Philippine Island Times Adventures of an American expat in the Philippines

September 14, 2008

And then she said…

Filed under: Palawan — Donald @ 4:43 pm

Puerto girls

“Give me five peso.”

September 13, 2008

Parola

Filed under: Palawan — Donald @ 3:41 pm

Aniceto’s Pension rooftop 1

One of the things I like best about Aniceto’s Pension is the view from the rooftop.

Aniceto’s Pension rooftop 2
It also has great places to sit and write.

Aniceto’s Pension 3rd floor lounge

Today I visited the neighborhood near the lighthouse (parola).

Parola girl

There is a little resort where cottages built over the sea can be rented for a day of lounging and swimming.

Parola cottage

Add on a room and the cottage becomes a home.

Parola house

Kids here love to play on bancas.

Parola banca

Maybe that’s why they can scamper around them so well in rough seas when they grow up. Hard to imagine just how well unless you’ve seen it.

September 12, 2008

In the Penal Colony

Filed under: Palawan — Donald @ 6:49 pm

Iwahig Penal Colony

My tricycle driver seemed not to have been inside the Iwahig Penal Colony before; not a bad thing, but temporarily inconvenient. After I signed us in he followed the pitted and rocky road past rice paddies and outbuildings, past inmates offering fruit–some with a razor glance that made it difficult to stop and difficult just to pass by–until finally we came to the central square near the barracks. We had not seen anyone clearly “in charge” since leaving the main gate and neither of us had any idea who we should approach. A very old man with a positively beaming toothless smile noticed our confusion and directed us to the nearby home of the colony Supervisor. I greeted him with my own best smile and the customary “Good afternoon.”

“Good afternoon. What is your business here?” No smile, and very, very serious.

“I am a psychologist from the United States and I have read about Iwahig. I would like to talk with someone about it.”

The Supervisor invited me up to the second floor veranda of his simple but pleasant wooden home and for the next two hours we talked about the colony. About 3000 prisoners and a couple of hundred staff live there. Though many of the inmates have been found guilty of murder and other serious offenses and they serve an average of about fifteen years, because of good behavior at other institutions–and to relieve the serious overcrowding there–all have been deemed suited to minimum or medium security and reassigned to Iwahig. Only a minority are locked in. The remainder live in an open agricultural village that appears fairly normal except for the scarcity of stores and women and children. There are even a few of those around, not only because staff live at Iwahig, but because after serving one fifth of their sentence with good behavior, prisoners can apply to have their families live with them, and a couple of dozen do so.

“We teach them how to work in the fields, to plant, to harvest, to use machinery. We restore their self-confidence.” The colony is not self-sufficient, as some reports suggest, but by working several hundred hectares of rice and corn and vegetables, it meets most of its own needs and generates income. By all accounts, prisoners are treated with decency and respect. Few attempt escape into the malarial jungle, and some do not want to leave after their sentences are complete.

I asked the rate of recidivism. “We call those balikbayans.” That gave me my first hard laugh of the afternoon. It is a term one often hears, usually referring to Filipinos who are returning home after having gone in search of a better life abroad. The Supervisor, who had been at Iwahig for more than 30 years, estimated that of 1000 prisoners who are released, perhaps 10 commit further offenses and are sent back.

Most Filipinos regard the United States with open admiration. Even a security guard at the Manila airport once said to me “USA number one!” as he searched my luggage. The average American has about thirteen times the purchasing power of the average Filipino, even after adjusting for the much higher American prices. Yet incarceration rates in the United States are five times higher—the highest in the world, in fact—and criminal recidivism is over 50%.

My day at Iwahig did not make me homesick.

September 7, 2008

Finally

Filed under: Palawan — Donald @ 6:50 pm

Aniceto Pensione

They call Palawan “the last frontier” in the Philippines. Not many people and most of the country’s remaining old trees live here. I’m in the capital, Puerto Princesa. It is only 75 minutes from Manila by air, but a different world. The mayor is a serious man, and when he decided to clean the place up a few years ago, he had a trash can placed every few meters, sent crews to sweep the streets on a daily basis, and started throwing litterbugs in jail. Puerto is the cleanest city of its size (pop. 100,000 or so) that I have seen anywhere in the world. My plan was to snap a couple of decent pics of it this morning to post here, but since there has been rain all day–it’s that time of year–I only have this shot of my room at the Aniceto Pensione. Not very big (in fairness, there is a tiny desk out of shot and a bathroom just across the hall), but it’s clean as a tack, everything works, and I like it a lot. I’ll include a pic of the best thing about this place next time around when the rain lets up. The Aniceto provides very good free wifi, so my posts here should be more regular now. The normal rate for my room is about five bucks, but I’m getting a long term discount of 10%, which is pretty normal.

The food in Puerto Princesa is the best I’ve had in the Philippines. Palawan is an island chain stretching southwestward right down to Maylasia, it has a significant Muslim population, and it took in lots of Vietnamese refugees a few years back. All these cultures and others from southeast Asia clearly influence the cuisine, which makes good use of things like lemon grass, Thai basil, and chiles (even one with the earthy richness of a poblano; when I came across it I almost cried). Palawan is also the primary fishery for the country, so seafood is spectacular and cheap.

I just got hungry so that’s it for now. The sunset call to prayer is sounding through my window against the background of the rain, ending today’s Ramadan fast. Now everyone here can eat, if they can afford it.

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