I mean, you will never expect to see a playground in a maximum security prison.

This past weekend, my wife and I came across a great little National Geographic program with several stories set in the Philippines.  We were most impressed by the reforms at what was one of the most dangerous prisons in the country, New Bilibid Prisons, which was visited in Muntinlupa City during the program.


Read about this new prison reform below, and next, encourage prison reforms in your county, too.


Don’t Tell My Mother I’m in… Manila!

French-American foreign war correspondent Diego Luis Buñuel never wanted his mother to get nervous knowing where his assignment would be so he always told his production crew in their Paris office, “Don’t tell my mother.” Thankfully, his colleagues always heeded his requests.

Since 2001, Diego has covered the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the US intervention in Afghanistan. In 2003, he was embedded with the US Marine Corps in Baghdad and had reported on the Second Congo War, the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, and Yasser Arafat’s funeral.

But after a few years of covering conflicts, Diego realized that most global news headlines just focused on the worst events in these countries. No one was telling the story about the interesting people and culture in these places. So Diego went on a mission in search of fascinating people and their remarkable stories in some of the most dangerous places on earth and the National Geographic Channel series Don’t Tell My Mother was born.

In 2006, Diego began shooting episodes for the first season of Don’t Tell My Mother where he offered a new look on rarely traveled areas affected by conflicts such as Afghanistan, Colombia, North Korea, Congo, Venezuela, Israel, Iran, Iraq, the Balkans, and Pakistan.

A few months ago, Diego was in the Philippines to shoot an episode for the new series of Don’t Tell My Mother. “We are doing a ten-part series on the biggest cities in the world – Mexico City in San Carlo, Lagos in Nigeria, Cairo, Beirut, Delhi, Tokyo, and Manila,” explained Diego, the host, director, and producer of Don’t Tell my Mother.

Diego said the new series was inspired by a 2008 United Nations report which cited that for the first time in history, more people are living in cities than in the countryside. “I thought it would be really interesting because if our future is going to be in cities then we have to find solutions on how we can live together now.”

And for Diego, one great example of how thousands of people can live together in a densely-packed community is the maximum security compound of the New Bilibid Prisons, which he visited in Muntinlupa City.

Diego inside New Bilibid Prison.

“When I was doing my research on New Bilibid Prisons, I realized why was nobody talking about this? I mean I’ve been in many maximum security prisons before like in the US with armed guards and raving maniacs and chain gangs, and suddenly there’s this maximum security prison in the Philippines, which is the largest prison in the country, and there’s 20,000 inmates in there and it seems that none of the usual stigma of prisons happen there. When you go inside the prison, you will see rapists, murderers, and kidnappers all trying to work as one community.”

Diego also noted that at the New Bilibid Prisons, “women are allowed overnight stays and there are playgrounds where children can play. I mean, you will never expect to see a playground in a maximum security prison.”

While in the country, Diego and cameraman Nicholas Boero also visited the Manila North Cemetery and a firebird farm in Tanay, Rizal.

Diego at the firebird farm in Tanay, Rizal.

They also went to San Pedro Cutud in San Fernando, Pampanga for the Maleldo 2010 where penitents were nailed to the cross on Good Friday, played sakla, a popular card game, and rode a train trolley in Sta. Mesa.

Diego tries out the cross where penitents are nailed during Good Friday.

As a city, Diego found Manila as a real mix. “You’ve got the Asian side, you’ve got the sky scrapers, the modern buildings, and then you’ve got this more rural side that’s filled with poverty. It’s rare to see a city with this kind of balance.”

Diego (right) and cameraman Nicholas Boero ride a train trolley in Sta. Mesa.

Diego hopes the new series would show viewers how today’s biggest cities have their own ways of dealing with common problems such as congestion, traffic, poverty, and violence. “This new season of Don’t Tell My Mother offers a real way of discovering the world and how the world changes based on different cultures and ways of exploring things.”

“I think that’s what the National Geographic Channel is all about – showing people on one part of the planet what people are doing on the other side of the planet, and to try to bring this global network of vision and surprise and exciting stories to one another.”

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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1 Response to I mean, you will never expect to see a playground in a maximum security prison.

  1. eslkevin says:

    The New Bilibid Orchestra

    Many of the band members could not read notes.

