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Zamboanga to Loose San Ramon Prison

by: Felino Santos - July 21, 2006


(Blinded by a dream, Zamboangueños are forgetting their past)


The people of Zamboanga are about to lost one of the last few remaining relics and link with the past. Once lost, this institution will be lost forever. And nobody seems to care.


This 136 year old institution, still functioning today dating back to the late Spanish regime will soon be a thing of the past. Its misfortune, if we can call it that way , is that it stands in the way of an ambitious project of government - to invite investors to Zamboanga


The country’s  second oldest penitentiary  - the San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm – established in August 21, 1869 to house recalcitrant political prisoners and Moro rebels  will be destroyed. It is not overcrowded or pose a threat to the community.


But -   the Zamboanga City Special Economic Zone and Free Port plans to  establish a seaport in the site – to bring about  development to Southern Philippines. It is not even said who will use that seaport. But projects are projects for as long as there is money to spend. This still being imagined Sea Port  is expected to be funded on a Build-Operate-Transfer Scheme. The financiers of this Sea Port are still to be found, but the Ecozone has already set aside some P300 million to relocate the facility to a 1,25 hectare site at Camp Pilar somewhere in the hills between Curuan, Quiniput and Bunguaio.


Construction of the facilities in the relocated penitentiary site is expected to begin August and will be ready for occupancy early next year. The Ecozone has already bidded out the construction of a dormitory, administration building and housing complex –without any consultation for specifications with San Ramon officials who are expected to occupy the place.


How can this happen in Zamboanga that prides on its Spanish and American heritage?


How can an insensitive populace or bureaucracy allow this “desecration” of a historical site. To make matters worse, the National Historical Commission has failed to declare the San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm as a historical site that should be preserved , untampered for the future generation.


An official of the San Ramon said they submitted all the documents to the National Historical Commission to declare the facility and institution as a historical site in 2001. Nobody bothered to follow the proposal to this day. So the facility is open to destruction and to be obliterated from the face of the earth.


The city council, led by Councilor Juan Kim Elago conducted a consultation hearing of the project at its P55 million building in this city last July 20 and gave the go signal to the Ecozone to proceed with the project.




The Zamboanga Ecozone, whose top officials are Zamboangueños were the ones who initiated for the transfer of the penitentiary from San Ramon to the hills of Curuan. None of them probably thought of the historical significance of the institution to the people of Zamboanga. As a result the Department of Justice turned over the site to the Ecozone. The Ecozone will shoulder the cost of the transfer but in turn they get this choice property of earth for their use.



A bit of History:


Here is what the Bureau of Corrections under the Department of Justice says of penitentiaries.

In the Philippines penitentiaries  started during the Spanish regime. The main penitentiary was the Old Bilibid Prison in Oroquieta, Manila which was established in 1847 pursuant to Section 1708 of the Revised Administrative Code. It was formally opened by a Royal Decree in 1865. About 4 years later, on august 21, 1869, the San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm in Zamboanga City was established to confine Muslim rebels and recalcitrant political prisoners opposed to the Spanish rule. The facility, which faces Jolo sea, has the Spanish-inspired dormitories and originally sat on a 1,414 hectare property.


When the American took over in the 1900s, the Bureau of Prisons was created under the Department of Commerce and Police pursuant to the Re-organization Act of 1905 (RA 1407 dataed 01 November 1905). San Ramon, which was destroyed during the Spanish-American War, was re-established in 1907 but it was in 01 January 1915 when San Ramon was placed under the auspices of the Bureau of Prisons and started receiving prisoners from Mindanao.


Even before San Ramon was rebuilt, the Iuhit Penal Settlement (now Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm) was established by the Americans in 1904 on its present reservation of 28,072 hectares. It was located on the westernmost part of the archipelago and far from the main islands to confine incorrigibles whom the government had found little hope of rehabilitation. It was expanded to 41,007 hectares in 1912 by virtue of Executive Order (E.O. No. 67) issued by the Governor Newton Gilbert on October 15 of the same year.

Other Penal colonies were also established. On November 27,1929, the Correctional Institution for Women was created to provide separate facilities for women offenders and to cater to their special needs (Act No. 3579). To date, it is still the lone women's prison in the Philippines.


The Davao penal Colony in the Southern Mindanao was opened in 1932 through Act No. 3732. Meanwhile, owing to the increasing number of committals to the Old Bilibid Prison in Manila, the New Bilibid Prison was established in 1935 in a southern suburb called Muntinlupa. The old prison was transformed into a receiving center and as storage facility for farm produce coming from the colonies. It is presently abandoned and placed under the jurisdiction of the Public Estates Authority.


After the American occupation, 2 more penal institutions were constituted. The Sablayan Penal Colony in Occidental Mindoro was set up on September 26 1954 through Proclamation No. 72. Leyte Regional Prison, on the other hand, was established on January 16, 1973 through Proclamation No. 1101 to confine prisoners from the Visayas.


Mike Baños, Executive Editor: Z-Free Press,

Mike Baños

Executive Editor

Mike Baños has been a writer for most his life, a journalist for most of it, with occasional delusions of being a poet and songwriter. He grew up in Zamboanga City, learned the ropes of journalism under the late, great E. Rene R. Fernandez and writing from Linda Cababa-Espinosa. He writes a twice weekly column "Hammer & Anvil" for the Mindanao Gold Star Daily, which is also published online by American Chronicle. He is a member of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club, Inc. and its faculty pool for the training module "Responsible and Independent Journalism." It is being implemented in partnership with the South East Asia Rural Social Leadership Institute (Searsolin) of Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan).  Mike is the Executive Editor for all OP/ED articles in our Z-Free Press.  We invite your voice to be heard.

E-mail: Mike Baños

Felino "Lino" Santos, a teacher for a dozen years, has been writing for the past 29 years. Self taught through home study courses, he was formally introduced and initiated into the craft by the late Eddie Sapal and Tony Enriquez, then of DPI Zamboanga. He was Zamboanga Bureau Chief of the Philippine News Agency for several years and contributed to/edited local papers as well as other news outfits in town. He now edits the Chavacano newscast Dateline Zamboanga telecast over IBC TV-11 and the biweekly Zamboanga Peninsula Journal.



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