Friday, May 1, 2009

Revisiting a Philippine Best Practice

You probably all still remember the Thriller video that came out of the Cebu Detention and Rehabilitation Center two years ago. Here the latest video from them.

We should point out that this effort or initiative or call-it-what-you-want from the local prison officials is not just plain fun or laughs at the expense of the inmates. It actually can serve as a best practice model for other countries to adapt or follow.

Check out this follow-up piece from Al Jazeera shortly after the Thriller video hit the internet.

And here's the transcript of a similar piece that CNN did (we couldn't find a working video link).


HUGH RIMINTON, CNN INTL. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It is not yet 7:00 a.m., beating the full blast of the tropical heat, the inmates of this Philippine prison are already an hour into rehearsals. It will occupy them up to five hours a day.

They're hard work under the eye of prison overseer Byron Garcia has spawned one of the unlikeliest hits on the Internet. a reworking of Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

Videoed by the prison boss, it has drawn 6 million hits on YouTube. And Cebu Detention and Rehabilitation Center, every able- bodied inmate must dance.

(On camera): Just in case you get the wrong idea, these prisoners are in here because they are the toughest criminals in all the central Philippines; 70 percent of them are rated high-risk inmates, and that means, most of them are rapists or murderers.

(Voice over): Many, however, could be innocent, still waiting for their cases to come to trial. The prison overseer rejects claims he's abusing the prisoners' rights by forcing them to dance so many hours a day.

BYRON GARCIA, CEBU PRISON OVERSEER: We don't have dumbbells here. We don't have weights. We have dancing. But, still, it does not affect how they feel about themselves. They are still men, although they dance.

RIMINTON: He's convinced he has a lesson for prison authorities everywhere, the way to crack the plague of violent prison gangs.

GARCIA: Guns, gun culture, impedes rehabilitation.

RIMINTON: And 1,600 inmates crowd this jail up to 16 men a cell. When Garcia took over three years ago, gangs and corrupt guards ruled this jail. Serious violence broke out at least once a week. Garcia sacked most of the guards and ordered the prisoners first to march, and then to dance.

His aim was to break gang allegiances, forcing inmates to work as a single unit with a single goal. He says there's not been a single act of violence in more than a year. Now, not guards, but fellow prisoners, guide the rehearsals, led by an accused mass murder.

Leo Sweiko (ph) tells me the dancing has taught him love.

Back in the cell, she shares with 11 other transsexual prisoners, Wenjiell Resane, who has waited for years on charges on drug charges, is enjoying her taste of stardom.

WENJIELL RESANE, PRISONER (through translator): It never leaves my mind that I'm a prisoner, but I'm very happy and proud of what I have done.

RIMINTON: Her co-star, a one-time professional dancer, agrees.

CRISANTO NIERE, PRISONER (through translator): Before life in the jail was very different. It was so bad. The atmosphere has changed. We're being treated as humans. RIMINTON: He has waited so long for trial on crack dealing charges he says his seven-year old son has only ever known him as a prison inmate.

NIERE: Before my son was ashamed of me. But now he tells all his school mates his dad is a dancer on YouTube. I'm proud my son is proud of me, even though I'm still a prisoner.

RIMINTON: It's rehabilitation one step at a time. Hugh Riminton, CNN, Cebu, The Philippines.


And here's an article from The Asian Journal that's probably the best of the lot. You can get the pdf here.

The question though is whether this success can really be replicated in other countries? The ideas and program seem simple enough to implement, but can they get non-Filipino inmates to cooperate? Because that is a crucial ingredient - and one which may be present only in the make-up and genes of that culturally unique and hard-to-define animal we call Pinoy.

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