Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tales from Iwahig Prison/Penal Colony

Ian Limbonis in the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Puerto Prinsesa

I first heard about Iwahig prison from the History Channel. It surprised me that local media hasn’t delivered this place and story to my time and attention before. I was somehow glad that inmates are provided that quasi community to live instead of just being locked up rotting in a cabin.
It was my first stop for my Puerto Prinsesa trip and I was too excited at having a conversation with the inmates. I flew in the evening, and I was even thinking about camping in the compound. However, I did not have time to research and find the proper person to speak to, to get permission (I was informed later that it’s not allowed anyway).

Anyhow, day 1, around noontime, with my rented motorbike, I drove 16 kilometers off the city proper towards the Palawan South Road.

 Iwahig is a huge plantation compound and the sudden drop of rain gave us no choice but to find cover from one building we saw from its main road.

There were also a group of men running all together, dressed up with the same shirts. I had the hint they were the inmates. They have with them some planting tools, where I assumed they were on assignment and were asked to go back to their shelters since it was raining.

biking around the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm Compound in Puerto Prinsesa

As we passed by them, we asked if we can take cover from the hut that is opposite the building. Some civilian nodded yes (which I later found out he is like the head of the compound).
Immediately as I park our motorcycle, one man (names I prefer to conceal) approached and was offering some souveniers already.  I don’t normally buy souveniers but with his tone of voice, he was like begging us to buy. I had the choice to say no, but my compassion to the man couldn’t. He fixed our motor parking, and asked that we shade near the gate.

There were four other men standing on the gate, another one offering some crafts; We began asking questions, and they began asking us too.

Upon asking where we are from, and telling them I am from Pampanga, the other man holding crafts asked me where my hometown is. He hails from Pampanga; From there, we had closed the conversation between us, using our native dialect. He’s probably excited to get the chance to use his home language. My travel buddy, Tonyo, was left with the other 3.

A fishpond inside the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Puerto Prinsesa City

He volunteered to tell me what his offense was. He said he stabbed 2, first imprisoned for 6 years in the province, then in Muntinlupa for another 2 years, and then later transferred to Iwahig. So far, he has 2 more years to serve, and is very excited to go home. He tells me how, along with the other inmates, they struggle to survive. Their normal meal is a pack of noodles, and rice is scarce.

I do see the plantation around, and the available land, and I ask how come there isn’t enough supply. He says the harvest don’t go to them. I was dismayed. He adds they are being paid P45/month for that work.
All the while I thought the inmates can freely till the soil and plant for their own consumption. I felt like I was fooled by the initial information I heard or interpreted.  In fact, when I ask him about his preference between being in Bilibid or Iwahig prison, he said Bilibid is better. There is more activites; He can get visits; In Iwahig, it’s too far flung and there is none to do. The other inmate even points out he finished a cosmetology course in Bilibid.

It was raining, and the inmates asked us if we wanted anything. Being a coffee person, I asked if we can buy coffee. He affirms, and I asked that I go with him inside the minimum security compound. But then, they said, that’s all we can get to. Visitors are not allowed inside, and not even all prisoners have the freedom to get out just like them. Not what I thought. I gave them the money to buy 6 coffee for all of us.
While having coffee, they asked for cigarettes and tried to get us to donate our slippers. I could see how torn their slippers are but it would just be so hard to be travelling with that of theirs. There isn’t any nearby store either. Also, inasmuch as we’d like to, we did not prepare to be fairy god mothers. We can only help by as much.

Souveneir shop within the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Puerto Prinsesa City

After the coffee, we asked that we leave so we can have time to roam around. Before we managed to leave, they tried to get us to cash out some more. I didn’t. Tonyo did, out of empathy. I’m sharing this as a caution for upcoming visitors; Don’t show too much more than what you are prepared to give; If you may also please bring some, even the cheaper <P20 sandals. I’m suggesting that they be handed over to the officers who sit in the hut right infront of the colony just to avoid any arguments between the inmates (and let’s hope it goes to them, and not on the personal use of the officers).

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