Zamboanga convicts make their best Christmas gift ever | Inquirer News

Zamboanga convicts make their best Christmas gift ever

/ 02:28 AM December 24, 2011

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—Inmates at the Zamboanga del Sur Reformatory Center used to spend carpentry work in December making Christmas decorations.

This time, however, they were surprised when they were urgently mobilized to make coffins. They thought it was for them.

But when they learned the caskets were for victims of the devastating floods unleased by Tropical Storm “Sendong” on the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan they put their hearts to their mission to fulfill a massive need for the over a thousand fatalities of the disaster.


For four straight days, 50 prisoners at the facility at Barangay San Jose in Pagadian City put together 108 coffins which Gov. Antonio Cerilles delivered on Wednesday to Iligan.


It was the first time caskets were made there and the thought not only scared the inmates but also brought back sad memories.

Emilio Fuentes, 41, tried to control his emotions as he hammered nails on his unusual assignment.

“My heart was breaking while I was making the coffin,” said Fuentes, who is serving sentence for double murder.

Gift to the dead

Fuentes said he had relatives on Fuentes Street at Barangay Saray in Iligan. He didn’t know if any of them were among the several hundreds killed in his hometown, but nevertheless said,  “This is the only Christmas gift I can give to them,” he said.

“The thought of giving to those in need pushed me to finish two or three coffins,” he added.


“It pained me to see what happened to the children, to the elderly who were not able to survive,” said Florencio Cruzado, another murder convict.

He said photographs of dead children reminded him of his own child.

“I really miss my little one,” he said.

Traditionally, prisoners make Christmas decorations, lanterns and furniture, not coffins.

Cerilles said discussion with local officials and Jaycees members were focused on extending medical help, food stuff and relief assistance for the flood victims.

“But when we learned that there was a shortage of coffins and formalin, we immediately alerted all our organizations here, including the LGU, to produce coffins and deliver it to the nearest city, Iligan,” said the Zamboanga del Sur governor.

Talent put to use

Benison Mahawan, Jaycees vice president for Western Mindanao and legal officer of the provincial government, said other chapters were tapped to provide the materials for the coffins.

“Most of our prisoners are talented in carpentry and handicraft,” Mahawan said.

“We made sure that those who worked were known for their good behavior. It was difficult because we have requested them to work outside their respective cells for four days,” he said.

“We were told that we will be allowed to leave our cells to make coffins for four days. We thought the coffins were for us,” Fuentes said.

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Morbid as it may sound, for Cruzado and Fuentes—the coffins were “the best Christmas gifts we can give.”


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