The News Today Online Edition - Iloilo News and Panay News

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At the jailhouse

Saturday, Aug. 6, I was in jail. Oh, don't get any bad idea; I am a very law-abiding citizen of the Philippines. In fact, for a bit of indulgent humor, I used At the jailhouse as title of this column for the reader to perhaps remember Elvis Presley wriggling his hips as he belts out Jailhouse Rock .

Okay, read it clear now: I was at the Iloilo Rehabilitation Center (IRC), formerly called the Provincial Jail until it was sanitized with a new name. Shakespeare would call a rose by any other name believing it would smell just as sweet, but not the Provincial Jail renamed. The IRC is a place far from rehabilitating its lodgers. Ask the visitors who have used its rest rooms.

My husband Rudy of ILAC (Iloilo Legal Assistance Center) went to IRC to confer with his client Romeo Capalla, who has been in jail since Wednesday morning, Aug. 3. I tagged along to help the hubby (Rudy uses a cane to maintain balance) in case he might slip during that very rainy afternoon. Romy is a prisoner by every definition of the word, and I wanted to provide him a connection to the world of the free. After all, he is the husband of my niece Cora.

The Board of Directors of the Panay Fair Trade Center (PFTC) of which Romy is the Manager has come up with a resolution stating that “the accusation [destructive arson] against Romeo Capalla is patently false and the curtailment of his liberty is a grave injustice.” I am not to write on the merits of the case because it is pending in court, still subjudice , the hubby said so. It is a comforting thought that three other ILAC lawyers—Attys. Janne Baterna, Pet Melliza, and Steve Cercado—are assisting in the case. Also contributing their legal acumen are Attys. Sulpicio Gamosa, Jr. of the National Commission for Indigenous People and Elias Guiloreza, legal counsel of the Philippine Regulation Commission. Both are ILAC members.

Mine then is a spectator's eye at the IRC. Information about the square, thick-walled, concrete jailhouse was embossed at the entrance indicating the year of construction as 1911 under the governorship of Ruperto Montinola. Two foreign-sounding names were those of W.W. Barclay, Treasurer, and H. O'Leary, Contractor. Atop each corner of the square edifice was constructed a dome-shaped watchtower giving the impression that escape is impossible. Its ancient architecture would make this prison a museum piece similar to what was done to Intramuros, Manila's Walled City, that is popularized in postcards. Converted into a museum, it would draw a lot of tourists like Alcatraz in San Francisco bay. But then how is the government to fund the building of an IRC that's worthy of a so-called rehabilitation center?

The years haven't made the old provincial jail any less sturdy. It must have been built so strong as to outlive its occupants. A less formidable extension was constructed at the back of the square edifice, probably to prevent overcrowding. Prison Guard Esperanza Siosan said there are at present 795 inmates. “Lacking only 5 to make it 800,” she added to emphasize the number of the incarcerated.

Visiting time was 1:00-4:00 p.m. We came after 2:00 and already there were several visitors ahead of us. We were no different from zoo onlookers separated by iron bars from the denizens inside only that, instead of monkeys, lions, tigers, birds, behind the grills were human beings like you and me. In the zoo where you gaze in admiration at the lion's mane or the plumage of the birds, here you looked at the people inside like they were one mass in orange, the color of their prison attire. Much like a bold stroke of a paintbrush, here were no recognizable individuals. Eye contact was to be avoided, else a fellow would catch your attention and call for cigarettes, money, etc. or to drop whatever you could share in the plastic container tied to a long pole dangled by eager hands. What is a jail but a wretched menagerie peopled by our brothers and sisters in the human family, and you think it is here where the priests, the nuns, and the Mother Theresas of the world should spend some missionary time. It is a pathetic place where only a prisoner with an extraordinary mind can think like the poet that “Stone walls do not a prison make/Nor iron bars a cage.”

While Rudy was conferring with his client Romy, I felt discomfited in the chair that Prison Guard Esperanza had graciously offered because the rest of the visitors were crowding in one long bench. Some were opening plastic bags containing food, etc. for their jailed loved ones. From all appearances, these were folks from society's lower rung so much so that my middle-class get-up and signature bag just seemed out of place. You wondered what percentage of society's well-off are in there compared to the marginalized. Romeo Capalla does not belong to the latter.

Romy belongs to a family of professionals. His brother, Archbishop Fernando Capalla, is currently CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) President. His wife Cora is a nurse, soon arriving from the States. Their child, Katrina Ann, is an Assumption sixth grader. They live in a well-appointed home in San Antonio, Oton. As Manager of the Panay Fair Trade Center, he has established good relations with local and foreign business partners. To strengthen PFTC's exports, he visited business partners in several countries in Europe and lately this year in Germany and France. Business partners which, like PFTC, are dedicated to advance “fair trade for social justice.”

How does PFTC promote fair trade for social justice? This will be dealt with in a subsequent column. (Comments to