Photographer Rick Rocamora Spent Six Years in Jails and Prisons for This Exhibit

'Bursting at the Seams' shows you life on the inside.
IMAGE Rick Rocamora

Photographer Rick Rocamora spent six years visiting jails, detention centers, and prisons around the Philippines, from Baguio to Cebu to General Santos, documenting their notoriously overcrowded and inhumane conditions. The situation was already bad in 2011, when he began, but it has become exponentially worse with the current administration's war on drugs.

And so what started out as a project for the Supreme Court has evolved into a long-term project that advocates for wide-ranging solutions, which require financial appropriation, structural improvement of facilities and integration of various stakeholders into a single agency. This means that beyond building more and better infrastructure, the jails and penitentiaries all throughout the Philippines—which are currently overseen either by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, the Bureau of Corrections, and by local government units—all need to be integrated under one body to standardize management protocols. Judges and lawyers, too, have their role to play in ensuring justice is served expeditiously.

Rocamora got to spend time with the detainees inside their cells once the wardens felt comfortable enough to leave him alone. To get there, he told them that he was not out to find fault with any one group—revealing the plight of the detainees to the greater public will also benefit the wardens,
who often get blamed when riots occur or when prisoners die.

He has spent the night in a Cebu prison, photographed Muslim inmates praying on a Friday, and witnessed couples’ “conjugal” visits (with absolutely no privacy, the most they can do is hold hands). Though graphic in nature—you can almost imagine what it smells like in there as bodies are compressed from top to bottom, side to side–there is much compassion and moments of tenderness in the photographs, even touches of humor. In one picture of two men, Rick recalls how the long-haired one warned, as he put his arms around the other guy, “he’s mine.”


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Two related lectures will shed more light on life behind bars: On March 14, 2018 from 2 PM to 4PM at the Ayala Museum, Filomin C. Gutierrez, PhD will give a talk titled Pangkat: Inmate Gangs at the New Bilibid Prison, and historian Aaron Abel Mallari will discuss The Bilibid Prison as an American Colonial Project in the Philippines.

Bursting at the Seams: Philippine Detention Centers is on exhibit at the Ayala Museum until April 6, 2018. Admission is free.

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Audrey N. Carpio
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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