Philippine jails

Church, legal communities in Ilocos Norte bring PDLs closer to their families

John Michael Mugas

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Church, legal communities in Ilocos Norte bring PDLs closer to their families

VISIT. A person deprived of liberty dances during a jail visit program by members of the Church and legal communities in Ilocos Norte on December 30, 2023, at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

John Michael Mugas

'They say that your family can truly soften your heart no matter how strong you are,' says Redmore, a person deprived of liberty who had not seen his family for years before the implementation of the program

ILOCOS NORTE, Philippines – Before the year ended, Redmore (not his real name) was sentenced to life imprisonment for drug-related charges. He has been in jail for almost two years at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in Ilocos Norte’s capital city of Laoag.

In that period, he had not seen any of his relatives – until Saturday, December 30, when his ailing parents from Piddig town went to BJMP. The jail was running a program that gave opportunities for persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) to be reunited with their loved ones, whom most haven’t seen since being imprisoned.

It was an emotional reunion for Redmore and his parents. On Saturday, with tears in his eyes, he shared that it was the first time any of his relatives paid him a visit.

“I feel relieved to see them and also happy at the same time. I can’t totally explain. Being here for years now, I have never shed a tear, it is only now. You can even ask the others here. They say that your family can truly soften your heart no matter how strong you are,” Redmore said in Ilokano during an interview.

Redmore shared that while he was behind bars, both of his parents had suffered from heart attacks.

His only wish now is that his appeal challenging his conviction would be granted and that he would finally be freed while his parents were still alive.

“If only I could rewind and go back in time so I could be with them and see them…. Instead of helping them, I have become a burden to them,” Redmore said.

His opportunity to be reunited with his loved ones came through a program initiated by Laoag’s Regional Trial Court through the Office of the Executive Judge (OEJ), the Diocese of Laoag, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Ilocos Norte chapter, and the Public Attorney’s Office.

It started in the second half of 2023, upon learning that some PDLs had not seen their relatives for years after being jailed. One of the reasons is that there are relatives who would rather spend money on food to survive instead of using it on fare to see the PDLs.

“But it makes a difference to the hardships of the PDLs to have the presence of your family to come here in the jail to visit and give what they need,” said Sheila Sapaden of the BJMP.

The OEJ now leads a fund-raising effort to shoulder the transportation expenses of the relatives so they can visit the PDLs while in jail.

“Instead of the PDLs saving money through income-generating opportunities while behind bars, the money he or she would be saving would be given to help provide for the family instead of using it for fare,” said Sapaden.

“It is already our partners in the communities who are doing their best to reach out and bring their families [to visit them],” she added, noting that jail visitations were temporarily stopped because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MASS. Laoag Bishop Renato Mayugba holds a mass on December 30, 2023, at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. Photo by John Michael Mugas.
‘We are family’

Laoag Bishop Renato Mayugba, in an interview, said that the program highlights the importance of familial ties at the center of Filipino culture, bringing hope to PDLs, especially this Christmas season.

“The program is about bringing the family [together] also dahil isa sa malakas na magbibigay ng pag-asa sa isang PDL is ‘pag alam niya na ‘yung pamilya ay nandiyan (because one of the best ways to inspire hope in a PDL is the knowledge that their family is there),” he said.

“We are family people. Ang mahalaga sa ating buhay ay pamilya natin, lalong-lalo na sa pasko. Kaya ‘yan ang masakit kapag nahihiwalay ka sa pamilya (Family is what matters in our lives, especially during Christmas. That’s why it hurts when you’re separated from your family),” the bishop added.

He said that the Church will be actively involved in the reformation of PDLs in the province but emphasized that the effort is a “community enterprise.”

“I would like to transform our prisons into a family para maramdaman ng lahat na kahit nagkasala o kahit nawalan ng (so that everyone would feel that even if they’ve sinned or lost their) freedom is that they are still treated with respect and treated like a family,” Mayugba said.

Restorative justice

The partnership between the Church and the legal system also emphasizes the diocese’s prison ministry that the country’s penal system pushes for restorative justice rather than punitive.

Laoag Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Myra Sheila Nalupta said that this meant that “although [the PDLs] are facing criminal charges, we still consider you part of our family and our community.”

She asked that PDLs not to lose hope, especially this season, as she noted that the justice system’s goal in the country is to reform and reintegrate them back into the community.

“It is reform which is the ultimate goal of the justice system in the Philippines and not to permanently deprive or ostracize those who have [criminal] cases,” she said.

Even with conviction, reformation continues through “probation, community service, parole,” said Nalupta.

Mayugba said that there has always been a prison ministry in Laoag but that this time around, what they want is for the ministry to be “more comprehensive,” integrating the “spiritual, legal, and social components.”

The program hopes to expand in 2024 through regular medical missions with doctors from the state-run Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital and Medical Center. The IBP also hopes to reach out to donors for the provision of more books to build a library. – Rappler.com

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