Inmates nearing release may soon move to ‘Barrio Libertad’
MANILA, Philippines — The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) plans to revive a program that allows freer movement and more family time for inmates with just three to five years left in their sentences.
This relaxed setup may soon be reintroduced at Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm (IPPF) in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan province, according to the BuCor chief, Director General Gregorio Catapang Jr.
An area to be called “Barrio Libertad” (freedom village) will be allotted for inmates who have shown good conduct and are nearing the end of their prison term. Here, their loved ones can already live with them while waiting for their release.
An initial batch of 20 to 30 inmates from Iwahig’s minimum security compound has been selected as the first transferees to Libertad, which should be ready for occupancy by the end of the year, Catapang said.
The BuCor chief is optimistic that the project would be a “game changer” and serve as a “model” for prison system reforms in the country and abroad.
At Barrio Libertad, Catapang said, the chosen inmates and their families will also be allowed to engage in farming. Planting native plants and fruit trees will be particularly encouraged at the site, which lies at the foot of the Victoria-Anepahan mountain range.
According to IPPF information officer BuCor Technical Officer 2 Levi Evangelista, the program was first implemented in the 1970s. At the time, he said, the inmates’ children could also attend classes in schools built within IPPF’s four subcolonies.
However, changes in the BuCor leadership led to the termination of the program.
Catapang said an inmate at the time was able to escape from IPPF—often called the country’s “prison without bars”—as most of its prisoners were allowed to tend vast farmlands within the penal colony’s 28,000-hectare area.
“[Reviving Libertad] will boost the morale of the inmates. There would be no reason for them to escape anymore or do anything unscrupulous while serving their sentence because they are already reunited with their families,” Evangelista said in a report published in Palawan News in April when the plan was still at an early stage.
Catapang said BuCor also plans to establish a village in IPPF for inmates who had fully served their sentences, with the goal of keeping them employed for a gradual, steady reintegration into society.
“This is for the PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) who are free and want to make a new life. We know that it is difficult for them to return to their communities because of the stigma of being an ex-convict,” he explained.
In another initiative tied to the government’s food security program, deserving inmates and their families will be awarded rights to cultivate agricultural lands, Catapang said.
Formally called RISE (Reformation Initiative for Sustainable Environment for Food Security), the program will also have IPPF as its pilot area, he said.
This is separate from the farming activities involving inmates moved to Barrio Libertad. But like the village, RISE offers an income opportunity for participating inmates.
Under a recently signed agreement, the RISE project will cover at least 501 hectares of land within IPPF, converting them into agro-tourism or agro-aquaculture sites.