"In societies where Robbing Hoods are treated like a celebrity it is but natural to expect political parties to act like a Mafia syndicate" Political Jaywalker "In a nation where corruption is endemic people tend to confuse due process with aiding and abetting criminals" Political Jaywalker "War doesn't determine who is right, war determines who is left" Bertrand Russell "You have just one flash flood of money, you keep your people poor. It's like a time bomb and it's scary" Philippine Lawmaker

Twilight Years Behind Bars

by Wilhelmina S. Orozco

If ageing in a society that looks askance at old people and being a woman is full of frustrations because of stereotyped notions of womanhood, how much more could it be inside the prison house at age 70? At present, some women inmates at the Correctional Institute for Women are awaiting with great eagerness and frustration at the same time when they could enjoy being released from their cells to join their immediate families or go home to their hometowns. Numbering 15, they come from different parts of the country: Ilocos Sur, Pangasinan, Pampanga, Bulacan, Mindoro Oriental, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Lanao del Sur and MetroManila. Their cases are mostly illegal recruitment and drug pushing, while the rest are theft, estafa and kidnapping.

Whether their cases are meritorious or not is no longer the issue but rather their freedom of movement. At their age, the women could no longer be considered socially dangerous since their physical and even mental states are no longer that strong to take on stressful activities and probably the bigger responsibilities of looking for more lucrative professions, legal or not. In fact most of them aspire to lead, once freed, simple lives like go home to their families, take care of their grandchildren, or start a home-based business that could help them tide over their basic needs and enjoy family life.

Crimes really cuts across classes. Woman 1, physically attractive though plump, speaks good English, and shows good breeding. She was caught after being charged with illegal recruitment or IR when an agent in her recruitment office, stole the deposits of the job applicants without any assurance of an employment. Despite the loss of P50,000, she nonetheless serviced the visa needs, the passport and continued contacting the American hotel employers.

She said that her record speaks a lot of her sincerity in her business. Her past achievements include having been able to send 120 professionals to the US within 20 years. Unfortunately, she was incarcerated based on the complaints, some of which were recanted by the applicants. Still the court gave weight to two charges although the applicant-complainants' had already left for the United States with one working as a migrant while the other had disappeared in the continent and is now on a TNT status.

While she was incarcerated, the American hotel employer whose jobs for hire were the cause of the charges against her, ironically, came to interview the applicants, thus proving the truthfulness of the hotel jobs she was offering the applicants. The papers of the latter were processed under another recruitment agency, allowing them later on to leave legally for the United States to work in the hotel. To date, Woman 1 has chalked up 5 years in jail and 8 months at the CIW. She hopes to be with her children, one of whom is getting married soon and whose wedding she would like to observe. She also aspires to build another business, this time more simple yet worthy enough to sustain her needs, sans that obligation to care for her children who are all already economically independent.

Apprehended in 2001, Woman 2, a widow of an American soldier who could be considered belonging to the more affluent class among the inmates, has been in jail for 8 years already. Her legal experience centers on an FX vehicle which she had bought out of her regular dollar pension. Unfortunately, one renter turned out to be an illegal recruiter but who disappeared in the process of investigation. As owner of the FX used by this person in her business, Woman 2 was charged as an accomplice and now she claims that it was her failure to "come across" to her apprehenders that did her in. Until now, she vehemently denies the charge. "Ni isang tuldok wala akong nakuha sa recruitment nay an. Ni hindi ko alam kung paanong pinapatakbo yan. Kaya lang, dahil alam nilang may dollar pension ako, nais nilang magbigay ako." (Not even a dot did I get any profit from that recruitment business. Neither do I know how it is run. Now because I am under a dollar pension, "they" probably thought I would "give" them a share.)

Her only wish now is to be released after which " Aalagaan ko ang kapatid kong may sakit. Aayusin ko ang bahay na pinauupahan. Magtitinda ako ng pagkain. At babaguhin ko ang aking buhay. Gusto (ko) simpleng buhay na lang. Sa aking paglaya ay gusto kong makita ang aking pamilya. Dito sa CIW nakita ko na ang buhay na ganap." (I will take care of my sick sister, fix our house for rent, sell food. I will truly change my life. I just want a simple life. When I am freed, I would like to see my family. Here at CIW, I have seen life in its totality.)

