The first time I went to Puerto Princesa in 2011, I was not able to visit the place as the van driver and the tour host said that there was an issue between the Jail Administration and the prisoners and it was not safe for tourists to go there. But after a couple of months, I found out that the people who took us there just got lazy and did not want to waste on gas because it was a bit far. So much for the city tour package we paid. Though just recently, they removed this from the city tour and if one wants to visit it, it's an additional fee.
I got curious with the place that I made sure I must see it . . . which I did . . . not only once but several times.
From town, we took the multi-cab bound to Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm. The driver asked for 50pesos each where he dropped us inside the colony. I was able to go here also by a rented van. The ride was about 20 to 30 minutes.
You have to register first before you can get in. It's free.
For a prison facility, you'd think there's high security when you enter. Not this one.
Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm is known because it has no high walls or fences.
Once you enter the gate, you'll see a vast area of mostly fields where you think you'll see ordinary farmers working. They're not. They are the inmates. I did not take photos as it scared me because they may not like it and may do something to me.
This is where the inmates used to work on the handicrafts but it got burnt.
I was able to take this photo from afar.
Medium security inmates done with work and on their way to their barracks. They are working on the agricultural projects. They walk casually around the place. I even saw one beside the security guard at the gate. They are identified by the color of the shirt they're wearing. Orange shirts which you won't see around are inmates in the maximum security prison. The blue shirts are inmates on the medium security prison. The brown shirts are the minimum security prison and are allowed to stay outside the barracks but still inside the facility.
These inmates are not all from Palawan but majority are from different parts of the Philippines. Since they have no walls here, they have a roll call 3 times a day.
They have a community inside. Aside from the barracks, you'll see houses with families and mini stores. The people living here are officials and inmates who decided to stay and work for the facility.
The guard house
The first time I went here, it was exciting . . . heart beating a bit fast because I've never been inside a facility and I was expecting something that I've seen on TV about prisons.
I was even hesitant to talk to them but they were the ones who greeted and kept talking to us. I had inmates selling me souvenirs, food etc. They were like those annoying sales people at the market but these ones you can't snap at because they've done something in the past and you wouldn't want that to happen again. I even had one inmate following me around making sure I wasn't hot and too sweaty by using his fan (he he he)
Guess what??? All my anxiety and my paranoia on the inmates was blown away by the wind when they gave nothing but respect to us . . . which made us comfortable.
Too comfortable that I blurted out to the inmate "Kuya, ano naman ang kaso mo?"
(what is your case?)
I got surprised when I realized what came out from my mouth . . . scared that it wasn't the right question.
The inmate answered "nakapatay po ako kase sobrang lasing"
(I killed someone because I was drunk)
(I killed someone because I was drunk)
A few seconds of silence. I was in the middle of two inmates. So I looked at the other one and asked the same question.
He answered "napatay ko po yung asawa ko dahil sa sobrang selos"
(I murdered my wife because I got too jealous)
It took a few seconds before I was able to think and react. I guess it must be fun for them also to see people's reaction.
I just said "Huwag nyo ng gagawin yun ha. pakabait na kayo"
(Don't you ever do that again. Be good) in a casual tone like a mother telling her son not to do something naughty again.
I'm glad they said that they have repented.
This inmate was scheduled to go out in 2months when we were there.
Me as an inmate
We bought shirts and here you'll see my cousins who pretended they were caught. They're from Canada so they were not able to tell a policeman from a security guard (hehehe)
Inside the souvenir shop. My new Swedish traveler friend, Louise being offered different things by the inmates. She tasted siopao and then gave it to the inmate to finish it.
Key chains made out of recycled plastic cups.
I bought a lot of these and most of them are still with me.
I should be giving it away.
Photo shoot with the dancing inmates
Which part did they not get that it was suppose to be a wacky shot.
Louise and I looked silly here (hehehe)
We were the only tourists so we got a chance to mingle with them.
They were having lunch when we interrupted them.
They were getting food from that orange pail.
I felt sorry for them. No one deserves to be eating from a pail or bucket except if they were KFC or Jollibee buckets.
They were very funny especially this little guy in blue.
It amazed me to see their tattoos. One inmate even has one on his head.
Louise and I were like celebrities. They wanted a lot of photos with us.
I finally got my solo shot (hee hee)
I forgot his name but he was really nice to us from the moment we got inside the shop. He just doesn't like talking in english and I had to translate everything to Louise.
I was behind bars in Iwahig :)
Here are video clips of the dancing inmates. My aunts danced with them.