Iwahig Prison Sandbar

Iwahig prison sandbar

General  Vicente R. Raval was the most feared acting Prison Director and he was also the longest reigning prison administrator for 11 years.  He was at the helm on a hold-over capacity during the Martial Law and after it terminated in the early 80s.   The mere sight of his service vehicle was enough to cause pandemonium, where everyone prison staff and minimum security prisoners would scamper in all directions for cover.  No one was exempted from his temperament.  His booming baritone voice even if he was merely explaining something was  already enough to scare the wits of any officer.  It was indeed wise not to engage or even meet Director Raval in any part of the prison reservation.

One of his favourite penal colony was Iwahig.  It was there where nature was at its best and a trip to the area was enough for the Director to recharge.  He thought of adding more prisoners in the penal farm.  And so, one day, he summoned his officers and staff and gave instructions.  Budget however could not sustain the transfer of around three hundred prisoners in the penal colony.  But whatever Director Raval wanted, he gets.  And so he ordered his staff to contact the Philippine Navy so that one of its ships could be used for the transport mission.

A week later, the Commodore in charge of a naval fort in Cavite arrived.  Director Raval immediately called for an emergency meeting to announce the presence of the navy official and for said official to hear the requirements of Director Raval.  No one in government, especially in the military establishment would ignore  Director Raval since he is known not only as a close ally of then strongman President Ferdinand Marcos but also a close relative.  And Marcos was then the President.

And so an announcement was made that three hundred prisoners will be transported to Iwahig through the ship of the Philippine Navy.  The Commodore showing deference and humility stoop but gave a short notice that it could be done but not on the exact penal colony.  Navy ships could negotiate the waters up to the pier of Puerto Princesa City only.  Accordingly, the bay area, Sta Lucia sub-colony of Iwahig where the Director of Prisons wanted, was heavily silted that hundreds of sandbar (or bahura in local term) could send their ship stranded.  “No way sir to transport prisoners using the cove of Sta Lucia in Iwahig,” cautioned the Commodore.  But Director Raval could not be contained when responded to.  He was searching for officers who could save the day for him.  Until a prison inspector raised his hand.

Director Sir, my apologies for standing up, but it is possible to use the pier of Sta Lucia notwithstanding the fact that indeed there are several sandbars in the area.  I have been assigned in said area for years that I have learned each and every sandbar already.”

“Well, then my good Commodore, how is that as an assurance.  My staff led by the good prison inspector will join you in the trip.  Will that satisfy you?” a stentorian voice of Raval came smoothly.

Yes sir!” replied the commodore.  And in a few days, the Navy ship was already negotiating the waters of Sulu and China Sea, with the Commodore and the prison inspector seated near the front mast on a deck overlooking the seas.

Travel by sea during that time was slow.  It took the Navy ship with five hundred passengers (three hundred of them prisoners) five days afloat.  As soon as the ship banked towards the shore of Sta Lucia some three kilometres away, the Commodore alerted his captain to stop.  The island of Palawan could be seen clearly in the distance.  The crystal clean waters, the imposing greeneries and forest cover, the mist of the morning as if in a painting, Iwahig penal colony was indeed a few minutes ahead.

“Prison officer, from here on I am placing the entire Navy ship in your command.  From here on, you will order my men, the ship’s captain and crew to navigate until we reach the shoreline of Iwahig.  Is that clear?!” boomed the Commodore, standing proud in front of his spanking new ship.  The Commodore was in charge of one of Navy’s newest acquisition, the pride of Cavite, the fearsome symbol of Philippine Navy’s might and superiority on the waters.

The prison officer, having been in the corrective service for almost three decades, with all the air of competence and expertise, assumed command and directed the Commodore to order his men “full steam ahead.”

The ship picked up the speed as the engine roared towards the beautiful island.

“Are you sure you know all the sandbars here?” inquired the nervous Commodore as he began to taste the salty wind whipping his face.

Yes sir, but of course!  Believe in me my good sir.”

Then a loud crackling sound reverberated and it was very deafening.  It was a sound of metal being sheered.  The ship ground to a halt.

“WHAT IS THAT!” a surprised Commodore shouted.

To which the prison inspector whispered to the Commodore, “That’s one of the sandbar sir.  There are more ahead of us!”

The passengers alighted from the ship and swam ashore until all were accounted for.  The Navy ship was stranded for almost a month and the new ship was decommissioned from use for breaking its middle part.  The Commodore was transferred to Sulu to guard the bancas of the minorities and the prison inspector was last seen at the Personnel office applying for promotion.

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About Ven J. Tesoro

writer, prison officer, artist
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