Sunday, January 30, 2011

Visiting my parents' home town of Naga City...

Hello friends,
I am currently in the province of Naga City.  
This is where my parents grew up.  I haven't been back here for 17 years!  After my mother's passing, I knew it would be important to come to the Philippines and reconnect with my family there.

My mother had 12 brothers and sisters.  Of all of her siblings, only 6 have survived her.  The first born male died from birth complications and a set of twin sisters died from malnutrition and not enough milk during the war.  

My mother grew up in extreme poverty and survived through World War II when the Japanese occupied the Philippines.  Both of her parents were illiterate and had not formal education.  Despite the fact that they could not read or write they still worked very hard to provide for their family and make sure they did everything in their power to give their children an education.  Every single one of my mother's brothers and sisters graduated from college.  There is a 25 year age difference between my mother's eldest sister and her youngest brother.  The elder children were taught to deligate and take care of the younger children.  The elder children were also responsible to get a job and work in any capacity in order to help the younger kids go to school.  My mother sold everything from vegetables, water at the bus station or snacks.  The family was a well-oiled machine.  Every child had a task weather it be taking care of the younger children, washing, cooking or selling goods and food in the market.  

My mother was a very quiet woman who liked to stay at home.  She pursued her degree at Chinese General Hospital in Manila and became a registered nurse.  In the 60's, she went to Chicago on a work visa and continued to support her family in the Philippines.  During her first year in Chicago, her father had a heart attack and passed away.  Her siblings discussed it and decided it would be best not to tell my mother of her father's death because they knew she would run back to the Philippines which would forfeit her visa and stay in the United States.  They knew that my mother would come back to the Philippines and not want to go back to the U.S. so they felt it would be in her best interest if she did not know.   My mother's income in the states was desperately needed to help the remaining brothers and sisters finish school as well.  Everyone cried when my mother would call to speak to her dad so they would make excuses that he was busy or out and about.  My mother did not find out until months after my grandfather had died. In the end, we all look back in retrospect and realize that they made the right choice including my mother.  Our family would not have had the opportunities given if my mother would have come back to the Philippines.  

My father knew my mother back in Naga and visited her in Chicago on a tourist visa.  When his visa ran out, they hid for a while so he wouldn't get deported.  They eventually got married and had my brother in the states.  Since my brother was born an American citizen, they were permitted to stay in the U.S.  The rest is history.  

I went to visit my dad's sister.

My Aunt Matilde's house

My father was the youngest of 8.  This is my aunt Matilde.  This is his only surviving sister.

My Lolo and Lola's grave site.

My Auntie Glo's tomb

My grandparents' tomb

My Uncle Badong's tomb

inside of my uncle's jeepney

Colegio de Santa Isabel:  I tried to go to high school here when I was 14.  I lasted 3 months before returning back to the U.S. 

My Auntie Tita's house

Auntie Tita and her living room

My cousin Arnel and I

Basilica of Our Lady of Penafrancia

Our Lady of Penafrancia

Auntie Tita, Gigi, Auntie Trining and myself

My cousin Amy

My cousins Gigi, Amy and Majo

My school uniform at Colegio De Santa Isabel

My mother's home where she grew up

Manoy Alan (cousin) and Uncle Jun

Auntie Trining, Auntie Tita and my Manoy Alan's family

Auntie Trining ( My mother's eldest sister who is 80 years old )

My room

The bathroom:  We fill large garbage cans at night for taking a bath because there is no running water during the day.  There is no hot water in the house so we must take cold baths but it's so humid, that it's not so bad.

My mother's nursing picture

Picture of Auntie Trining's graduation.  She was valedictorian!  My grandmother is sitting to her left.  My mother is the second from the right standing up.  

My mother's diploma in nursing

Auntie Trining and I!  She looks fabulous for 80!!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Spending time with murderers, rapists and visiting a unique type of penal system....

Iwahig Penal Colony
The largest open air, penal rehabilitation facility of it's kind in the world.

Hello all, Yesterday, we wanted to make a very special trip to the Iwahig Penal Colony on the Palawan Island.  It is 30 kilometers away from Puerto Princesa.  When I read about this place, I had to check it out.  Iwahig was built by the Americans in 1902 for the Philippine prisoners who fought against American colonization.  The reason this is such a unique place is because of the 2300 prisoners, the majaority are convicted of homicide and yet are not locked up within the colony.

