Inside Bilibid (2/3): Death and Freedom
Editor's Note: On March 7, 2017, the House of Representatives approved the death penalty on its third and final reading. Today, we revisit our Inside Bilibid series to remind us of the people who will be most affected by the passing of this law. In this installment, Gang Badoy shares a story about two students held in the maximum-security Bilibid prison and what they felt when capital punishment was abolished. Read part one here.
I’ve been teaching Creative Writing in the Maximum Security Prison in Muntinlupa since July 2007. Among my students are inmates of Building 1. Building 1 used to be called the "death row" until the death penalty was repealed in 2006. Two days ago, an inmate from my class came up to me and whispered that he was going to give me something at the end of the class. I nodded at him thinking it was either a note, a small gift (for they are thoughtful like that every now and then) or maybe a request for help for medical assistance. To my surprise, he handed me three yellowed, torn and stained sheets of paper. He whispered that those were his notes from February 5, 1999.
The significance of what he said didn’t strike me until I realized it was his journal entry from the day someone from his building, from 5 cells down the hall, was executed.
Last October, while discussing the death penalty with my class, I decided to ask a couple of former death row inmates if they remember the day the law was repealed. They described how they felt when they realized they will no longer be executed but their sentences changed to reclusion perpetua instead.
Two of my students in the Maximum Security Prison came from the "death row." The death penalty in the Philippines was abolished on June 24, 2006. Here, they tell us a bit about that day:
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Many have asked me about my stand on the death penalty and I noticed that my answer changes depending on the time I am asked. My answer varies, too, depending on the crime and the accused involved. But certainly this is not justice.
If you ask me today, I still don’t think it should be restored—not while our law enforcement is so wanting, our investigation and evidence-gathering so unscientific, our methods for extracting confessions questionable, our courts so flawed, we can’t afford it yet.
I am involved in some of the work of the legal community who pushed against the death penalty, I have a good friend who was murdered—so if you had asked me around the time of his murder, I’d have said yes to the death penalty. But—I have longtime students who have murdered, raped, carjacked, dealt drugs, stole and damaged both people and property and I am witness to their sincere effort to eke out a new existence even while inside prison. I am their teacher and I have read their writing. So if you ask me again, my answer is no. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to explore this issue from many vantage points.
So if you ask me today, my answer is no.
To distinguish them from other inmates, death row prisoners were given shirts with black crosses at the back to wear. (1963, Lopez Museum Library)
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I suppose it was fitting for me to post this on the 25th anniversary of the EDSA revolution as it serves as an analogy to those days. While we may have escaped the death of our democracy, 25 years after—we realize that we are still imprisoned and struggling still—to be free. I suppose those days were a matter of life and death for many, also from all sides.
Today, I am thinking of choices and freedom instead.
This was originally published in Gang Badoy's blog on February 25, 2011. You can read the post here.