Life in Liberty: PCIJ report argues for giving hope to PDLs

CHEERS TO the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s (PCIJ) report calling attention to various life and career programs designed to give persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) a second chance. 

PCIJ fellow and veteran journalist, Amalia Cabusao, turned from the failures of the punitive penal system to gather stories of PDLs who proved that it is possible to restart life after imprisonment and become productive members of society.

PCIJ’s third report in its PDL series describes the serious difficulties involved in rehabilitation after incarceration. But the people who have invested in developing programs have also looked at the ways to make rehabilitation work, recommending actions that include the involvement of the community in the process. 

The note of hope draws from existing programs for PDL reformation in Davao City. Some of their successes could be replicated in other correctional facilities around the country. 

Cabusao cites the experience of Dave Barrios and Reny Aguilar who served sentences in the Davao City Jail and completed their college education through scholarship grants. The Davao City Jail, the only prison in the country with such a program, runs the “Persons Deprived of Liberty-College Education Behind Bars” (CEBB), an initiative that made it possible for Barrios to graduate with a degree in Agriculture Business, and Aguilar in Computer Technology. 

Established in 2017, CEBB aims to give the incarcerated a chance to pursue education and training that equips them with skills and knowledge that will help their reintegration into society. Aland Mizell, president of CEBB, said that the current jail system is not designed for reform and rehabilitation. But with the combination of chances and appropriate facilities, Mizell emphasized that PDLs realize the value of preparing for their life in liberty.

In Region XI, Do Lobenia, Senior Inspector and Spokesperson for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), established “Second Chance Philippines” which addresses the need for housing and job opportunities once PDLs are released. Lobenia also opened a small farm and automotive shop in Davao City to help former PDLs earn.

As there are various agencies which have the capacity to train, the article lists government-run programs that can help in the rehabilitation of PDLs: 

  •  “Pangumusta” of the BJMP Davao coordinates with local and national government agencies to help PDLs find employment after their release;
  • the Alternative Learning System (ALS) of the Department of Education (DepEd) offers literacy programs to PDLs who wish to finish their basic education; and 
  • the Technical Education and Skills Development Agency (TESDA) also offers skills training to PDLs. 

A local ordinance drafted by Pilar Braga, a councilor of Davao City, made possible a local program — “Dignity for Women Deprived of Liberty” — designed specifically for women PDLs. 

But even with these programs, advocacy groups for PDLs know that the most determined can be daunted by challenges that confront them on their road to life and liberty. 

The loss of hope is a sad reality. The article notes how the inequality in the country’s justice system can rob PDLs of any genuine motivation for reform. Mizell pointed out that many of those serving sentences know that those who have power and privilege can get away with crime, violate law and escape punishment while the poor are quickly penalized. PDLs who are mostly poor lose hope that any of their efforts can make a difference. 

Cabusao described the mindset that confronts those released, the stereotypes that hound them. Characterized as offenders, they have difficulty landing jobs, and unemployment drives them back to a life of crime. Society’s hesitation or outright resistance to giving PDLs a second chance can only result in recidivism and reincarceration. This will not change unless, as Braga suggested, these programs engage the community in the rehabilitation process. 

Mizell offered other recommendations, among them, to streamline court rulings for post-release rehabilitation, remove employment barriers for PDLs, and provide certificates of rehabilitation when needed.

Government should take the cue from the reform programs in Davao City. Hope is a hard and tough virtue – requiring “the whole of government” approach in presenting PDLs with opportunities for change. Public officials should be first to admit that the present system is a shame that diminishes all of society. It is time for change. Media must do their part to make this possible.