What is unique about this rehabilitation prison is that once the inmates have served a minimum of 1/3 of their sentence and have proven they will not escape based on their behavior, they are allowed to farm, have their families live with them if they so choose, or sell their crafts in and around the souvenir shop.  They are only allowed to leave outside the premises of the penal colony but the land is huge!    The penal farm is composed of 6000 hectars of land.  

One of the rice fields that are farmed by the prisoners

Some of the medium security inmates are making a pond.

He is charged for accessory to rape.  He was selling wooden crafts to us.  

My cousin is making friends with the prisoners.  They were so excited to take a picture with her until one them put his arm on her.  She nervously laughed and told them is not allowed to touch her.  

They were taking a little break and very excited to have a visitor.  

souvenir shop where the prisoners consign their crafts to sell

He is an extremely jealous man.  He is in prison for killing a man who was having an affair with his girlfriend.  He is 36 years old and has been in here since he was 17.  

This is his craft that he sells.  He makes boats inside of bottles piece by piece.

Kuya Jun  has been a prisoner for over 18 years.  He also murdered someone who was a long time enemy and is selling his crafts here.  They get 10% of the sale of their crafts.

Another prisoner, named Oliver who gave us a tour of the medium security compound.  He is also killed someone  and has been  in here for 28 years since he was 19.  He was transferred in here in 1995.  He is a respected inmate and is allowed outside of the compound.  You must serve a minimum of 1/3 of your sentence to be even considered to work outside the prison.  They just ran out of t-shirts to classify him!!

Medium security compound
We were not allowed to go in here.  I bought a carton of cigareetes and passed it through the exterior door to handout.  These prisoners were so grateful since they rarely get vissitors.  Most of them were transferred from Manila to this island.  They don't get to see their families often since you would have to take a flight to this island in order to get here.

Daily chalkboard that counts the total number of inmatess, how many are inside, and how many are outside of the compound.  To the right of the board is the number of people assigned to different tasks outside of the prison.  They must count daily to make sure no one has escaped.  Today there is a total of 981 prisoners in the penal farm and 191 prisoners were allowed to work outside the prison.  You must earn the trust of the guards and they have to feel comfortable that you will not try to escape the compound if they allow you to work the fields or sell your crafts around the perimeter.  

This inmate is not trusted enough yet to leave the prison.

This is a security guard named Buddy,  He has worked in this prison for over 20 years.    He has his trusted inmates that also help him to make sure that prisoners do not escape.  These inmates assist him because if a prisoner escapes, the guard must be accountable as to why this happened.  

Road to the Iwahig Penal Farm

The prisoners are classified by minimum, medium and maximum security and are distinguished by the color of their t-shirts.  They also specify the type of security that they are on their t-shirts.  When I think minimum security inmates, I am thinking maybe they did petty theft or white collared crimes.  As I got to know many of them, they were mostly convicted of murder!  Don't be fooled that minimum security means a minimal crime.  Most of the medium and maximum security prisoners are classified as such because they had tried to escape.

Many of the minimum security prisoners live in dormitories and are allowed to work on one of the agricultural projects on the penal farm rather than being confined in the prison.  Their families are even allowed to live with them.  The prisoners get a small percentage from the crops or from the crafts that they create.

Meet Kuya Reynaldo and his artisan crafts that he made.

He is 65 years old and is a mimum security inmate.

 He greeted us at the gate, selling his crafts.  This seemingly harmless old man went in the prison in 1965 and came out in 1980 for a double homicide.  He then, entered back in because he committed arson where another two people had died.  He is now serving two consecutive life sentences.  He said life is so much better inside than in the civilian world.  He is fed, has a roof over his head and still has the freedom to walk around the penal grounds.  He makes crafts and sells them to people who visit the penal farm. This is definitely his perspective because according to the guards, people still try to escape despite being an institution and rehabilitation center where people have more freedom than most prisoners.  Kuya Reynaldo said he would much rather be in here than in the outside world.

Minimum Security Compound