Last May 11, 2018, the students of Clinical Legal Education 102 of the Ateneo Law School, in partnership with the Humanitarian Legal Assistance Foundation Inc., and the Ateneo Law Alumni Association Inc. conducted a symposium entitled “Life After Jail: A Forum on Reintegrating Former Persons Deprived of Liberty back to the Community”. The objectives of the forum are first to change the perspective of society that there is indeed life after prison, second is to determine NGO and GO policies and practices beneficial for jail decongestion, third is to determine if our criminal justice system is effective and fourth is to recommend a policy framework for jail decongestion.
The event was attended by students from Ateneo Law School and Unibersidad de Manila, stakeholders from different sectors like the Ateneo Human Rights Center, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Humanitarian Legal Assistance Foundation and the persons formerly deprived of liberty themselves. The forum’s distinguished and esteemed speakers are Dr. Resurrecion Morales, Congressman Vincent ‘Bingbong’ Crisologo and Professor Bryan Engay.
The program started with an enlightening opening remarks from Atty. Rommel Alim Abitria, the Executive Director of HLAF and the professor of CLED 102 Class. He started the program by giving the audience an insight that the reintegration of persons deprived of liberty back to the community is not an easy task. He said that the national government still has to craft a comprehensive national policy on reintegration and the local government has to develop programs to provide services to persons formerly deprived of liberty.
After the opening remarks, the hosts introduced the first speaker, Dr. Morales, the Bureau of Corrections Technical Chief Superintendent, which gave a comprehensive overview of the Philippine penal system. She started by explaining the structure of the Bureau of Corrections, its mandate and its reintegration program. She said that the ultimate goal of the Bureau of Corrections is to prepare former PDLs for their reintegration back into the free community because they believe that an offender rightfully belongs to a free community, not to prison. She also discussed that the rehabilitation program of the Bureau of Corrections has a holistic approach, meaning all aspects are being developed by the 6 reformation programs -- the intellectual aspect, the social, psychological, spiritual, and physical aspects.
The second speaker is Cong. Vincent “Bingbong” Crisologo, a member of the House of Representatives and the current congressman of the first district of Quezon City. He is a former PDL himself. He was sentenced to suffer double life imprisonment at the age of 23 years old and was confined before the New Bilibid Prison from 1972 to 1988. He narrated to the audience his personal experience that he encounter when he was in prison. He recounted his struggles inside and the challenges he had to overcome. He also shared his personal views with respect to the flaws in our judicial and penal system. He said that any law that should be made should consider the point of view of an innocent inmate and guilty inmate.
The third speaker is Professor Bryan Engay. He is a Psychology professor from UP Diliman. He talked about the negative sides of the prison experience – modern implications in the post-prison experiences of persons deprived of liberty especially during reintegration program. He specifically talked about experiences of children in conflict with the law, who have had experiences of being imprisoned. He said that those cases are controversial because as we know, there should be no minors in jail. But reality tells us otherwise. There are some isolated cases and some experiences of children being detained. He discussed the the implications of the prisonization, post-prison experiences of Children in Conflict with the Law. Prof Engay also works with the HLAF in its FRED Program or what they call as the Focus Reintegration Program for Ex-Detainees. He shared what they do in FRED in order to reintegrate former PDLs back to society.
After the three speakers delivered their respective speeches, the open forum began. Some former PDLs shared their personal stories and the struggles they encountered while they are inside the prison. They also shared the hardships they dealt with when they were released. They narrated that it was difficult to have a life after prison because the society discriminates them. They also expressed their gratitude to the organizers of the forum because it served as an avenue for them to share their personal stories. The Warden of Manila City Jail was also present in the event. She narrated that there are a lot of recidivist inside the jail because when they first go out of prison, they have nowhere to go because the society doesn’t accept them. The result is, they will again go back to the practice of doing illegal acts which will eventually lead to being imprisoned again. She suggested that the government should focus on reintegrating the offenders back to the community.
After the open forum, the closing remarks was given by the CLED 102 Class Beadle, Mr. Nester Mendoza. He expressed his gratitude to the sponsors, speakers, stakeholders and the students that attended the symposium. He emphasized the lessons that we learned from the talk, that the former PDLs were an inspiration because they didn’t give up and continued to fight their own battles inside the prison because they know that God loves them. He pointed out that the Lord himself loves sinners. He ended the speech by encouraging the audience to help out former PDLs in order to reintegrate them back to the society and to prove that there is indeed life after prison.