    They had to borrow a piano and a sax from a nearby school. The string section could use a few violins and cellos. But the New Bilibid Prison Orchestra had its first public concert last week and looks forward to an active season if the Bureau of Corrections and the public could provide more money and moral support.

    The national penitentiary orchestra is a giant leap from the dancing inmates at the Cebu Provincial Jail who captivated a global audience on the YouTube a year ago. Dancing with great showmanship to the beat of Michael Jackson songs, the Cebu Dancing Inmates traveled the globe through the Internet.

    The orchestra’s debut featured an all-woman choral group from the Women’s Correctional Institution in Mandaluyong City. Broadway songs, dances and all-time showstoppers entertained prison officials, fellow inmates, families and friends at the Muntinlupa facility.

    Two inmates, John Christian Reyes and Warren Zingapan, broached the idea of organizing a band with Bureau of Corrections Director Oscar Calderon, according to stories published in the Manila Bulletin and Daily Inquirer. Zingapan topped the civil engineering board in 1996 but was sentenced to life for a killing in a fraternity rumble. Reyes holds a mass communications degree from the Philippine Women’s University.

    He acts as musical director and teaches the band members how to read notes. Zingapan organized the concert and is an enthusiastic cheerleader.

    The orchestra is an outlet for creative leisure in a system known for a shortage of sports facilities, reading materials and resources for training and education. It helps develop talent and character, prepares the inmates for a productive reentry to the mainstream.

    Antidote to misery of prison life
    Playing together, the prisoners learn teamwork and sharing, and appreciation for music and higher values missed in the misery of prison life. Many band members said music has given them a kind of freedom that allows their mind and spirit to soar in peace.

    What did they play at the June 15 concert? No, not “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” or “Who Can I Turn To.” Not “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” or “Call Me Irresponsible.” The 100-man orchestra and the chorale sang and played “Summer of ‘42,” “New York, New York,” “Gaano Kita Kamahal,” and a medley of Broadway and OPM bestsellers.

    Someone joked that a band member is looking for an interesting composition, the “Farewell Symphony,” by Franz Joseph Haydn to play in a future concert. The music of the last movement ends in such a way that the performers may leave the stage one by one, with two violins eventually remaining. The stage is almost empty at the end of the performance and most audiences acknowledge the surprise ending with a rousing ovation.

    Music history says the ending was Haydn’s hint to his patron that the orchestra deserved a vacation. An observer noted that it’s a good ruse for a smoke or a prison break.

    Life after the Cabinet
    Some of them are veterans in the Gloria Arroyo Cabinet. Others got their ear wet only a couple of months ago, mostly conscripted from the middle-level bureaucracy to fill up vacancies created by secretaries seeking public office. On or before June 30, they take a single boat for a new destination: the private life.
    Vice President Noli de Castro, once considered presidential material after winning easily his bids for senator and VP, is returning to radio and TV work where he earned his first million and celebrity.

    Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza expects to resume active leadership of a national association of golf players. Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, who knows a lot about golf, will return to his farm (not covered by CARP) in Marawi, Lanao del Sur.

    A vacation is also on the mind of Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, who plans to return to private law practice and pursue further studies in accounting.

    What does Labor Secretary Marianito Roque plan to do after June 30? “Look for work,” Nitoy told reporters during a break at the launching of two books on the Aroyo administration. Roque, said he will tend his vegetable farm in Bataan, his home province.

    Finance Secretary Gary Teves plans to revive his consulting business.

    Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales said he would consolidate the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas as part of the “peaceful opposition.” BertGon is expected to name his first appointments to his “shadow Cabinet” next month.

    Public Works Secretary Victor Domingo said he would return to his real estate business. Domingo, together with Trade Secretary Jesli Lapus and Public Information Agency chief Conrado Lincaoco are looking forward to retirement for reasons of health.

    Social Security System president Romulo Neri is weighing his options as he faces graft charges for his role in the $329-million NBN-ZTE deal.

    Education Secretary Mona Valisno is the only Cabinet member who plans to write a book. No word from the others about a memoir. What a shame.

    It’s back to private life for most of the Palace guard except President Arroyo who remains in the public eye as congressman from the second district of Pampanga.

    The best vacation plan belongs to Winston Garcia, the outgoing president and general manger of the Government Service Insurance System. According to a Manila Standard Today story, Garcia will spend the next six months on an island “doing nothing and having no commitments.”

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