A government legal researcher, serving her sentence since 1993, Woman 3 has a case similar to a movie screen story. She had been charged with IR by a very influential person in her office and who was her former boss. Actually she had charged this person with plunder in their office for the amount of P33.294 M. Her case reached the Supreme Court which decided in her favor resulting in the relief of that person from office but unfortunately was not even jailed because of strong connections. Woman 3 claims. . "How could I engage in recruitment when the whole day I (was) in the office. The case lasted for 8 years. I have been given a provisional release; however, the stenographic notes got lost and the judges handling the case were changed which then would necessitate a restudy of the case. " The chaotic treatment of her papers has resulted in her being in limbo inside CIW despite her meritorious defense.

Single and leading an independent life, Woman 4 's father is Chinese whose affluent relatives in Manila used to give her products for sale in Pampanga at higher marked up prices. Since she was a regular commuter to Manila, a recruiter requested her to get the birth certificates of job applicants from the National Bureau of Investigation as it was too costly for the applicants to do so. A case arose about some other birth certificates being fake and later on used in recruitment for sending abroad of workers illegally. Woman 4 denies having helped release those fake papers. Unfortunately, the person who could readily attest to her innocence is nowhere to be found. Now Woman 4 is suffering for a charge which she strongly rejects as true. Compounding her lonely life bereft of visitors inside CIW is her weak physical constitution. She had recently suffered from a stroke which caused her verbal slur but which has healed partially. She is also feeling pain in her back due to scoliosis.

Woman 5 of Angeles Pampanga, admitted having issued bouncing checks which resulted in her arrest. Her daughter whom she had requested to come with her when she was apprehended is now also in jail. "Napasama lang yung anak ko. Inaya kong sumama sa akin kasi dinadala na ako ng mga pulis." (My daughter was innocent; she only was arrested with me after I had asked her to join me when the police were already apprehending me.)

Once she gets released, Woman 5 promises to find a livelihood. "Para naman hindi ako maging pabigat at makatulong sa anak kong nasa jail," she said while pleading for help to be released. (…so that I would not be a burden to my daughter who is in jail.)

She would also gather all her children together and form a real family. Having discovered spiritual upliftment at CIW, she intends to continue serving in the worship services. "Ipagpapatuloy ko ang paglilingkod sa Diyos ayon sa natutuhan ko sa CIW na tunay na gumagawa sa amin na ipagbago namin ang aming buhay. Bibili rin ako ng mga produkto sa CIW para ibenta sa labas." ("I will continue serving God as I have learned at CIW that is truly exerting all effort for us to change our lives. I will also buy products produced at CIW for sale outside.")

Another inmate is Woman 6 who refused to divulge the details of her case. She has "catarata" and would like to be taken to her doctor based at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center.

Woman 7, suffering from another estafa case is from Pangasinan whose stay inside was increased from 6 to 17 years for her failure to attend the promulgation of her sentence. Similarly, she promises to continue a peaceful life, tutoring children and taking care of her grandchildren.

Suffering from failing eyesight, Woman 8 hopes to have her eyes treated when released, set up a sarisari store to earn a living and help her son, her co-accused on charges of estafa now jailed in Muntinglupa. She is suffering from cataract and hopes that her doctor at Cardinal Santos Medical City could treat her. She had given the telephone number of the doctor for contacting.

Still another estafa case is Woman 9's who hails from Tagudin, Ilocos Sur . For failing to appear at the court hearing, she was charged with jumping bail, got arrested and so is serving her sentence of 17 years.

Originating from Maguindanao and steeped in the teachings of the Islamic religion, veiled Woman 10 was not spared from the ills of drug pushing. She was living in a residential compound in Iligan, taking care of her grandchild, when the place was saturated with a police force. A room adjacent to her place was raided and yielded shabu with young men found guilty of the illegal activities. However, the latter were able to flee but she, 70 years old and not as sprightly, got caught immediately. Should she be released, she is raring to go home to Iligan and be with her grandchild again.

