Consultant quits Cebu jail famous for dancing inmates

CEBU CITY, Philippines – After committing a series of violations at the Cebu Provincial Detention Center (CPDRC), prison consultant Marco Toral resigned from his post on Monday, August 8.

The Cebu Provincial Detention Center (CPDRC) in Barangay Kalunasan, Cebu City, became world famous for its dancing inmates' viral videos in 2006. The prison, often called the real-life jailhouse rock, has been hailed by international media, including the New York Times, for using its dancing program as part of its rehabilitation for drug-dependent inmates.

But it hasn't been all singing and dancing lately.

On July 26, one inmate, posing as a guest, escaped. On July 28, Toral fired a warning shot using a blank cartridge when he caught inmates gambling. Opening fire in a non-life threatening situation, even with a blank cartridge, is considered a violation of prison rules.

Sun.Star Superbalita reported on August 4 that a laptop and cell phones were confiscated from female inmate Eileen Ontong, who is serving time for human trafficking charges. Investigators suspect she and her German husband Thomas Ruhland continued their cyberporn activities from behind bars.

While the prison is designed to house only 1,600 inmates, it now holds almost 3,000.

In less than two months, more than 10 inmates have died, with most of the deaths attributed to cardiac arrest brought about by pneumonia. A prison health worker had said that overcrowrding may have triggered the inmates' ailments.

Male and female inmates are housed in separate wings, but are allowed to mingle during dance practices and performances. While many of the inmates are in prison for drug charges, the CPDRC claims to be a prison that is "drug-free."


On August 6, the provincial board summoned Toral and jail warden Romeo Manansala to answer for the series of violations, but Toral resigned before any hearings started.

When asked by reporters to explain why he's resigning, Toral only replied, "You better ask the governor."

Texts and calls to Toral for further explanation went unanswered.

Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III said in a statement: "CPDRC Consultant on Jail Management Mr Marco Toral manifested to me his resignation. He said he can no longer handle the pressure. In his case, we value democratic due process and we followed it."

Toral is an ex-inmate of the detention center who was supposed to serve a life sentence on drug charges. He won an appeal on the verdict in 2009. In 2013, he was appointed by Davide to serve as a consultant on jail matters.

The CPDRC began to receive international attention in 2007 after uploading videos of the inmates dancing to Michael Jackson songs. Today, the video has over 50 million views.

In January, the inmates performed for Pope Francis' delegation to the Philippines during the 2016 International Eucharistic Congress. (READ: Papal envoy to Cebu dancing prisoners: 'Jesus was a prisoner') – 

Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.