Thursday, July 08, 2010


It was a lovely Wednesday afternoon when I accepted Gang Badoy's invitation to visit Muntinlupa Prison (New Bilibid). I knew that her org, RockEd, had been doing some projects with the inmates, teaching English and creative writing. I've been invited by Gang to visit the project before, but somehow, being busy as hell, my schedule never worked out. This particular Wednesday though, I amazingly was tour-free and available (a rarity in my life) so I accepted her offer, met her and the RockEd gang at the Starbucks Shell on SLEX and we convoyed to the Susana Heights exit, towards Laguna de Bay and the penitentary (above). I was accompanied by my photographer friend Ninfa. We both did not know what to expect and of course, I had my own preconceived notions of what a penitentiary in The Philippines would be like. And of course, those notions were just as nasty as the notions you are having right now.

First and foremost, I was surprised about how clean the air was in Muntinlupa. I'm sure there are places in the country with cleaner air, but somehow after harboring the notion that Filipino prisons were hell on earth, I wasn't expecting the penitentiary to be set amongst rolling green hills. I was also surprised that New Bilibid was not new at all (above). The National Historical Institute has put up a marker. That's how old it is.

According to the marker, New Bilibid is 105 years old. Founded in 1905, construction of New Bilibid began in 1936. In 1940, prisoners were transferred from Old Bilibid (in downtown Manila) to the new prison you see above. The old facility in Manila was then transferred to The City of Manila government and it became known as "Manila City Jail". Some famous residents in NB (some guilty of a crime, some not) have been Amado Hernandez, General Yamashita, Jovito Salonga, Hubert Webb, and Mayor Sanchez. I'm not sure why the prison has to look like a castle though. It must have been all the rage back then. Bilibid in Manila and the Manila Police Department station on UN Avenue in Paco all look like castles. Hmm.

Anyhoo, I soon found out that the reason why I was here was because it was the 3rd anniversary of RockEd's work in New Bilibid. They were celebrating this auspicious occasion with a little "party" and a concert called "Rock the Rehas" which would be headlined by acoustic musician Johnoy Danao (above). Truth be told, I was shocked and impressed to learn that RockEd's classes have been going on for that long. I mean, it's hard enough to sustain any project (much less a charitable and out of town one) for one month, much less three years.(visiting the jail for classes EVERY Wednesday). I was truly blown away by their dedication. I was even more impressed to learn that Gang and RockEd have also been bringing in musical acts to New Bilibid to add some music into the lives of these prisoners. Whoa. Seeing RockEd and Gang in a whole new light. Gang. Expressline ka to heaven (no need for 10 items or less talaga). St. Peter will definitely pull back the velvet rope for you. Truly.

Oh. When entering New Bilibid as a visitor, you have to first be given a permit, leave your ID, and get stamped. No pictures allowed either. Good thing RockEd obtained a permit for us. If not, there would be no pictures for this post at all. The only warning that Gang gave both Ninfa and I was to NOT wear skimpy clothes. Uh. Ok. Sure. Now, Ninfa being female I could understand. "Haha. Even me?", I asked. "Especially you" Gang shot back. Um. Okay. Got it. Point taken.

First thing I noticed about the section of New Bilibid that I entered, was how much activity was going on. New Bilibid didn't immediately come across as a miserable place where dead men walking inhabited the grounds as I had thought. There was life everywhere - noise and music even. It actually seemed like a regular barangay with a sari-sari store, little roads, and nipa huts. Except that everyone was a dude. And in orange.

I also noticed that New Bilibid also had thriving vegetable gardens, three churches, a tennis court, a mosque, classrooms and a playground (um. Yes. A playground. Complete with swings, a slide and monkey bars). Um. Ok. Not sure why they would need the last one but it's not my place to question.

I also checked out the handicrafts they make. The rocking chair on the lower left side is a picture frame-slash-celphone holder. I like the bottled ships on the right. But all in all and on the whole, the designs were really kinda baduy but meant well. I hope someone out there who is a product designer can collaborate with New Bilibid or RockEd to create much more interesting designs that would appeal to a greater market. Just an idea.

Another idea. Teach the inmates soccer.

There are Art Classes at the New Bilibid prison as well. Apparently, much of these improvements and rehabilitation programs of the prison were started by former inmate and child molester, Congressman Romeo Jalosjos of Zamboanga. Inmates that I met said that up until even ten years ago, prison conditions were really deplorable. Things were dark, depressing, full of garbage mounds and there really wasn't much activity. There was also NO visitation rights at all. This resulted in the proliferation of almost 12 gangs (most famous being Sigue Sigue Sputnik) who occupied their time fighting and oftentimes, killing one another. They say now with all these changes, the "gangs" have now been downgraded to mere "regional cliques" who help out new provincemates who enter and practically all the killings have stopped in their quadrant. Please note that I am only talking about 1/4 of the prison. I have no idea what the conditions are like in the other 3 quadrants of New Bilibid. There are more than 12,000 inmates in all at New Bilibid Prison.

The concert proper is about to begin. I didn't get the name of the opening act. I only know that the lead singer is a Garchitorena. The Pamintuan side of my family is related to the Garchitorenas. I wonder. Hmm. Didn't get to ask but he was a really cool performer. Parang punk rock na Pepe Smith but younger. Apparently, he is in here for drug running. Lots of convicted drug criminals in here. Many are here for murder, but drug trafficking/possession seems to be the most common story among those that I spoke to. Now, personally, I think rehab centers are the best place to put a drug addict/pusher. But apparently, society doesn't agree with me. So jail it is for these guys.

