. And I was there to stabilize a rickety situation. I was in the facility for one and a half years at the helm just enough to gain rapport in the community of prison officers and build a shrine for the Lady of the Prisoners, a grotto in front of the reservation Chapel. The Shrine was given an imprimatur by Bishop Wilfredo Manlapaz, the Vicar Head of Tagum. Thereafter, I was recalled at NBP to take care of media.
In 2007, a few hours after Dapecol’s armory was raided by insurgents, I was again called to assume command of Dapecol and resolve a crisis that bordered on a scandal which might taint the integrity of correctional security as a whole. After a month, the correctional situation improved. A few months later, Dapecol’s satellite sub colony was transformed into a correctional institution for women, thereby making Dapecol the only penal establishment in the country with a female ward.
For seven consecutive years, with around 7 months brief interval at New Bilibid Prison, I held on the post and smoothly administered the area. From that time on up until I retired, I had almost a continuous service at the helm of Dapecol.
All in all, I had around 9 years and a half exposure in the facility. And it was a very rousing period in my term as a government functionary.
And on a personal note, I have learned to love the area as if I am from there already. But what made me a bit awkward in claiming that it was my place is the fact that I am not conversant with the predominant dialect—Visayan. I could not speak, much more so understand it notwithstanding the fact that I was almost a decade long resident of the area. Two things: either I am disinterested in learning the language or I am a language idiot. I suspect myself on the latter side.
Aside from the fact that Dapecol is the second biggest correctional in the country (in terms of population, second to NBP; in terms of size, second to Iwahig), it has a successful joint venture and a matured and pronounced rehabilitation program for prisoners in association with the private sector (Tagum Agricultural Development Corporation or Tadeco). With an active program link with the private sector, Dapecol has shared a dominant contribution on the effort to push the mandate of corrections in the overall scheme of the criminal justice administration of the country.
Dapecol’s Joint Venture Program remains an excellent template for all penal establishments in the country.
In 2015, it was a personal reckoning term to bow out from the prison service. It was a pleasant period to spend one’s youth in the correctional service. The officers succeeding me in the organization are competent to sustain the challenges of the prison service.
It was time for me to fade away but Dapecol still remains as sharp in my memory and ever dazzling in my mind.