No one can blame me if I’m afraid of the prisoners, ex-convicts and especially the so-called Bilibid Prison, why? because of what I am seeing in the news, in televisions, in movies and even in print media; it’s terrifying how the place and the people behind bars are described!
When I was invited to have a visit at the Bureau of Corrections or commonly called as BuCor, at first I was hesitant especially that we will be actually going to the Maximum Security Compound, who wouldn’t? We all know that criminals who have committed heinous crimes such as murders, massacres, rape and the like are locked up in this facility, so I have all the reasons in the world to be hesitant and scared, right?
But then, I guess I have to conquer my fears because I know that bloggers like me will not be invited to such institution if it’s not safe plus Director Gaudencio Pangilinan of the Bureau of Corrections, assured us that the BuCor is one of the safest place in Manila. So, I told myself, “this is it! I have to go!”
New Bilibid Prison (NBP)’s control room
So, on June 8, 2012, my blogger friends and I went to the New Bilibid Prison (NBP). Upon entering the facility, I felt butterflies in my stomach that I think I’m going to throw up, I was nauseated and a little bit sweaty due to anxiety and apprehensions, in short…… I was terribly nervous, period. I didn’t bring my camera because common sense told me that it’s prohibited inside the facility.
When we were inside the Corrections, there were cameras everywhere taking pictures of us; I thought they were media people or some sort but then I felt dumb when I realized that the ones that have cameras and taking pictures/videos of us are all inmates and they are members of the production team for their own TV channel inside the facility! It’s called Bilibid TV3 (BTV3), managed and staffed by the inmates for the inmates.
I was really amazed because who would’ve thought that a correctional facility has its own TV productions?!
Anyway, I have also noticed some golf carts ( I was informed that they were made by the inmates), sari-sari stores, different chapels (for various religious affiliations), basketball courts, playground, studio (where the bands comprised of inmates, too, records and performs), hospital, and conjutel among others.
They also have conjutel, a mini hotel wherein the inmates can have a private time with their family or their husband/wife every weekend on a scheduled basis. Yes, the BuCor allows for overnight conjugal visits for their inmates!
Prisoners likewise have their set of “friends” popularly called as “gang”. But they are not that chaotic as what we are seeing in the news and movies. They were well-behave and courteous. The facility is also clean and “breathable”. According to the inmates we have interviewed, they are saddened by how the media pictures the BuCor and the inmates and that they can’t blame people, especially their families who haven’t remembered them for such a long time. Jaybee Sebastian, one of the inmates, sadly expressed that, “one will only realize who truly loves him/her and stays with them when they’re inside the BuCor”.
The inmates were just glad that the New Bilibid Prison is now starting to leave by its name – “New”. They have several programs/projects for the reformation of the prisoners, whom the society foresees to be hopeless and will always be in conflict with the law. The BuCor Mandate – Safekeeping and Reformation of National Prisoners – is now being carried in action in order to expunge the common notion of people about being an inmate in the so-called Muntinlupa facility, which is grossly opposite of what I have personally saw and witnessed during the one day visit.
Programs like livelihood are already implemented, enhancing the inmates’ talents on painting and other crafts is fully operational and they have their own recording studio for those who have talent for singing and those who are good in different musical instruments, among others.
Feel Free Band: vocalist Luis Garchitorena is a 1996 Metro Pop Music Festival Champion
Bahala na Gang entertained us with their original composition
Jaybee Sebastian, BTV3 Head honcho
I was also impressed by their e-Dalaw facility wherein inmates can communicate with their loved ones here and abroad through internet – a really remarkable project that can ease the pain and longings of the detainees, as well as, give them a new perspective in life by letting them feel that someone is waiting for them outside the four corners of the prison.
During the briefing, Director Pangilinan mentioned that the Bureau of Corrections is now starting to address major issues regarding the BuCor such as:
1. Outdated 1917 law
2. Low prison guard to inmates ratio –
3. Reformation Program
4. Modernization Bill & 10 year Road Map
5. Inmate records management
6. Transfer of NBP
Now, these issues has been gradually given attention and I believe that the BuCor’s Mandate will be able release inmates, who are productive, healthy, and less likely to be in conflict with the law again.
Furthermore, we were likewise presented by the BuCor’s six imperatives of Reformation and they are listed below:
1. Health Care Program
2. Education and Skills Development
3. Livelihood and Livelihood Training
4. Moral and Spiritual Enlightenment
5. Sports and Recreational Program
6. Behavioral Modification
The bottom line function of BuCor is crime prevention as one recidivist less, is one crime less.
When all of these imperatives will succeed, I guess Philippines will be one of the safest places to stay (due to less crime) in the world and we can be truly proud to say that “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”!
Now, I realized that prisoners inside the Bureau of Corrections are not truly “prisoners” in the true sense of the word, instead they’re just like a small community wherein all their needs are present (hospital, recreation facilities, chapels, education, etc.) and that they live harmoniously with each other.
For more details, you may visit www.bucor.gov.ph to know more about their projects/programs and how you can extend your help if you wish to.
Together we can create a peaceful and safe Philippines to live by.
Photo Credits: BuCor and Marriage and Beyond