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.
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.”