Woman 11, a resident of Fairview, used to travel from Mindanao, as a malong trader in Manila. However, the police raided the residential compound she was in. In a similar fate as above,her house was found to contain shabu. She and four other men were caught; but she was the only one left behind because they could not "pay" for her freedom. From Camp Crame, she was transferred to Camp Karingal, and finally to CIW. She awaits a visit from her farmer-husband.

Woman 12 of Bataan is serving 12 to 17 years sentence for simple theft. "Napag-utusan lang akong magsanla ng alahas ng isang Jun ¬¬¬______ na kasama kong nagsanla sa halagang P14,000 at isang libo lang po ang ibinigay sa akin, at nasa kanya ang papel at P13,000. Naghiwalay kami, pagkasangla. Idinemanda ako nung kamag-anak sa isang kasalanang wala akong kaalaman. Ninakaw daw ang alahas. Ako pa ang nakulong samantalang siya ay nakalibre." (I was only told to pawn the jewel by a certain Jun, who came with me. The jewel fetched P14,000 and the man gave me P1,000. After we parted ways, I was charged by his relative for theft of the jewel. I was jailed for P1,000.00, whereas that man is scot free.)

She was so angry with what had happened to her that she shouted invectives while at court because the relative even raised the amount to P150,000 instead of P13,000 as the stolen amount. Nonetheless, her record of good conduct speaks well of her and so should deserve release after serving 6 years. Her sentence of 17 years could be cut short because of it and so she intends to go home to her child in Bataan to lead a new life again, away from temptations of bad acts. "Uuwi ako sa aking mga anak sa Mariveles, Bataan. " ( I will go home to my children in Mariveles, Bataan.)

Woman 13 of Iloilo, 80 years old, said she was told by a policeman to sell marijuana. "Pulis, nagsugo sa akon nga magbaligya sang marijuana. Pambakal sang bugas." Feeling the pinch of poverty, she acceded in order to be able to buy rice. But later on, the policeman apprehended her. Once she earns her freedom, she plans to take care of her grand child, set up a store in the groundfloor of their house and also rent out rooms in Iloilo.

Now serving life sentence for drugs selling Woman 14, 77 years old, was caught in Bacolod City. Panalangin ko sa Dios na bigyan ako ng kalusugan. at mahabang buhay. Mangako na ako sa Dios na hindi ko nap o pagbalikan ang W dati kong ginagawa, ang pagbibinta ng drugs, " she whispered softly. (I pray to God to give me health and a long life. I swear to God that I won't return to the same activities again, that of selling drugs .)

Woman 15, soon turning 70, is an illiterate who cannot even state when she was born. Her case revolves around a child she used to take care of and had brought home. When it got sick, she took it to a doctor who then advised her to return her to the parents. However, she claims having done so but the parents did not want to receive the child; so she went home to Bicol with the child. During the hearing, the court did not allow the child to appear, she said which to her mind could have made a difference in the turn-out of the case. Once released, she wants to go home right away to Mindoro Oriental to be with her grandchild whose picture, inserted at the back of her Prison ID card, she proudly showed.

Many organizations have been tapped to have these elderly women released on humanitarian grounds – the women's legal bureau, the Federacion International D Abogadas, the political science department of the Ateneo de Manila University, and the Women Lawyers Circle. Hopefully they would all exert effort to make the women earn their freedom. After all, no rational society should ever allow the elderly to receive a subpoena much more experience being inside a jail, no matter what the charges are. Being blind to their weakness and making them spend their twilight years behind bars could be a reflection of society's coldest application of laws instead of making laws a means to humanize society.
Wilhelmina S. Orozco is a writer and a volunteer in many non-government organizations in the Philippines. She has been working as a literacy coordinator for the women of Tondo, has written many articles on the plight of Filipino women - OFWs, workers, rural women, professionals. To date, she is working to finish a film.

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