The two faces of Davao’s penal facilities PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 09 November 2010 14:01

DAVAO CITY -- Alias Bernie, 54 years old, has been incarcerated at the Davao City Jail for 15 years now, even if his case has not undergone trial yet. He has been accused of attempted murder but his case has been held in abeyance pending the return of his sanity.

Bernie, who has been at the city jail far longer than most jailguards like SJ02 Jason Taculin who has been here for 12 years now, is a mental hospital outpatient and has been advised to take in regular medications while in jail.

Taculin said Bernie is not violent at all and looks as normal as the other prisoners, except that when you talk to him, you start to realize that there is something wrong with him.

Bernie is a model prisoner, because unlike most mental patients and prisoners, he has exhibited good behavior and has no escape attempts in his record.

Jail Chief Inspector and Davao City Jail Warden Erwin Kenny Ronquillo had already asked the court to dismiss Bernie’s case so they can send him home to his family.

“The problem is, his family no longer wants him back. And the court refuses to dismiss his case if the police could not turn him over to his family,” Ronquillo said.

Meanwhile, at the Davao City Female Jail, one inmate who has been in jail for six years, topped a TESDA-administered skills exam. She has since been acquitted and is now in Lebanon as a caretaker.

The stories of these two people who have no names and faces, and who lead entirely different lives from the rest, represent the two faces of life inside the various penal facilities in the Davao Region.

These prisoners have not been convicted yet but they already carry the stigma carried by prisoners for life.

“We want to erase the stigma that prisoners are people who should be feared; hindi lahat sila eh masama (not all of them are bad) but even if it is true, their life in jail is an opportunity for them to reform,” Jail Inspector Ian Glen Ocmen, Chief of Operations and Inmates Welfare and Development said.

The world has witnessed the almost 1,500 Cebu inmates who danced their way to the top of YouTube with nearly 4.4 million hits to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. With their dancing talent, any of these inmates could probably forward to dancing as a possible livelihood prospect when his term is up.

Davao Region Jails a test of endurance

But while the inmates at the Davao Region jails could not match that feat, they can however claim to be survivors, given the over-populated and under-budgeted prison conditions in the region.

The Davao City Jail has an ideal capacity of only 400 inmates and, yet, actual inmate count can reach up to almost 1,017. None of the inmates, aged 19 to 59, have been sentenced yet, although they have been in jail for years already.

“Our jails are congested by more than 130 percent; jail budget is always in the last priority in deliberations so we cannot do anything to improve our facilities even if we have proposed construction projects already,” Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) assistant regional director for administration Jail Superintendent Efren Nemeno said.

Majority or 407 of the prisoners at the Davao City Jail are facing drug cases, while 224 of them are facing murder cases. Other prisoners are awaiting judgment for other crimes like rape (148), robbery (112), theft (68), homicide (52), physical injury (7) and other crimes.

Chief Inspector and Warden Grace Taculin said there are 130 prisoners at the Davao City Female Jail and 177 prisoners at the regional jail. The ages of their prisoners range from 22 to 62 years old.

“Up to 65 percent of female prisoners are here on drug related cases, no one has yet been convicted,” Taculin said.

All prisoners here are awaiting trial or sentence for crimes with a penalty of less than 3 years. Those with crimes with a penalty of 3 years and above are transferred to the Davao Prison and Penal Farm (formerly Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) Correctional Institution for Women, she said.

Davao City Jail’s more than 1,000 inmates are divided into its over 20 prison cells. The smaller cells have a capacity of up to 20 people while the bigger ones manage to hold between 50 and 60 prisoners at one time.

Nemeno said each prisoner is allocated a daily food allowance of P50. You can just imagine what kind of food is served to prisoners with a meagre budget of P15 per meal, which already includes the budget for the fuel or charcoal used for cooking their food.

While the prisoners are not there for a vacation, the quality of life they are leading, their sustenance and even their health is highly questionable.

“People from the Alexian facility go to the jail to conduct sputum test for the prisoners,” Ronquillo said.

And while the test specimens were brought to the city before, the City jail now has a facility and a Medical Technologist who examines the sputum samples right at the correctional, he said.

Ronquillo said the overcrowding and the heat inside the prison have led to a high incidence of skin allergies among prisoners.

It is however a different story at the Tagum City Jail where there are lots of space. “Maluwang dito sa (Very spacious here in) Tagum City Jail and while we only have a 160-person capacity, it is not congested and one cell only has up to 17 persons compared to the 100 persons in other jails,”

Female Jail

The city’s jail for female prisoners has taken an entirely different look and atmosphere after these inmates have been trained in various skills. Trade fair participants are particularly familiar about the creativity of these female inmates, especially when it comes to creating crocheted bags.

“Our female inmates undergo the therapeutic community modality program,” Taculin said. They are also trained in various livelihood projects and the different courses under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
Lately, though, the female prisoners are no longer just into crocheting. Taculin said they have recently opened a bakery which sells pan de sal to the neighborhood. The female inmates also offer wash and press services for only P16 per kilo.

Ronquillo said the city government is also supporting the City Jail in terms of the deployment of personnel and the contribution of a yearly budget of P500,000 for 2009.
“However this budget has been the same for the past six years and we would like to request an additional budget support of P200,000,” he said.

Whether people want to admit it or not, there is a perception that prisoners are dangerous members of society. And even when they go back to their families after paying for their debts to society, these prisoners carry a stigma.

Some inmates who have been released still go back to prison since they find it hard to adjust to society anymore, Ronquillo said. With most of them having difficulty in finding jobs, some have resorted to committing crimes.

This is the reason why they are taking a different approach in rehabilitating the prisoners. Whether we like it or not, inmates can reintegrate into our society,” he said

With the capability-building trainings provided to male and female inmates, they are at least empowered and allowed to learn new skills which would hopefully, help them find livelihood opportunities when they go out of jail and, perhaps, live normal lives again as responsible members of the society.