Thursday, November 27, 2008


“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1)
On a brief visit to the Iwahig penal colony in Palawan some years ago, I struck up a conversation with the driver of the tricycle my wife and I were riding inside the compound. The tricycle driver himself, a minimum security inmate, is in for life imprisonment.
(in the vernacular)
So...what brought you here?

I killed three men. come?

We were having a drinking session, there was a brawl.
In a fit of rage, I went home, got my bolo, came back and hacked them all.
I was beside myself, I didn't know what I was doing.


The greatest problem here, loneliness…
“Pinagsisihan ko na ang lahat”.
I am so sorry now…

This CBCP news item reports on the International Prison Chaplains’ Association Worldwide (IPCA), which had a meeting hosted by the Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care of the CBCP. IPCA, an ecumenical Christian movement, is a conference of prison chaplains committed to serve the unity of the Churches. In the meeting, Rev. Birgitta Winberg, ICPA President, was noted to have said that the conditions in our country’s jails are “unacceptable”, particularly the conditions of prisoners in Manila City Jail. She also said that prison conditions indeed mirrors what kind of government a country has.

“But it’s worse here. The overcrowding and the standard of the prison system here are falling actually,”

Indeed, local BJMP head Director Rosendo Dial admitted in a budget hearing that "In Metro Manila it is 1000% overcrowding.” and that some 10 inmates will have to squeeze in to fit every square meter. The nationwide congestion rate, the jails director added, is much "looser" at 225 percent congestion or an average of four to five inmates per square meter, he said.

For his part, administration senator Juan Miguel Zubiri remarked that the hellish congestion should be made a deterrent against crime. “He should allow media... to show they are in a living hell in this prison camp. That's enough to deter crime I think, the crime rate will go down," Senator Zubiri said.

While it may be true that the prospect of imprisonment in hellish conditions may deter crime, it is also true that oppressive social conditions instigate a crime-prone society. I believe the greater deterrent to crime is an equitable, just and humane society. A criminal environment breeds a criminal mentality. While it is true that criminal acts deserve just retribution, it is also true that every inmate deserves the basic dignity of a human being made by God. The laudable efforts of the ecumenical Christian movement in reaching out to these inmates provides the only hope in providing inner dignity to these chained brethren. It is an inner dignity that comes out from reconciling with God who eases all pains and loneliness. May these inmates find Christ in themselves and in their co-inmates, and may all of us find Christ in them. May they find true freedom, and look beyond this temporal imprisonment - to an eternity that has no chains.

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