Top Stories


    Jun 23, 2014

    This Filipino prison has no walls


    ONE hundred convicts armed with machetes wander through a vast prison without walls in one of the Philippines' most beautiful islands in a unique approach to reforming criminals.

    Two token guards with shotguns slung on their shoulders relax in the shade nearby as the blue-shirted group of inmates chop weeds at a rice paddy at the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm on Palawan island.

    But Arturo, who is 21 years into a life sentence for murder, has no plans to escape, preferring to keep his chances of an eventual commutation or even a pardon.

    "I don't want to live the life of a rat, panicked into bolting into a hole each time a policeman comes my way," said the 51-year-old inmate, whose full name cannot be used in keeping with prison regulations.

    Surrounded by a thick coastal mangrove forest, a mountain range and a highway, the 26,000ha Iwahig jail is one of the world's largest open prisons, more than two times the size of Paris.

    A single guard sits at its largely ceremonial main gate, routinely waving visitors through without inspection.

    A shallow ditch, but no walls, is all that separates the 3,186 prisoners from the outside world.

    A mere 14km away is Puerto Princesa, a city of 250,000 people and a top tourist destination as the gateway to an island famed for stunning dive sites, a giant underground river system and beautiful beaches.

    A steady stream of local and foreign tourists visit Iwahig's quaint, pre-World War II prison administration buildings and a handicrafts shop, which is manned by inmates who have made the items on sale.

    Iwahig's inmates mostly come from Manila's main Bilibid prison, a far smaller facility that holds about 22,000 convicts and which requires periodic prisoner transfers to ease the over-crowding.

    Prison superintendent Richard Schwarzkopf said there had been just one breakout since he took over leadership of the prison in 2012, involving four inmates serving terms for murder, attempted murder and car theft.

    Three of them were swiftly captured, according to Mr Schwarzkopf, although he declined to say which one of the four remained at large.