Jail show eases burden of drug suspects
ILOILO CITY—The crowd burst into laughter as Joel delos Santos and Julio Llabores cracked jokes one after the other.
Wearing bright green and red socks, short pants and suspenders, the two have had limited experiences as stand-up comedians but they were still a hit among more than 200 people who watched their rare performance. When the show was over and all guests had left, they changed into the prescribed yellow shirts to join hundreds more in the heavily guarded and walled compound.
Delos Santos and Llabores are among the inmates in the Iloilo City District Jail (male dormitory) at Barangay Ungka in Iloilo City. They were part of a two-hour musical, dance and stage performance titled “Grasya kag Bugay” (Grace and Blessing) which was held on Oct 23-24.
3 months’ practice
At least 40 inmates performed as singers, dancers, actors and technical crew in the event organized by the Jaro Archdiocese Social Action Center (Jasac) and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
The band members sang 12 songs composed by the inmates themselves. Most of the songs carry religious themes, focusing on the struggle to find meaning, forgiveness and hopes to move on with their lives.
Yvonne Gabasa, a staff member of Jasac who trained and directed the show, said the stars were enthusiastic in attending practice sessions for three months and became closer, ironing out personal conflicts among them. “I feel safer here than outside,” she said.
“We see hope in them to reform. Many of them were unjustly accused and arrested but were too poor to contest the charges,” said Msgr. Melito Oso, Jasac executive director.
Delos Santos, 40, said he had earlier thought of killing himself many times. “I do not have anything to go back to when I will be freed,” he told the Inquirer.
Policemen arrested him in 2010 when they raided a store where suspected drug pushers were hanging out. He denied being a pusher, saying that the drugs taken from him were “planted” as evidence.
Since his arrest, Delos Santos has lost touch with his wife, who left him and their daughter.
Llabores, a shoe and umbrella repairman, is in prison after he was caught on charges of robbing a forwarding service branch of P40,800 cash in 2014. His daughter, then 16 years old, had just given birth in the hospital and needed money to pay the bills amounting to P8,700.
Hopes for reform
After hitting on the establishment at 7:15 a.m. that day, Llabores went back 25 minutes later to return the money because his conscience was bothering him. He was recognized by a security guard in an adjacent store, who arrested him. Though he gave back the cash, the criminal charge against him stayed.
In jail, he enrolled in an alternative learning program and finished high school on July 30.
“I stumbled in life, but I want to reunite with my family. Not all who are in here are bad people who cannot be reformed,” Llabores said in Hiligaynon.
The facility can accommodate no more than 200 inmates, but now, it has 894, of whom 69 percent are illegal drugs cases, said Supt. Vicente Papelera, its acting head. It refused to accept new inmates on July 1.
Some, especially the elderly and sick, sleep on the floor of the multipurpose hall and classroom.
The recent “Grasya kag Bugay” shifted the inmates’ attention to meaningful endeavors and self-help, Papelera said.
A compact disc of 12 original compositions of the inmates is being sold for P150 each. Proceeds will be used to buy more musical instruments and equipment.
Speaking during the show’s opening, Oso lamented remarks made by President Duterte questioning whether drug users and pushers were humans. “Criminal offenders have dignity and rights. They should be afforded speedy trial, especially because many are facing trumped-up charges,” he said.
The continued killings of suspected drug personalities and criminal offenders have saddened the inmates.
Avelino Nogudala, 50, who is facing a drug-related charge, and also the vocalist and the band’s acoustic guitar player, claimed he was framed in an antidrug raid in 2011.
“People should be given a chance even if they commit a crime because life is priceless. We must help those who make mistakes and not kill them like chickens,” Nogudala said.
Yes, the inmates want to be freed, but they often feel safer inside.
“We could be among those who ended dead outside,” Delos Santos said.
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