Life inside our provincial jails

NOV 25-DEC 1, 2010


By Cha Monforte

We were thankful that the one gate of two adjacent provincial jails in Tagum City was opened to us, non-dalaws last week.  Comval’s provincial warden (PW) Jose Marvin Coquilla was there when we visited the two Provincial Rehabilitation Centers (PRCs) to get this story. His counterpart in Davao del Norte – provincial warden Darius Sawan was not around. But thanks the assistant provincial warden (APW) Marilyn Erulon was there to accomodate us. The jails were one before 1998. Remember the gerrymandering acts of top officials that had divided the big Davao Province/ Davao del Norte into two provinces and so then, one jail became two and separation of prisoners was subsequently effected. In the division of properties between the two provinces, the erected provincial jail buildings and facilities at Mankilam, located about half a kilometer north of DavNor Capitol, naturally went to Davao del Norte and so the Comval provincial government asked the other province to still base its shared prisoners in the same old provincial jail given that it has yet no physical provincial jail of its own. And so further that little penal colony has to be broken down also into two with separate managements, jailers, jailing structures and provisions but through one gate. It’s been almost 13 years already that the two provincial jails remain to operate side by side to each others.

Last week when we were allowed a pass as friendly forces, we were met by a high-volume music from what appeared to be a roofed cage, encased of barb wires. It’s the tambayan of the “Happy Go Brigade” of Comval’s jail, said the amiable APW of DavNor, our second news source. Our first news source was PW Coquilla. In the brigada’s barb-wired kiosk, about 20-square-meter space, the inmates are having their videoke singing with their blaring videoke machine, which was donated for the brigada from a mind-hearted someone. We were told the music would be turned off by 4:00 P.M. So there’s always blaring music now shattering the dull, hard, repeating daily prison life in the two provincial jails. And rebel leader Ka Jinggoy of the CPP/NPA was there mingling with the inmates of various non-rebellion crimes. As of Tuesday, November 23, Comval’s PRC has 540 inmates housed in two smaller un-celled “brigada” buildings, while DavNor’s PRC is keeping 206 inmates in one bigger, celled 250-capacity building. Obviously, Comval’s high humber of inmate population is bringing congestion to each of the brigada building which is supposed to house only 150 inmates. But since there’s no more building out there, there’s no alternative and inmates have to packed  to be accomodated in the buldings. They have to live and sleep in beds too close to each other.

So how’s life of the inmates there? DavNor’s APW Erulon bared that everyday inmates go out from their prison buildings by group and in shift for hours of sunbathing within 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Each DavNor inmate has a budget for food worth P50 per day. They take breakfast at 6:30 or 7:00 AM, lunch at 11:00 to 12:00 noon, and supper at 4:00 to 5:00 PM. The food budget of about P16 per meal per head would go for their rice, viand (pork, fish like bangus, eggs, dried fish, etc and vegetables like upo, kalabasa, talong, etc.) In the morning they are served with kape pilipinas and sometimes served with tsampurados for snacks. Dalaws (visitors) are allowed anytime of the day subject to frisk and inspection at the gate but they’re not allowed during Monday and Tuesday when inmates do the housecleaning. There’s space there for the dalaws to unite or dine with their imprisoned kins or friends, and a conjugal room for couples and partners to express their love inside. What is only required for the pass to the conjugal room is the dalaw’s barangay certification that she or he is the spouse or live-in partner of the inmate.

At the gate, dalaws are stripped of any potential material that can be made into pointed or bladed objects like belts. No spoon and fork are allowed. Inmates have to tap the ,jail’s marketing errands whenever they want to buy their own provisions like soap, shampoo, toothpaste, food, etc. Some trusted inmates of good character and good behavior are tapped to help the jail authorities like doing the cooks, cleaners, etc. A nurse is stationed there and whenever sick inmates need to be brought to the hospital, the provincial ambulance would be called by jail officials. Female inmates have their own cells. A Catholic mass is held every third Sunday of the month, and weekly there’s a kabaag leading the prayer meeting. Other faiths are also doing their own prayer meetings like the Adventists during Saturdays.

“Mora lang silag mga bakasyonista, mora lang nag dorm dire,” said Erulon.  But she said she pity those inmates having no dalaw at all as they could not buy extra provisions like soap and toothpaste. So out of pity she and other jail personnel are sharing little sum from their squeezed salaries to those who are obviously forgotten or not visited by their kins for quite a long time, maybe out poverty also. For APW Erulon, human is by nature good, and thus inmates are by nature good. If you treat them like animals they behave like animals, but they’re humans and by treating them to be such, they’re indeed good, they’re buotan, she said. “The only difference between them and us is that they have cases,” she said. How she wishes that in our country’s justice system inmates would be given fast decision of their cases.

Erulon’s wish if materialized is at least one of the ways of unclogging our congested prisons. But obviously the solo Regional Trial Court in Comval – RTC Branch 1 in Nabunturan under Judge Helarion Clapis is bringing an impact to Comval provincial jail- that is congestion since the solo RTC judge is no superman as he said before while facing also an overload of over 3,000 cases to decide while DavNor has 6 RTCs each facing only an average of 500 cases to decide. Or this statistics only shows of the rising crimes continuously bred from the poverty of our provinces, which result to more persons put behind bars not beyond to the housing capacity of our provincial jails. But the sad note is more slanted for Comval’s jail while DavNor’s is within its capacity in so far is housing-for-imprisonment is concerned. The latter is not yet so filled up wall to wall. And for the kind of  justice system that we have now for those languishing in jail? They can only wait for long in repeating days behind bars. It’s good they have that blaring videoke machine out there. (e-mail:


One Response to “Life inside our provincial jails”

  1. Rogelio Jr. Yabut Says:

    Does Tagum Ptovincial City Jail inmates allowed to use cellphones inside and even given access to internet? One of the inmates there is my friend & we chatted thru messenger just few hours ago and i just want to confirm this because i just can’t believe it’s really allowed. If so, how safe it is to everyone? If not then probably some of the prisoners are illegally do & this i think should be stopped right away for it is not safe to all. Reply please…

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