History of the Bureau of Corrections (Philippines)


Corrections in the Philippines started during pre colonial times. It was however organized on individual community basis. It was only during the Spanish regime when an organized corrective service was made operational.


The main penitentiary was the Old Bilibid prison in Oroquieta Street, Manila, which was established in 1847 pursuant to Section 1708 of the Revised Administrative Code. It was formally opened by a Royal Decree in 1865. About four years later or on August 21, 1869, the San Ramon prison and penal farm in Zamboanga City was established to confine Muslim rebels and recalcitrant political prisoners opposed to the Spanish rule. The facility, which faces Jolo sea, has the Spanish-inspired dormitories and originally set on a 1,414 hectares sprawling estate.

When the Americans took over in the 1900s, the Bureau of Prisons was created under the Reorganization Act of 1905 (Act No. 1407 dated November 1, 1905) as an agency under the Department of Commerce and Police. It also paved the way for the re-establishment of San Ramon Prison in 1907 which was destroyed during the Spanish-American War. On January 1, 1915, the San Ramon Prison was placed under the auspices of the Bureau of Prisons and started receiving prisoners from Mindanao.

Produce were transported through rail tracks, a mode which the Americans introduced to prison.

Prisoners had to contend with dilapidated facilities within the cramped area.

Before the reconstruction of San Ramon Prison, the Americans established in 1904, the Iuhit penal settlement (now Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm) on a vast reservation of 28,072 hectares. It would reach an aggregate total land area of 40,000 hectares in the late 1950s. It was located on the westernmost part of the archipelago and far from the maintown to confine incorrigibles who the government had found little hope of rehabilitation. The area was expanded to 41,007 hectares by virtue of Executive Order No. 67 issued by Governor Newton Gilbert on October 15, 1912.
Other penal colonies were established during the American regime. On November 27, 1929, the Correctional Institution for Women (CIW) was created under Act No. 3579 while Davao Penal Colony in Sourther Mindanao was opened in 1932 under Act No. 3732. The CIW was fo7unded to provide separate facilities for women offenders and to cater to their gender difference. To date, it is the lone women’s prison in the country.

Owing to the increasing number of committals to the Old Bilibid Prison in Manila, the New Bilibid Prison was established in 1935 in a southern suburb of Muntinlupa, Rizal. The old prison was transformed into a receiving center and as a storage facility for farm produce coming from the colonies. It is presently abandoned and under the jurisdiction of the Public Estates Authority.

Prisoners have to build their basic housing areas using materials available in the prison reservation.

After the American regime, two more penal institutions were established. These were Sablayan Prison and penal farm in Occidental Mindoro under Proclamation No. 72 issued on September 26, 1954 and Leyte Regional Prison under Proclamation No. 1101 issued on January 16, 1973.
The Bureau of Prisons was renamed Bureau of Corrections under the New Administrative Code of 1987 issued on November 23, 1987 and Proclamation no. 495 of the President. It is one of the attached agencies under the supervision and control of the Department of Justice.

About Ven J. Tesoro

writer, prison officer, artist
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