Davao Penal Colony: Today

DAVAO PENAL COLONY:  A Template for an Ideal Correctional Facility

In the Philippine criminal justice perspective, a better view is about to unfold within the corrective service of the country.  This is one facility which must also be appreciated not from the prism of youtube but of social science as well.

There was a time when the rule was to forget the offenders, expose them as entertainers and extract much through exploitation that which is supposed to be utilized for their rehabilitation and promote thievery in the coffers that would promote their welfare, but over in Davao Prison and Penal Farm , another situation is aborning.  It had its own separate agenda.  Previously, it has been the site of all known brutal violence in the past, so brutal that its history is enough to discourage an officer or a prisoner from being assigned in the area.  Riots and hostage drama in the national penitentiary were veritable picnic sessions when compared to Davao Penal Colony’s record of mayhem.  It was an institution that has existed on the fringes of luck and survived at the edge.  And the picture of bestiality  and savagery subsided eventually as the institution veered from the traditional closed prison approach to a work/ training oriented facility as it is now being conducted.

Davao Prison today

            To date, Davao Prison and Penal Farm, with its well ordered plantation within the prison reservation, the disciplined community of workers/trainees among the prison community, the dormitories and projects and lately, the foundation of the only correctional facility for women in Mindanao are testimonies of change—quite half a decade more advanced than the quest for change which the present administration wanted to bring forth—which is already reaping quite a number of review and appreciation.  Change can indeed happen and the skeptics may have their own comeuppance once they see the place and try to believe that indeed it can happen despite the odds and challenges.  And change happened at a period when apathy is in the midst, abuse the order of the day and indifference, the climate of bureaucracy.  It is a plenary lesson which the new administration can take a leaf from.   Change can indeed be pursued through sheer audacity and yes, honesty as expected from the ranks.

Institutional lessons

Governance, it has been said, is the proper blending of government, private business sector and the  free community.  It is reflected on the very fabric of institutional programs which has become the major change factor in the management not only of prison resources but also in the rehabilitation of prisoners.  Private and Church based colleges have found Davao prison a  very receptive social laboratory for their educational concerns.  Private corporate enterprise not only provided its technology in developing prison farms but enrolled the prisoners in agro industrial tasks and discipline, resulting in a productive pursuit which generated a revenue  benefiting all major penal institutions in the country.  The establishment of a Correctional Institution for Women made Davao Prison the only regional facility in the country which services for female offenders in the whole Mindanao.  It was the pride of the women sector in Mindanao and for the visiting women dignitaries (for ambassadors, to Zonta, and Soroptomist) it was an accomplishment worth their crusade.  The facility, notwithstanding its locally constructed infrastructure can stand on equal footing with the best facility in Southeast Asia.

Davao Correctional Reforms

            Davao Prison and Penal Farm has advanced to a certain degree that one can already make an impression which is worthy as an educational sojourn.  Arguably, it can pass as a tourist destination sans the usual degree of apprehension one experiences when visiting a penal facility.   The penal institution has come of age.

Institutional exposures

Last year, all agencies of the Department of Justice regional office (region 11) in celebrating its 112th foundation anniversary had chosen Dapecol as its program site.  “It is safer, ironically, in Davao Prison than any place in Davao City to hold our celebration.” Says Chief State Prosecutor Antonio Arellano.  Atty. Romulo Manapsal, then NBI regional director, seconded, after assessing the peace and order situation of the region, which at that time was marred with threats to public safety.    The whole day affair of the Anniversary capped with legal and medical assistance not only to the prison community but to outlying communities; and on the whole, it was concluded with success.

San Pedro College registrar pursued an unimaginable move.  She coordinated a program by  establishing a private library for prisoners in both male and female ward of Davao Prison.  It was firmed up further when the Ignatian Institute of Theology Education (based in Davao City) negotiated for the opening of their scholarship for prisoners who wanted to pursue theological education while serving time.  It was an elaborate pedagogical exercise where virtues and academic skills are integrated into the mainstream of disciplinary regime in the prison rehabilation scheme.  As it were, the provincial  passing grade and average of those who successfully hurdled the ALS (Alternative Learning System) in Davao province is dependent on the showing of prisoner-passers.  Prisoners would top the examination for quite sometime.

Volunteerism in Arts

Not to be outdone in the field of prison volunteerism, bemedaled and acclaimed Mindanao artist Kublai Milan went to organize a fine arts class among interested prisoners and shared his expertise in cement-based sculpture.  After 3 weeks of immersion along with artists from National Commission on Culture and Arts, his class was able to renovate the prison park and transformed it into a gallery of sculptural wonders.

The list of activities is becoming longer by the day and the institution is now preparing for its pioneering attempt in forging an after-care program for released prisoners.  Under the procedure, released prisoners will be assisted in various administrative concerns from seeking clearances to referral for employment.

The Prison Service

Prison service is an ungrateful calling and at times an unpopular career.  And yet, there must be a system which transforms a misdirected humanity back to the mainstream of law abiding citizenry.  It has often been said that the window of a civilization may be gleaned from the landscape of its penal institutions.

By:  Superintendent Ven J. Tesoro

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About Ven J. Tesoro

writer, prison officer, artist
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