RockEd radio teaches creative writing and English in New Bilibid. Some of the students even get to move on and work as medical transcription writers. I got to chat with some of these students and learned that the students of RockEd number at more than 100. Wow. And aside from the Garchitorena guy, I also learned that there were quite a few coño kids inside. Aside from Paco Lazarriaga (who was released a few years ago and transferred to Spain), I also met Dexter (above on the left) of the famed Valle Verde carnapping gang of a few years back. His companion with the white shirt is from Iligan. He recognized my family name. (perhaps because of Celdran Village or because of my more notorious cousins?) Not known to many, there was a Celdran who was part of the Kuratong Baleleng gang but that's another post altogether.

Some of the many artworks done by prisoners hanging around the place (above). The one you see above is by a Chinese national inmate who really did ink paintings when he was on the outside. He is now in here because of drug trafficking, namely Shabu (meth).

Mike, another articulate coño dude, photographer, and former Coca-cola TV advertisement model. We were in UP Diliman during the same time in the 90's but we never met. Fortunately for me, I never joined a frat or gang. But sadly, Mike did, got implicated in a killing during a frat rumble and has been here since 2004. If I remember correctly, I don't think he has cut his hair since he entered. Swell dude. He works closely with Gang with the English/creative writing classes. Being the same age as me, it was really a bit of a wake up call about how one's life can change with just one mistake. Meeting him hit closer to home than the others.

Johnoy begins his acoustic set at around 3pm ish. Gang and I banter as hosts of the show. My Tagalog sucks donkeys so I sheepishly go offstage allowing the concert proper to begin. Johnoy is really awesome when it comes to entertaining acoustically. I'm surprised he isn't higher on the radar in this town. Hire him, y'all.

Soon enough, Johnoy was joined by some of the inmates. Some sang along. Some took the guitar and played their own compositions. Check out the song of the inmate above. Someone told me he wrote the song, but for some strange reason, I recognized the song and knew some of the lyrics. I don't know why. Oh. And he is a Gibo fan. Cool. Too bad he can't vote though. :o(

A fellow Intramuros inhabitant. We'll call him Mike (above in black sando). Apparently he remembers me from years ago when he was outside living on Basco street in Intramuros. He has been in here for five years. Apparently, he'll be leaving soon. He said he'll look for me in Intramuros. Um. Ok. But I shouldn't feel too scared. Apparently, he isn't in here for murder. He is here for gun possession lang daw. Phew.

Soon enough, Gang is asked to come up and she sing a song. Of course, she gamely does. Mabuhay ka, Gang. Seriously.

Not to be outdone, Miz Jay (at left), a former member of the Celeste carnap gang, gets up and sings a Kenny Loggins number. He really gave it his all. He got the most applause I believe among all the performers. Loved his performance. Galing mo, ate. Check out his performance here. Click on the sidebar to check out the other acts who have performed at New Bilibid.

And of course, not to be outdone and being the attention whore that I am, I get up and sing James Taylor's "You Got a Friend". I didn't hit all the notes. Oh well. Too bad. But I gotta say, there is something to be said about singing the blues in jail. There really is. Please note that the video was shot in wide angle. My belly is not as hefty as it appears onscreen. I think.

Check out Tado's documentary on New Bilibid here:

Another inmate with an artwork that he made. It's made out of pieces of bamboo that are burned with a soldering iron and collaged to create the "Last Supper". Mind blowing. They really do have a lot of free time in here. Which of course, is a totally obvious statement.

An inmate who is a RockEd fan. He tattooed "Rock the Rehas" on the back of his head. It's so great to see how RockEd is affecting and uplifting the lives of these men.

Same guy but with a tattoo of Gang herself on his thigh. Whoa. I'm sure she's flattered even though the tattoo looks more like Anabelle Rama than Gang herself. Either way and once again. It's mindblowing how much RockEd had affected the lives of these people. I cannot overstate that enough.

The big man on the grounds. Warren Zingapan. He is the head of the Lamb of God foundation and has spearheaded many of the extra rehabilitation and education projects in the prison including the New Bilibid Orchestra (below) Now they ain't exactly the "Thriller" prison dancers of Cebu but they do entertain. In a much more classy manner.

Check out the BuCor Orchestra's rendition of "A Little Piece of Heaven".

Of course, the requisite class picture.

Then merienda. All the pansit and baked goods were made on site. I wolfed down two plates of the pansit. Held back on the Coca-cola.

Before departing, we were given a tour of the grounds. We checked out their mini-zoo, their butterfly farm, art studios, and goldfish pond.

I also checked out their bakery where they make goods to sell to outsiders. Their egg pie and muffins looked really good. Unfortunately, I didn't bring any money with me inside.

Finally, we watched a few of the bading bolleyball players play a set with visiting real females (nurses) from next door before finally being escorted out.

All in all, I have to say it was an amazing day and an incredible learning experience. Gang invited me back to do a power point presentation about Intramuros. I accepted and I will definitely make time to do so. Truth be told, I - unlike many unfortunate others - have never been at the receiving end of a heinous crime, which is why perhaps I was able to percieve these "criminals" as people. And people, no matter who they are, have to be VISITED, socialized, and shown compassion. It only takes one mistake for one's life to change forever and considering my wild past dabbling in drugs and whatnot, there by the grace of god go I. If by some twist of fate, I played my cards wrong, who's to say that I would not to be in this place along with them? It was wild. I came into the jail with the worst of expectations and left inspired by the resiliency of the human spirit. A really wonderful Wednesday afternoon. Thank you Gang.

If you want to get more involved in RockEd's programs, contact them through their site here or through twitter at @RockEdRadio.

Mabuhay ka, RockEd Radio. Seriously.